September is hands down one of the nicest months of the year to travel. The majority of the tourists have left after summer holidays, the weather is a little cooler but still beautiful and prices are typically lower.
Before Andrew and I met, we had both traveled throughout Europe in our twenties and travel was always a constant topic of conversation. Andrew went to University in Montreux so for our first trip together, we used that as a starting point and built our itinerary from there.
Landing at the Geneva airport is an easy connecting flight from most airports in Europe and getting a rental car was pretty painless. There are two sides to the Geneva airport, the French side and the Swiss side. It is highly recommended that you do a quick google search to find out which side your rental car company is on before you book or else your trip will start out with an avoidable hassle if you get it wrong.
After landing in Geneva and making the drive to Montreux, we checked in at the incredible Fairmont Le Montreux Palace on the shores of Lake Geneva overlooking the Alps. There really is no better way to get over jet lag than to enjoy the comforts of the Fairmont and go for a lovely walk along Lake Geneva.
Montreux is a traditional resort town on Lake Geneva. Nestled between steep hills and the lakeside, it’s known for its mild microclimate and the Montreux Jazz Festival, held in July. Freddy Mercury’s statue stands on the lakeside promenade, a tribute to the singer for settling there after falling in love with the city while recording an album for Queen in the late 1970’s.
We headed to the village of Glion which overlooks Lake Geneva and we took the funicular up to the village. Funicular’s are all across Switzerland and would be a highlight for anyone to experience. They are designed for steep inclines and are just a marvel of engineering. It was my first time on one and I absolutely loved it. Glion was beautiful and the views over the lake are stunning. Interesting fact: Glion is also the place where Henri Nestle died of a heart attack in 1890.
This area of Switzerland is a mix of deep alpine lakes, grassy valleys dotted with neat farms and small villages, and thriving cities that blend the old and the new.
Chateau de Chillon
After our relaxing and mellow time in Montreux, we started our drive to Sion and stopped on the way out of the city at Chateau de Chillon, located on the far western end of Lake Geneva. According to the castle website, Chillon is listed as “Switzerland’s most visited historic monument”. There is a fee for entrance and there are both parking spaces and a bus stop nearby for travel. Inside the castle there are several recreations of the interiors of some of the main rooms including the grand bedroom, hall, and cave stores. Inside the castle itself there are four great halls, three courtyards, and a series of bedrooms open to the public. It is fun to walk on the wooden sentries and especially to scale the narrow, steep wooden stairs to the top of the donjon.
The drive from Montreux to Sion was a short 45 minutes and we were being hosted by Andrew’s former teacher at his authentic Swiss home in the mountains above the city. Our host Andre taught Andrew at the Hotel Institute in Montreux and he treated us to a traditional raclette dinner complete with a fresh cheese wheel from his neighbour that was left hanging at their front door for us all upon our return from an outing. Our children love raclette as we often make it at home but nothing beats the traditional Swiss style of melting a full cheese wheel at the dinner table.
Sion is a lovely, authentically Swiss town and landmarks include the Basilique de Valère and the Château de Tourbillon. Sion has also has an airfield for civilian and military use, which serves as a base for air rescue missions.
The market day in Sion is still one of our absolute favourite markets in all of Europe. Sion has a population of 30,000 people and it was the perfect sized market to wander aimlessly through, unlike the crowded markets of Provence where it can be very difficult to navigate through the large crowds.
While you shop you can stop at any number of bars and restaurants for a glass of wine and take in the surrounding views of the Alps.
Chateau de Tourbillon
The Chateau de Tourbillon is a must see while in Sion, although be prepared for the steep hike and rugged path. The views get better and better the higher you climb so come prepared and it will not disappoint. Get your camera ready as the views out over the city with the mountains in the background are amazing from every angle.
On our way out of Sion en route to Lugano, we started mentally preparing ourselves for the Furka Pass. It is a thrilling, exhilarating, terrifying and lovely drive all at the same time. I have been on a number of mountain roads in my day living in Western British Columbia, but there is absolutely no comparison whatsoever to the experience of the Furka Pass. Definitely a drive to put on your bucket list.
The Furka pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 2.431m (7,976ft) above sea level, located in one of the snowiest regions in Switzerland. It’s one of the world’s most iconic, exhilarating and exciting drives, through the Swiss Alps. The pass was immortalised by the Aston DB5 / Ford Mustang car chase in James Bond’s Goldfinger. So when we realized that in order to get from Sion to Lugano that we would have to drive the Furka Pass, well …..we were pumped! It definitely did not disappoint. Although truth be told my head was between my legs for a good portion of the drive because it was sooooo scary. Did I mention that I’m terrified of heights?!!
I will never forget the stunning scenery after leaving the Furka Pass and making our way into Lugano. It is breathtaking. Lugano was everything I dreamed it would be and so much more. After a decade of traveling, Lugano still sits in my Top 3 destinations list.
From Monte San Salvatore you have a magnificent panoramic view, to the Alpine chain and view of Lugano Lake and the city. It is accessible by funicular that leaves from Lugano-Paradiso and it is truly the most spectacular vista point. I highly recommend enjoying a coffee or light lunch at the top on one of the terraces. We went in September so the number of tourists were light and we were able to sit back, relax and soak In the experience.
Another must-do is Lido di Lugano. It has everything you can imagine, sandy beach, floating dock with slide, Olympic size pool, diving boards/platforms, snack bar, bar, rental chairs, rental towels, grassy area, locker rooms, etc. It is a perfect way to kick up your feet and spend a relaxing day after many hours of touring the city.
We spent four glorious days in Lugano, walking, eating, relaxing at our beautiful hotel on the outskirts of the city.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
We were so sad to leave but we definitely plan to return again someday soon! After leaving Lugano our final destination was Monaco. It was such a beautiful drive down to the city from the highway and the scenic pull off gave us a glorious panoramic view.
We spent hours and hours at the marina just watching the yachts coming in and the crews unloading and loading. I had never seen so many yachts of this calibre in one place and it was fascinating watching everything unfold, from large boats appearing from underneath the yachts to crew members serving at cocktail parties aboard the boat in preparation to depart to their next destination.
We spent a full day visiting the famous casino, had drinks at the Fairmont, watched the changing of the guard ceremony which takes place on the Palace Square every day at 11:55 am and having a beautiful seaside lunch while again watching the yachts come in and out. We could easily have spent two days in Monaco but it was a perfect way to end our adventure.