Walking tour of Lavaux, Switzerland’s most magnificent vineyards

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Last Sunday, when my planned trip to the Lavaux vineyards was cut short by a series of train and bus failures, I wrote an email (with the help of Google Translate) to the Montreux tourism office, inquiring about the possibility of rescheduling. They graciously responded and were like, yeah, we know traffic was a clusterfuck this weekend, absolutely no worries at all.

I feel extremely lucky that I was able to reschedule my visit to this weekend, because it was the last guided tour that they would host this year. Grape season is from June to October, and by the time I arrived, there were basically no grapes left on the vines. Still, the views and fall colors are stunning and well worth a visit.

Getting there

The train ride from Geneva is just over an hour. There is a transfer in Lausanne — this is where I had to switch to the bus last week due to trackwork — and then a smaller regional train to Cully, pronounced roughly kyu-ee. The train glides along the banks of Lake Geneva / Lac Leman, a real treat in any season.

 

Walking tour

Our meeting point was at Place d’Armes, a lakeside park just a 5-minute walk from the tiny train station.

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The group was seven people total, plus the guide. There were two people in the tour who needed an English interpretation, but I decided to pretend that I spoke French perfectly and had no need for a guide. It’s part of this new thing I’ve been trying since the summer, when I don’t ask French speakers to switch over to English and just press on doggedly with comment? and un peu plus lentement? until they give up and initiate the switch to English.

As a result, the guide spoke mostly in French and had private English conversations with those two people while we walked — exactly what had happened to me in Basel earlier this month, but with German. To be honest, I think I only understood maybe 60 to 70 percent of what she was saying. I could understand the generic stuff, like how Lavaux is this super cool UNESCO-recognized heritage site and the vineyards have been passed down since the 12th century through generations of wine-growing families, and then some historical stuff, like when people from Bern came and colonized the region and forced them to pay taxes and there were uprisings and rebellions, but when it came to the more technical stuff like grape-growing techniques, I was totally lost. (Maybe this is the difference between B1 and B2?) Anyway, this page has more history and info on what makes the vineyards so special.

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The walk through the vineyard terraces was quite long, and it was a constant uphill slope. Luckily I felt fine and wasn’t out of breath.

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“She fought the good fight.” We can only aspire to a tombstone like this.
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The steepest part of this whole tour.
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These were the ONLY grapes I saw throughout this entire tour. I’m going to miss grape season; the grapes here in Geneva are absolutely fucking incredible, like those magical fruits that they use to entice children in fairy tales.
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Wine tasting

The tour also included the tasting of two regional wines, both called Chasselas, a white wine native to the Lac Leman region of Switzerland.

For that we crossed into the small village of Epesses and visited a winery called Les 11 Terres. Its name comes from the fact that it’s a co-op formed by eleven local winegrowers.

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I am the farthest thing from a wine connoisseur, so here’s all I know: the Chasselas is a pretty light wine, with a mild and fruity flavor. The second glass had a bit more of a kick, a slightly buzzier quality like champagne. I also enjoyed a tiny bit of cheese. The two glasses of wine made me super sleepy. “Are we done with the tour?” I asked the guide, hopeful. “No,” she said. “We still have an hour of walking!”

This was also when the tour guide figured out my faux French speaker cover, because she tried to make small talk with me and I was like uhh, ma’am, please slow down. I have a lot of trouble with listening comprehension to begin with, and people from Vaud also have a slightly different accent that I can’t always catch. “Do you prefer that we switch to English?” she asked, and I insisted, no, I’m fine, I want to be respectful and try to speak your language. We talked a little about my experience learning French and how COVID has affected tourism in the area.

Back to walking

After leaving the winery, we began meandering downhill, through the terraces and towards the lake.

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We spent another half hour walking alongside the lake, back towards our original meeting point in Cully. By then it was almost 1pm, and there were lots of joggers, cyclists and local families out for some fresh air. I saw an Australian shepherd darting back and forth between its owners, an older couple who clearly lived nearby, and it suddenly made me feel so sad momentarily. I should clarify: sad for me, because I’m a narcissist. Please let me stay in this country, I thought. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to just be a guest here. I want to grow old here and have my own house and my Australian shepherd and be able to call Switzerland home.

Needless to say, I’m dealing with some stuff at the moment. Nothing too dire, thankfully, but still stressful nonetheless. I’ll write more about this once the situation is (hopefully) resolved in a few weeks.

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Expenses (in CHF)

Roundtrip train tickets between Geneva and Cully – 20.10

2.5-hour guided tour including wine tasting – 20

2 slices of pizza I bought at the train station in Lausanne because the wine made me mad hungry – 11

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