When the weather in Geneva turned against us, the friends I was visiting found Château de Chillon near Montreux as a possible alternative. Little did they know that I have an obsession with Lord Byron. I found out he spent a long time in this castle and even wrote a poem about it. This, along with favourable weather conditions, was more than enough to convince me.
Château de Chillon
Here’s a little history lesson. Chillon Castle began its life as a Roman outpost. I was quite unaware of Switzerland’s history, so finding out that this castle went through three major periods taught me something new about the region.
From the mid 12th century, the castle was used as a summer home for the Counts of Savoy. One look at the location by the lake and mountains and it’s not difficult to understand why.
During the 16th century, these same Counts of Savoy also started using the building to house prisoners. François de Bonivard is the most well-known prisoner, because his story inspired Lord Byron’s poem “The Prisoner of Chillon”.
Lord Byron and François de Bonivard weren’t contemporaries. Lord Byron visited the castle in 1816 and finished the poem in the same year.
Let’s go back to the history of the castle. Bonivard was rescued by the Bernese, who then used the building as a state prison.
In 1798, the French-speaking canton of Vaud drove out the German-speaking Bernese authorities. The Vaudois invited in French troops to help them maintain autonomy from the other Swiss. When the French moved in, Chillon was used as a munitions and weapons depot.
That takes us to today. Nowadays, visitors can explore the huge castle which hosts four great halls, three courtyards, and a series of bedrooms all open to the public. If you would know something about the periods, you could probably find all the styles inside this one building. I walked around blissfully unaware of the historical significance, but still enjoying myself.
The parts of the castle that peaked my interest the most were the dungeon (obviously due to aforementioned connection to Lord Byron);
the courtyard, where people in costume were dancing and playing music;
the views from the turrets (although the background view was hidden by a perpetual mist).
If you’re ever in the neighbourhood entrance to the castle is 12.50 CHF and there is free parking nearby.
My visit to Montreux was all about Château de Chillon. However, I did see something of this fancy resort town as well.
The initial plan of my friends and me was to check out Geneva and go to the Christmas Market in Montreux afterwards. This plan was thwarted by the bad weather in Geneva, and by the discovery of Château de Chillon. After the visit to the castle, we still had plenty of time to make our way to the christmas market though. The main road through the town (Grand’Rue) and the lakeside path are lined with wooden chalets where you can find anything to buy from local wine to chocolates and local crafts. Not to mention the stalls with all the amazing local food!
The walk by lake Geneva is pretty spectecular even in foggy weather conditions. It’s easy to picture the potential of this place on a sunny day. The houses by the lake have their own “driveway” for boats, which should give you an idea what it would cost to live in Montreux near the lake.
Montreux is an easy car or train ride away from Geneva, so I heartily recommend a visit to this town. If only to check out Château de Chillon. This isn’t the first castle I’ve visited on my travels, but it’s certainly one of the most interesting ones. And did I mention all the Lord Byron memories these walls hold? One day I’d like to check out more of the places Lord Byron visited and the place where Mary Shelley thought up Frankenstein in Geneva. For now, Montreux was enough to satiate my needs!