on March 19, 2010
The Lake Geneva region of Switzerland is a prime gastronomic area, known for its fine food and wine. Its scenic location, dotted with lakes, mountains, and vineyards, makes a perfect holiday spot for travelers. In particular, the Lavaux area is renowned for its tradition of winemaking. So famous are its historical roots (some say stretching back all the way to the Roman Empire) that UNESCO designated the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces a World Heritage site in 2007.The Lavaux vineyards stretch along the northern shores of Lake Geneva from Lausanne to Chateau de Chillon, with an extensive network of footpaths allowing visitors to ramble through the vineyards, while taking in the scenic views of Lake Geneva on the one side and the Alps on the other. The area can also be enjoyed by driving along the Comiche, an idyllic roadway that passes through the winegrowing area, studded with grand houses, vaulted wine cellars, romantic bistros, and everywhere one looks, stunning scenery.Local WineIn the Lake Geneva region of Switzerland alone there are 28 controlled appellations, grouped into the winegrowing regions of La Cote, the Lavaux, Chablais, Bonvillers, Cotes de l’Orbe, and Vully. Most villages in the area contain at least one cellar where travelers can sample local wines, meet with growers, and enjoy the passion for wine and hospitality that characterize the region.White wine produced in the region is primarily from Chasselas, the main grape of the region. There are three other red wine grapes commonly used to make wine: Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon. What makes the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces so unique are not only their historical longevity, but their stunning location. The wine here is said to be blessed by "Three Suns": the first is the sun that shines most days in the region, the second comes from the reflected rays that bounce off Lake Geneva, and the third comes from the heat of the sun, which is absorbed into the stone walls of Lavaux during the day, which continue to gently provide the grapes with heat into the cooling hours after sundown.Signposted pathways through the Lavaux vineyards help bring the culture of winegrowing to life for travelers, and spending some time traversing the vineyards on foot is indeed the best way to enjoy the charms of Lavaux. Despite speculation of Roman origins, it’s clear that the vineyards have at least been in existence since the 11th century, when Cistercian and Benedictine monasteries controlled the vines. The Lavaux is an outstanding example of the important traditions that have tied the Swiss to their land, where they capitalized on local resources (through winemaking) to sustain their economy.Famous Food of the AreaNot only is wine a key component of life in the Lake Geneva area, but a variety of regional dishes make this an exceptionally rich and lively food area. Some of the area’s most common dishes include:* Malakoff cheese fritters (a combination of cheese, egg, white wine, and Kirsch)* Ham* Sausage specialties, like atriaux and boulefas* Saucisse aux choux (cabbage filled with sausage)* Papet vaudois (leeks and potatoes)Famous cheeses of the area include:* Tomme from Vaud* Vacherin Mont-d’Or* L’Etivaz, a mountain cheese made from raw milk* Marechal* Delice de Maitre RodolpheGreat Gourmet Stopping SpotsThere are a wide range of great gastronomical shops and restaurants worth visiting in the area. Some are best stumbled upon, in true traveler discovery fashion. Others are worth seeking out. These might include:* Wine Cellar of Chateau de NyonThe basement caveau in this castle offers tourists wine tasting and opportunities to purchase Nyon wines.* La Gourmandine, Sainte-CroixThis bakery specializes in the famous almond cake of the region, the almandine.* L’Espace Chocolat, Confiserie MoretFrom simple chocolate bars to outstanding chocolate delicacies, see why the Swiss are famous for chocolate.* Severy Oil Mill, SeveryOne of the few remaining mills to turn nuts and seeds into specialty oils for cooking.* La Maison de L’Etivaz, L’EtivazThis local cheese is made from raw milk, which is cooked over wooden fires in Alp chalets to create the world-famous L’Etivaz cheese. Visitors can tour the cheese cellar, enjoy tastings, and learn more about the process through slide shows.* Salt Mines, BexVisit a working salt mine to see how this common condiment takes on special meaning.* Guignard Desserts, OrbeSpecialties include vacherin guignard (crisp meringue cake), flambé aux framboises (raspberry dessert), and feuillantine aux chocolat (a crackling chocolate mousse dessert).Local Food MuseumsAs if travelers didn’t have enough food enjoyment through tastings, dining, and shopping, there are also two great museums in the area worth visiting for their food knowledge. The first is the Alimentarium Food Museum in Vevey, run by the Nestle Foundation, which examines the history of food, with interactive exhibits. The museum has a stunning lakeside location (next to Lake Geneva). The other is the Museum of Wheat and Bread, located in Echallens. This living craft museum is housed in a farmhouse built in 1790 that showcases the history of bread making (including costumes, historical implements, and explanatory exhibits), where on-site bakers continue to lure visitors with the smell of freshly baked bread.Travelers to the Lavaux area will find their surroundings rich in history and awash in scenic beauty, in addition to creating a perfect setting for drinking local Lavaux wines. Transportation is easily dealt with by an extensive network of rails and roads that cover the area. While urban development in Switzerland continues apace, spending time in Lavaux will help visitors understand the high regard with which winemaking is held. The UNESCO World Heritage Site designation has helped the area retain its historical importance and preserve it for future generations of travelers.
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