Cities / Towns Visited: 20
Countries Visited: 8
Steps Taken Today: 15,338
Steps Taken Around the World: 894,870
It was another coveted sleep in day, but after waking slowly, we were pumped and ready for the singular attraction of the days adventure. Just a short train trip, and a five minute walk and we were standing face to face with the castle on the lake; Chateau de Chillon. The 13th century castle sits proudly on an island of rock, just off the shore of Lake Geneva, with picture perfect mountains running down to meet it at the shore, save for the road cut into the foot of the slope. This castle belonged to the House of Savoy in their heyday, when they ruled over vast tracts of land in not only Switzerland, but also France and Italy. This castle in particular brought them great wealth, and is the reason they became knows as ‘The Gatekeepers of the Alps’, as the road that runs past it was once the only north-south route through the famous mountain range; and who would they be if they didn’t seize the opportunity to tax the hell out of every merchant who endeavoured to use it, while also offering them safe passage, of course. Eventually though, they surrendered the castle to Bernese after a very short siege which really just involved the enemy firing a few cannonballs and killing six guards in the towers, and the lord and a few of his men escaping in a boat out the back, and across the lake. Not the most valiant fight, I must say. The Bernese then installed bailiffs in the building for the remainder of the castle’s use, up until the country became a republic.
Walking across the small wooden bridge and through the centuries old gate, it was, yet again, like travelling back in time. Audioguide in hand, we walked through the first courtyard, and down into the cellars, built into the very bedrock the castle is perched upon. The guide pointed out something poignant, which I’d never really considered; when they restored the castle, they only restored the white wash on a few of the towers, their reason being that, although all castles of the time were plastered in white, it is not what we think of when we imagine the romanticised image of castles, we instead expect bare stone. Our ideal castle, is not how castles were at all.
As we passed the barrels in the vaulted cellar, we learned that the Savoys used to have wine made in the surrounding towns, which continues to be made and can only be purchased here; the proceeds being used to fund the restoration works. From here, we walked through the area which used to house the provisions of the chateau, past the door which the aforementioned lord escaped through, under the beam which was used as a gallows, and into the dimly lit area which used to be the prison. It was mainly used to house political prisoners, the most famous being François de Bonivard, who inspired the poem ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’ by Lord Byron. After many years imprisoned chained to one of the pillars here, he was eventually freed, when the Bernese took the castle. Heading in the other direction we passed the foundations of the walls of the castles and passed the haunting, yet only recently discovered, abandoned alter of the old chapel, which was closed and filled in when a new chapel was built during one of the many expansions of the castle throughout its history. With a single shaft of light illuminating it, there was something ethereal about the scene.
Clambering back up to ground level, we continued our tour. Going from room to room, all beautifully restored, fitted with period furniture and endless information about the time and life in the estate. It was the first historic building I’ve seen which was heated by stoves instead of fires, which was fascinating, and gave the rooms a completely different feel to the usual giant centrepiece that is a fireplace. We passed through a huge hall with a stunning barrel vaulted ceiling, filled with examples of the kinds of intricate wooden chests which were used to transport the personal belongings, wall hangings, curtains, and linen, of the lords and ladies when they travelled between their estates. Then we wandered through another huge hall, who’s walls were adorned with the family crests of the bailiffs who had ruled during the Bernese period. I did at this point lament the fact that family crests are no longer popular; in forethought we happily decided we would design our own should we ever decide to wed.
Eventually we made it through the next two courtyards and headed up to the private room which used to house the lord. On the walls you can still make out the silhouettes of the animals which decorated them; the faint remnants of blue paint which coloured the sky of the murals hold on still. The enormous cost of making blue paint, only possible at the time by crushing semi-precious gemstones, speaks to the wealth of the Savoy house. The patterns marked amongst the paint, used to be gilded fleur de lys; topping off the opulent show of riches.
Our visit continued by passing through the newer chapel, which didn’t hold a candle to the decaying remains of its predecessor. We then marched along the ramparts with their arrow slits, musket loopholes, and machinations, until we reached the 25 metre high keep in the centre. Ascending higher and higher up its wooden staircases, we passed medieval armour, and weapons spanning from the historic longswords, pole weapons, and crossbows of the medieval era, up to early firearms, which led to the obsolescence of this style of fortified castle. When we eventually reached the top, we were rewarded with the stunning view across the lake to the side that just so happens to be France. As an Australian, it’s bizarre to be able to see another country from a distance; when we can drive four hours from our home and still be in the same state, and ours is not one of the larger states.
What we thought would be a short trip, ended up lasting over four hours, but the adventure wasn’t over. We missed our train by a few minutes, and so decided to simply walk back to Montreux and catch a connecting train to Lausanne from there, rather than waiting an hour for the next one. As we began the lakeside stroll, we were anything but annoyed by the inconvenience. The panorama across the lake to the misty mountains beyond was breathtaking; and as we passed blooming flowers and beautiful trees, I simply couldn’t take my eyes off it. It’s the kind of place that puts your heart at peace.
Eventually we reached the station, and made our way home, via the supermarket for provisions. As our host, Laurent, had a few friends round for dinner, I made us a quick beef stew. By the time it was ready though, his friends had left, and he gifted us the remainder of their fresh artisan bread and some absolutely delicious local cheese. As I nibbled the last crumbs of bread and cheese, I basked in the success of our trip to Lausanne, and the adventures we had in the surrounding towns. Although our start to Switzerland had been anything but inspiring, it seemed to be raising its game of late. Perhaps there was hope for our brief but costly visit to this small country of towering mountains and stunning scenery. Patience is a virtue, or so they say; but perhaps that is proving to be truer than first thought. Some people start slow, but maybe so too do some places. They grow on you, they soften you, and slowly they seep into your heart; and I am happy to have this little piece of the world, etched in mine.