Geneva and Montreaux

Places I visited on a Christmas trip to Geneva and Montreaux

Festive fun

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by jipp05 on January 21, 2013

When staying in Geneva just before Christmas we decided to have a day trip to Montreux to visit the Christmas market as the one in Geneva was absolutely pitiful and consisted of about 5 different stalls. It really was pathetic and not Chritsmassy in the slightest. I had read on the internet that the one in Montreux was much larger and was becoming larger and better every year so I thought that it was worth the visit.

We got the train from Geneva which cost about £22 each and took just over an hour each way. The trains were comfortable and regular so I personally didn’t mind the travel time between the two cities.

We arrived in Montreux in the early afternoon and as soon as we came out of the train station and walked down the steps to the lake front we could see the Christmas market and what we could see was impressive as it looked like it was extensive and the location on the lake shores of Lake Geneva was stunning. As we had the whole day in Montreux we decided to visit the Chateau de Chillion first and save the Christmas Market until it was dark when all the lights would be on and it would be looking much more festive.

We arrived back at the Christmas Market at around about 5:30 and by this time the market was in full swing and was really busy. There was loads of stalls and I would estimate somewhere in the region of about 150 to 200. They were all wooden and definitely looked the part. The only thing missing was some snow to make the whole scene more festive.

Unfortunately most of the items on offer at the stalls wasn’t particularly festive. A lot of the stalls were selling hand crafted items but there was also a lot of them selling mass produced junk. The majority of the stalls however we’re food and drink stalls. I wasn’t overly bothered by the fact that most of the items for sale were a bit rubbish as I hadn’t really come to buy handmade decorations etc. and was really just there to soak up the festive atmosphere and spend some time eating some local food and drinking mulled wine at the stalls.

We spent a good 3 or 4 hours wandering the market stopping at different stalls along the way to pick up some mulled wine or cider to warm us up or having something to eat and sitting by the lake listening to the water lap. The market really is in a stunning location and although being by the lake means there is less chance of snow it still managed to evoke a festive feeling which of course had a lot to do with the Christmas lights that were everywhere along the market.

The lights were pretty but nowhere near as good as some of the other markets I have visited such as the one in Copenhagen but this market is younger and I imagine that it will continue to improve every year. Although a lot of the items on sale were absolutely rubbish there were a good few stalls that had some beautiful items for sale but of course this being Switzerland don’t expect any bargains as everything was expensive and anything worth buying doubly so.

There was loads of bar areas but there was a really nice one that was housed in a large wooden hut and had an open fire in the middle of it which was a welcome relief from the cold outside. This hut also had an amazing atmosphere with everyone inside in really good spirits. There were also huts where you could sit down and eat instead of just having food to walk with. One of these was a fondue hut and this looked really cosy and also had an open fire though we didn’t actually sample the fondue here.

One thing that I did notice was that there seemed to be quite a lot of English and American people here as we could hear them talking while we were walking about. I knew the market was becoming more popular every year but I had thought it might have been a little bit too out of the way to have attracted a lot of foreigners. With the amount of English and Americans at the market I would have assumed that more people would have been able to speak English but unlike in Geneva where nearly everyone we encountered spoke perfect English at the Montreux Christmas Markets the people on the stalls were less proficient with English. This wasn’t a major problem as we could make ourselves understood but it was a bit of a shock after having been in Geneva.

I am not sure that I would visit the Montreux Christmas Markets again though I did enjoy my visit and would recommend that you go if you are in the area. The reason that I don’t think I would visit again is that there are so many better Christmas Markets to visit and with this one being so out of the way you need to really make a special point of visiting it and I don’t think that I personally would be willing to do that again. It was lovely and I enjoyed my visit but next year I think I shall be visiting one in Germany again where they really just seem to get it right every time.
Montreux Christmas Markets
Grand-Rue 24 Case postale 1401
Montreux, Switzerland, CH-1820

Dull and pretentious

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by jipp05 on January 21, 2013

On our last day in Geneva we weren’t flying home until late in the evening and as it was raining we decided we would visit some museums. We all couldn’t agree where to go but as I wanted to visit the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and others in the group wanted to go somewhere else we agreed to split up and meet later. Myself and one other friend who was also interested in modern art went off together to try and find the museum and trust me when I say it isn’t that easy to find.

We found the building where the museum is housed easily enough and it was about a ten minute walk from the centre of the city. I had read some reviews on the museum before we visited and although they were mainly positive one thing that did crop up a lot in them was that they found it difficult to find the entrance. Well I am another one who is saying the same thing and although we did find eventually it we also nearly gave up and left. The entrance is so poorly signed and the interior courtyard where the museum is housed resembles something from the Soviet Union and it actually looks abandoned. I am sure this is part of the look and feel that the museum is going for but it really isn’t helpful for tourists to find and I can imagine that a lot of people come to visit and never end up setting a foot inside the actual museum.

Once we got in the museum we paid our entry which I think was 7 francs which wasn’t too bad as with Geneva being so expensive we actually thought it was going to be more expensive.
We asked the man at the reception where we should start and he told us that the whole building is a work of art and that they like their visitors to get lost and just immerse themselves in the art and that even in reception there was art work and then he pointed us to a metal plaque on the floor and proudly told us that even this was art. Not really knowing what it was we were supposed to be looking at we dutifully spent a couple of minutes pretending to know what the plaque was so as to not appear rude and then headed up to the top floor of the museum to start our visit.

The top floor of the museum was probably the most interesting part for me personally. There were several modern sculptures here which didn’t really resemble anything but were impressive in their size and scope.
Everything was in French and none of the signs were in English but as most of the art works only had a name and a date you didn’t really need any help in translating. This definitely isn’t a museum that wants to spoon feed you information which is a shame as I do like to know what the artists intention is behind a work as this does help me form an opinion. This might sound like I am being really ignorant but when I walk into a large room and the only thing in it is a furry cushion then I am sorry but all I see is a furry cushion.

All throughout the museum are young trendy looking art types who I assumed are volunteers but we didn’t approach any of them as they looked so serious and a tad pretentious and to be honest I was scared to ask them about anything in case I had to stand and listen to them talk for half an hour on the significance of a furry cushion.
There were several exhibits that I just didn’t get. I know art is subjective especially modern art but some of these exhibits were just frankly rubbish. One whole floor contained nothing but pictures of rubbish which I am sure has great significance but it wasn’t very interesting or stimulating for the senses to look at.

There were a couple of decent exhibits such as a room which was pitch black and when you walked in make a loud noise. This was more of what I was hoping to see when we originally decided to visit as at least this exhibit evoked an emotion in me. Some other rooms were interesting but there was nothing spectacular in any of the exhibits and I am sorry to say that it was probably one of the most boring modern art museums that I have ever visited. The exception to this was an exhibit of pictures of crime scenes which was just disturbing and nor pleasant at all to look at. Again this was most likely the intention of the artist but I found these pictures to be distasteful and disrespectful instead of thought provoking.

I am probably in the minority judging by some of the other reviews but the whole museum was just too boring and it took itself far too seriously and ended up coming across as being pretentious and stuck up. For me a modern art museum should be a fun place to visit and a feast for the eyes and the senses. This really wasn’t. It is definitely somewhere that I wouldn’t dream of visiting ever again but I would recommend it to others as art is subjective and what might have been boring and tedious to me someone else might find it amazing.
Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain (MAMCO)
10, rue des Vieux-Grenadiers
Geneva, Switzerland, 1205
+41 22 320 61 22

See History Come to Life

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by jipp05 on January 21, 2013

When we were visiting Switzerland a few days before Christmas we were mainly based in Geneva but we knew that we wanted to see some other parts of the country and having read about the Montreux Christmas Market we decided to get the train from Montreux to Geneva and make an entire day out of it. The only thing about Montreux that really knew about was the Jazz festival but I had a look on the internet to see what other sights the city had to visit and was immediately drawn to the Chateau de Chillon. I am a huge fan of visiting castles and this one looked like it was really well preserved so it went on the list and we made plans to visit it before we went to the Christmas Markets in the evening.

~~~~~~~~~~ Location ~~~~~~~~~~

Chillon Castle has an amazing location on the banks of Lake Geneva right at the end of the lake. You can get a bus from Montreux to Castle Chillon but because it was such a nice day the day we visited we decided to walk the lake shore to the castle. We could see the castle the whole way and it really didn’t look very far but it was deceptive and it took us about an hour to walk to the castle from Montreux. The walk is well worth it though as the views along the lake are gorgeous and there is so much to see that honestly take your breath away.
When you get closer to the castle you can really appreciate its location and it is situated on a rocky outcrop and looks as though it is actually floating on the lake. Behind it are the snow covered Alps and I can honestly say that it is one of the most dramatic and beautiful locations of any castle I have ever visited and I have visited quite a few.

~~~~~~~~~~ A little bit of history ~~~~~~~~~~

The site of the castle has been occupied since the Bronze Age and although no one seems to know when exactly the castle was built there have been documents found which mention the castle already being in its current location in the 12th century.
The current castle is a collection of over 100 buildings which have been expanded and joined together over the years to create the castle how it stands today. It has never been taken by siege but has changed hands from one power family to another several times over the years.
Today it is Switzerland’s most visited historic landmark and has fame outside of Switzerland thanks to the Lord Byron poem The Prisoner of Chillon and for being one of the settings in the Henry James novella Daisy Miller.

~~~~~~~~~~Visiting the Chateau ~~~~~~~~~~

The outside of the chateau gives a great first impression and I was really looking forward to getting inside and seeing what is on offer. The entry fee for going inside is 12CHF for adults and 6CHF for children. This is around about £8 and £4 which isn’t bad for Switzerland. There is the option of renting an ipod with an audio tour but you need to leave your passports as security and as we didn’t have them with us we couldn’t do this but to be honest there is no need unless you are desperate to know all the history behind the castle as there is so much to see inside without the tour.
You enter through a medieval drawbridge which really sets the scene off and gives you a good impression of what the inside is going to be like.
You go through the main gates and come into a small cobbled courtyard. When you pay to go in you are given a small map and you can start the tour from the courtyard. The recommended tour is signposted in numbers and it is pretty easy to find your way about and go from one number to the next.
The castle is much more extensive than it looks from the outside and there is everything from underground dungeons to staterooms and bedchambers. The dungeons were fascinating as you could see where prisoners were chained up and the information inside told us of how when they were chained up the small windows would allow them to hear the water lapping outside but because of the positioning of the windows they would never be able to actually see the water or the outside while being imprisoned.
We were pretty much allowed to go everywhere within the castle and I didn’t see too many parts of it that were shut off from tourists and something else I liked was that they didn’t seem to have the health and safety fanaticism that we have in the UK so you could actually get up close and personal with a lot of the rooms and even lean out windows as they weren’t screened off.
The architecture was of course stunning and although you could see that it was being well cared for it still felt and looked authentic and not like some Disney version of how a medieval castle should look.
One disappointing aspect of the castle was in the state rooms which were very sparsely decorated. Now for me I didn’t have a major problem with this as I much prefer seeing the architecture and how the rooms were originally designed but I did hear some people complain that they had removed most of the ornamental decoration that must have been there in later years the castle was occupied.
I loved the courtyards of which there were three. They were quite small but it was easy to imagine how they must have been used in medieval times. The ramparts which twisted round the top of the castle which could be walked on gave a really good view of the courtyards and the atmosphere was excellent which probably had something to do with the castle not being very busy when we visited.
You could go right to the top of the castle to the very highest room which offered spectacular views over Lake Geneva and all the way to Montreux. On the way up here there was a room that had a weapons exhibit. While this was an interesting diversion I personally would have preferred more exhibits on what life in the castle must have been like for the people living there.
Once you have finished exploring the castle there is a small gift shop where you can buy souvenirs. We had a look round but a lot of what was on offer was the usual tourist tat. One thing which it did sell was the castle wine. The castle produces its own wine made on the grounds using traditional methods. We bought some red and some white and it really was delicious and something that would make a lovely present to take home.
We spent a good couple of hours visiting the castle and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even the people in our party who were not history buffs declared it a fascinating place and well worth the detour of coming to. We visited in December so this might have had something to do with it not being as busy as anticipated but I think this really added to the trip and I can imagine in summer when the castle is thronging with tourists that it wouldn’t have been as magical or as fascinating as the quietness really helped us get in the spirit of the place.
After coming out of the castle we spent another half hour just looking around the outside of it and appreciating both the location and the imposingness of the castle itself. It really is beautiful to look at and the location just makes it even more special and there are plenty of quiet spots where you can just sit and look at the castle and appreciate its splendour.

~~~~~~~~~~ Recommendation ~~~~~~~~~~

I would highly recommend that you visit the Chateau de Chillion if you are anywhere near Montreux or even in Geneva as it was well worth it and to me personally it was the highlight of my trip. I am a huge fan of Medieval architecture and the Chateau de Chillion is one of the best preserved and most fascinating castles that I have visited. It isn’t ostentatious but this really adds to the atmosphere and you get a really good feel of what life must have been like in the middle ages. Even for those people who aren’t big fans of Medieval history the location and beauty of the castle can’t fail to impress.
The only thing that I would warn about is that the castle has a lot of winding stairs and some quite difficult terrain so probably wouldn't be suitable for people who have trouble walking.
Chillon Castle/Château de Chillon
Avenue De Chillon 21
Montreux, Switzerland
+41 (21) 966 8910

A Geneva Institution

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by jipp05 on January 21, 2013

Before visiting Geneva I did some research on places to visit, restaurants, bars etc. and one place that kept popping up on recommended places to eat was the Café de Paris. The more I read about the restaurant the more curious I was to visit and decided to hunt it out when we got there.

~~~~~~~~~~ Location ~~~~~~~~~~

Luckily for me I didn’t have to hunt very hard and the restaurant was literally located a few metres from the hotel we were staying in making it really convenient. It is located on the Rue de Mont-Blanc which is one of the main roads from the train station down to the lake so it is pretty easy to find. It isn’t in the most picturesque location as its neighbours include Starbucks and McDonalds but there is no doubting it is convenient to get to.

~~~~~~~~~ What makes it different ~~~~~~~~~~

The Café de Paris has been running successfully in its present location for the last 80 years. What makes this restaurant a little different from all the other restaurants in Geneva is that it only serves one thing on the menu. For 41.50 CHF (around about £28 in December 2012) you get a starter of green salad and an entrecote served in the restaurants own special sauce. Included in the price is chips but drinks and deserts are extra. I was curious as to how a restaurant only serving one thing could not only survive but thrive in the competitive Geneva food scene. I assumed that over 80 years they must have perfected the steak and was looking forward to trying it out.

~~~~~~~~~~ The restaurant ~~~~~~~~~~

We visited the restaurant on a Thursday night a week before Christmas so I expected it to be busy but the place was absolutely heaving. We were lucky as some people were leaving just as we arrived so we managed to get a table straight away but I would recommend that you book as anytime we walked past it on the way from or back to the hotel it was packed and apparently this is normal no matter the time of year so popular is it. During out meal it started to get even busier that by the time we left people were queuing out the door waiting for a table.
The restaurant is decorated to resemble a traditional Parisian bistro and it does this pretty successfully. The tables are small and all pushed close to each other and couples might have to share a table with other people. Normally I hate places where the tables are so close together but here it didn’t bother me as it had such a lively atmosphere that we all felt able to talk without having to whisper or worry about disturbing other patrons of the restaurant.
One thing which I did think was a little strange but also quite charming was the fact that the whole restaurant had been decked out with teddy bears everywhere. On shelves, hanging from the ceiling and even in the windows. At first I thought this must be how it always is but then I noticed all the teddy’s were dressed with Christmas clothing. It was a little odd but as I said I actually liked it as it added some charm to the place.

~~~~~~~~~~ The food ~~~~~~~~~~

My expectations were high for the food and for the most part I wasn’t disappointed. The service was very swift and very ‘Swiss’ i.e. to the point and not overly congenial. The waitress seated us and almost immediately we were presented with bread rolls and our green salad and asked how we would like out streak cooked.
The salad was just some lettuce leaves but the dressing was absolutely delicious and one of the nicest salad dressings that I have ever tasted.
In the middle of the table there was some kind of heater which was lit by our waitress when she brought our steaks over as the steaks come on a large silver tray covered in sauce and they put them on the heaters to not only keep it hot but to also melt the sauce. There were four of us eating at the restaurant and there was two trays to share between two people. Each of us had ordered our steaks to come in a different way but it was all cooked exactly the same in a medium rare way. This wasn’t really a problem for me as I like it this way but my friend who likes it well done wasn’t too happy.
We left the trays on the heaters to melt the sauce a bit more and when it was bubbling we started dishing up. I can honestly say that the sauce that comes with the steak was absolutely delicious and like the salad dressing was the nicest steak sauce I have ever had. They certainly weren’t stingy with the sauce but I did think there would have been a little bit more meat especially as two people were expected to share it. To be honest though because the sauce is so rich it is probably just as well there wasn’t even more meat.
When we had finished out steaks we asked for more bread as there was still so much sauce left and we wanted bread to dip in it as it was that nice. I dread to think how unhealthy the sauce is as it is made with pure butter. I didn’t care though as it was so delicious.
As part of the menu you are entitled to three portions of chips but with the extra bread we only actually ate two portions.
Afterwards we decided to also have desert and asked for the menu. The desert section wasn’t extensive but there was enough choice for most people. I ordered profiteroles and this was definitely not up to the standard of the main meal. They were obviously not freshly made as the cream was still frozen in the middle of mine. No one else thought their deserts were anything to write home about either but I do have to say that the main menu made up for the poor deserts.

~~~~~~~~~~ Conclusion ~~~~~~~~~~

The steak at Café de Paris is absolutely amazing thanks mainly to the gorgeous sauce it comes with. It really does have to be tasted to be believed. The service was ok but like everywhere we visited in Switzerland the service left a lot to be desired. The waitress was polite enough but like everywhere in Switzerland we visited we weren’t made to feel particularly welcome. The service is efficient though and this isn’t somewhere you will go and linger. The food is served quickly and you do feel like you need to hurry as there are people waiting for your table.
I would still happily go back as the steak was some of the best I have ever had and for Switzerland the price was fairly reasonable for the food anyway as the drinks were exorbitant. If you are in Geneva then I would highly recommend hunting this place down as it is a Swiss institution and a favourite with both locals and tourists and has been popular for so long thanks to how good the food is. You would expect a restaurant with only one thing on the menu to have perfected it and I am pleased to say that this one has.
Café de Paris is open seven days a week from 11:00am until 11:00pm.

Cafe de Paris
26 rue de Mont-Blanc
Geneva, Switzerland
022/732 84 50

The worst staff of any hotel I have stayed in

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by jipp05 on January 21, 2013

I had nothing to do with booking the hotel during my pre-Christmas break to Geneva as I left this to my friends to organise so I was looking forward to seeing what they had booked. As they had a set budget to play with and with Geneva being as expensive as it is I was half expecting to find myself in a hotel room the size of a shoe box with a shared bathroom so I suppose I should be grateful that I actually got a decent sized room with my own private bathroom.

~~~~~~~~~~ Hotel Cristal ~~~~~~~~~~

The Hotel Cristal is a three star ‘design’ hotel that is located close to the central station in Geneva. I really liked the location of the hotel as it was only a 5 minute walk to the Lake Front and about 10 to 15 minutes walking to the main shopping area and the old town. Apparently the area where the hotel is located has a bit of a bad reputation but I can honestly say that I never experienced any sort of unease even at night and because the area is filled with hotel the majority of people we saw in the area were other tourists.
Surrounding the hotel are loads of bars and restaurants and there is a Starbucks that is literally a couple of doors away. This was well used by us as the breakfast at the hotel was exorbitant for not a great selection of food.
The public and private areas of the hotel were nice and you could see that some time and money had been spent on the design but unfortunately not all of it was successful.
One thing which I thought was nice is that the Geneva city council gives hotels in the city transport passes for guests which allows them free travel on local public transport throughout the city. We only used it a couple of times but it was nice to have.

~~~~~~~~~~ The Rooms ~~~~~~~~~~

I was quite pleased with my room. It was small but it was nice to have a double room to myself. There were two single beds pushed together which I hate but is a common thing in European hotel rooms. Either side of the bed was floor to ceiling windows one of which opened out fully. This was nice as I like to be able to open my window in a hotel and in the UK we have become so concerned with health and safety that most hotel windows only open inches. The one thing that I hated about the bed was that it had a built in headboard with shelving. It was nice to have somewhere to put cups etc. but it did make sitting in bed reading uncomfortable.
The walls were artexed with a really sharp pointy texture which actually hurt to touch so I wouldn’t have liked to have accidentally walked in to it as I could imagine it could have actually caused some damage.
Although it was small it had nearly everything that I needed. There was a desk and chair and plenty of storage space for clothes. There was also a kettle and coffee, tea and milk. There was no mini bar in the room but there was a communal one in the hallway. I didn’t actually use this as I could find absolutely no information on prices so was scared to get a drink from it in case it cost me the same price as a small car.
There was a climate control console in the room but no matter how much I tried I could not figure out how to change the temperature. I have no idea if it was me or the console but I have never not been able to turn the heating off in a hotel before when it has its own climate control console.
The bathroom was probably the least successful in terms of the design. It was just a little bit weird. It was lots of opaque glass which is where the hotel gets its name from. I have no problem with this but in a small room they have decided to make the shower and toilet separate from the sink which is in the main room. It was just a bit weird and took up more room than it needed to. Also the bathroom has glass doors which when closed have a large gap in the middle and are see through. This wasn’t a problem for me as I was in the room on my own but I can imagine that a lot of people wouldn’t like to be sitting on the toilet and be able to be seen by the person they were sharing the room with.
Towels were a bit stingy. There was enough for me but two people sharing might have found them sparse.
The rooms had free WIFI and we were given the password when we checked in. The internet was fast and worked every time and there was no problem with the connection.
The TV was small but big enough for the size of the room. There was loads of channels but unfortunately most of them were Swiss and nearly everything was in French but I did manage to find a couple of international English channels.

~~~~~~~~~~ The staff ~~~~~~~~~~

Here was my major problem with this hotel. The staff were the least friendly and rudest I have ever encountered in any hotel in all my years of travelling. During check in we were left standing at the desk for ages while a man and woman were talking to each other and literally ignoring us for about 5 minutes and made us feel as though we were interrupting them.
The hotel is one of those that still have proper keys which come with heavy metal bases so you have to hand it in when you are going out. Every time we would hand it in or ask for it back no one at reception would speak to us and would just literally slam it down on the desk or snatch it up. I am not exaggerating when I say that the reception staff were the coldest and rudest I have ever encountered and it really put a dampener on the whole stay. There is a lounge area next to the reception area but the whole time we were at the hotel no one actually used this and according to other guests we spoke to during our stay the staff were just as rude with them and no one felt comfortable sitting in it.

~~~~~~~~~~ Prices ~~~~~~~~~~

The Hotel Cristal was actually really good value for Geneva. My room cost me £280 for three nights which for Geneva is cheap as it is such an expensive city to stay in.

~~~~~~~~~~ Conclusion ~~~~~~~~~~

I am in two minds about this one as the hotel was actually quite nice and the room itself was fairly decent for the money and even the location was good but all the staff we encountered were just so bad that I personally would never stay there again. They honestly were so bad that it almost ruined our trip and the way they made us feel was something that I have never experienced in a hotel before. They were rude, surly and completely unprofessional so because of this it has really skewed my feelings on the hotel and for this reason I would only give it two stars and even this I feel might be too generous.
Cristal Hotel
Geneva, Switzerland

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