Musical makeover: Montreux's Jazz Festival

Words by
Gabriella Le Breton

14th March 2015

During its Jazz Festival, Montreux is transformed from a tranquil town on Switzerland’s “Riviera” into a musical hub, but it’s also perfect for those seeking a serene summer break

There’s really only one place to stay during the Jazz Festival: Fairmont Le Montreux Palace (www.fairmont.com/montreux). Long the preferred address of the festival’s musicians, staying here means you might find Prince playing the piano by the ballroom or Alicia Keys sipping a Manhattan in the bar.

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With a guest list that ranges from Richard Strauss and Sophia Loren to Bob Dylan and Justin Timberlake, many would say Le Palace has been the only place to stay in Montreux since it opened in 1906. The magnificent Belle Époque hotel offers rooms with balconies overlooking the lake, five restaurants and bars, including the legendary Funky Claude’s Bar, and a palatial spa (although Gisele favours a swim in the lake when she stays here). If there’s no room at the Palace, the lakeside Grand Hôtel Suisse Majestic (www.suisse-majestic.com) combines old school glamour and period flourishes with fresh new interiors and slick service. For something all together more contemporary, the Eurotel (www.eurotel-montreux.ch) makes up for its plain exterior with large bedrooms boasting fabulous lake views and balconies.

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The glorious views over Lake Geneva from Fairmont Le Montreux Palace

The glorious views over Lake Geneva from Fairmont Le Montreux Palace

Despite its diminutive size, Montreux offers an impressive choice of restaurants and cafés, many of them located within hotels. At Restaurant 45 (inside the Suisse Majestic), the only thing that could possibly distract you from the towering platters of oysters and shellfish are the unbroken lake views that stretch across to France. There can be few better ways to spend a balmy afternoon than in the gardens of Chez Gaston, feasting on freshly caught perch and sipping a glass of local Chasselas wine (www.edenpalace.ch). The Montreux Jazz Café (www.montreuxjazzcafe.com) boasts a diverse and tempting menu, ranging from seared scallop salad and braised lamb shank to the BB burger (named after BB King and cooked to his recipe) and a white chocolate cheesecake flecked with gold inspired by Ella Fitzgerald.

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The fresh new interiors of the Grand Hôtel Suisse Majestic

The fresh new interiors of the Grand Hôtel Suisse Majestic

The café’s long history, fabulously eclectic interiors and collection of jazz paraphernalia make a meal here a Montreux must. La Rouvenaz is much loved by the locals for its authentic Italian dishes and seafood bar. The enthusiastic owners have also created a cosy Vinoteca next door, perfect for pre-concert drinks, and a Gelateria for richly indulgent ice creams and refreshing sorbets (www.rouvenaz.ch).

Shopping in and around Montreux focuses on what Switzerland does best: watches and chocolate. The best boutiques are found along the Grand’ Rue, which skirts the lake and curls past the old market place, where you’ll find a buzzing flea market on Fridays (April to October). Pop into Zbinden (www.bijouterie-zbinden.ch) for Mikimoto pearls or a Blancpain timepiece and buy gifts at La Griffe Ausoni (www.ausoni-montreux.ch), which stocks brands including Missoni, Michael Kors and Gucci Bimba. Dedicated watch aficionados should head 10 minutes along the lake to Lionel Meylan Vevey (www.lionel-meylan.ch). The Meylan family has been crafting watches for over 130 years and, in addition to selling the world’s finest watch brands, it offers the opportunity to participate in a watch-making masterclass with father and son Lionel and Julien Meylan. While in Vevey, stock up on chocolates from the legendary Poyet chocolatier (www.confiseriepoyet.ch).

Summer nights at the Montreux Jazz Festival
Summer nights at the Montreux Jazz Festival

Summer nights at the Montreux Jazz Festival

Taking place in July, the Montreux Jazz Festival (www.montreuxjazzfestival.com) draws a quarter of a million people for a fortnight-long musical celebration. It attracts the world’s greatest jazz musicians to the shores of Lake Geneva, where they give concerts, recitals and informal workshops in cafés, parks and concert halls. Start the day in Montreux with a morning stroll along the palm-tree-lined lake promenade, then head north to the fairy-tale turreted Chillon Castle, perched on a rocky outcrop in the lake.

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Indulge in a BB burger at the Montreux Jazz Café

Indulge in a BB burger at the Montreux Jazz Café

Join the locals for afternoon tea at Confiserie Zurcher (www.confiserie-zurcher.ch), a Montreux institution since the late 1800s, and enjoy a sunset lake cruise on a classic Swiss steamer. A walk through the ancient terraced Lavaux Vineyards, which unfurl uphill from the shores of Lake Geneva, offers the opportunity to sample local wines while soaking up stupendous views of the surrounding mountains, the lake and Montreux below you.

Getting There: Fly to Geneva with Swiss (www.swiss.com) from London and most European cities. Direct trains run between Geneva airport and Montreux, taking just over an hour.

More Information: www.montreuxriviera.comwww.myswitzerland.com

Credits: Chillon Castle Foundation; Arnaud Derib