They say Lavaux has three suns shining on it. The first is the sun in the sky and the second is the reflection from the waters of Lake Geneva. But the third sun comes from the heat absorbed in the ancient stone walls of the vineyards, spreading warmth through the earth. First built by Benedictine and Cistercian monks 1000 years ago, the terraced slopes of the Lavaux vineyards produce some of the finest wines in Switzerland. Some would argue it’s some of the best wine in the world.
At Grandvaux Station, I walk downhill into the picturesque, wine-growing village. Terraces of vines run steeply downhill to Lake Geneva with workers silently tending their crops. Vines are tied horizontally to wires so that each vine grows evenly. In Grandvaux, there are clusters of typical winemakers’ houses along narrow, winding streets. The entrance to the ground floor in these houses is arched like a barrel and leads to the winepress. Attics are used for storing equipment and there’s a signpost pointing enticingly to a series of wine cellars, displaying family names that have lived here for generations. Fixed to the walls are cabinets of the wines produced here.
I continue my walk through the wine terraces where grapes are ripening and where the wine growers attend to the rows of grapes. Lavaux is famous for Chasselas wine with some varieties of Pinot. At the village of Villette, I learn that three of the winds blowing across Lake Geneva influence the composition and flavor of the wine here–the soil is frequently swept by the Bise, the Joren, and the Vent Blanc. There are other wine specialties produced here too, such as Chardonnay and Gamay, though they are not as common.
Cyclists pass on trails suitable for two wheels as well as walkers. So far this morning all are closed, but when someone spots an open cellar everyone heads in that direction. I continue walking to the pretty village of Chatelard with its shuttered windows and old houses. Everything is so peaceful and quiet–just the hum of the machinery in the vineyards is the only sound. An old man passes as I take another photo of the view across the terraces and shoreline. He smiles, knowing I‘m just another visitor captivated by the scene.
Finally, I arrive in the medieval lakeside town of Lutry to enjoy a glass of local Chasselas wine on the lake shore. It’s crisp and refreshing — I feel a connection to the area where it was produced, knowing I was just there an hour or two previously.
Beside the tranquil lake there are people gathering for lunch in the sun. Walkers like myself find a seat and relax now that their hike is over. The Chasselas is delicate in flavor and light. It is a wine to drink on its own but could equally be enjoyed with a light meal. A neighboring Swiss couple enjoying a picnic on the lake shore nod in approval. Lutry is a world away from the busy city metropolis of Lausanne and Geneva.
My walk has given me a different perspective of Switzerland, away from the tourist hotspots. Peaceful villages, traditional winemaking, and a glass of the best wine in the world at the end of my hike in Lavaux made this experience one to treasure for its simplicity.
Header photo by Carol Jeng.