Around 3:00 am Kyle and I rolled over in bed wide eyed and awake, and neither of us could get back to sleep. While I was dealing with morning sickness, Kyle went for a run in the hotel exercise room. At that point, we decided we might as well get a good start on our day. We got ready for the day, packed our backpacks, and headed to the station for the first train out of Geneva.
The train took us along the banks of a misty Lake Geneva. The sun was just starting to rise, revealing the snow capped mountains on the other side of the lake and vineyards and farms blanketing the hills. It was a beautiful view to take in while eating the pastries we had picked up for breakfast. About an hour into the train ride we got off at the colorful but still sleeping town of Montreux, then caught a bus to take us almost the rest of the way to our destination, Chillon Castle. Thankfully, we did get to walk another half mile down a trail next to the lake which gave us an amazing view of the castle as the fog was just starting to clear.
Because of our early start, we had arrived 20 minutes before the castle opened it’s gates. However, the grounds were open, which allowed us to walk around the anciently built walls covered in vines and moss. Already we were grateful that we had decided to venture off our original itinerary to see this amazing castle. Little did we know that the best was yet to come.
When we were finally allowed to cross the drawbridge, we felt like we were stepping back in time. It may just be my romantic imagination and love of fairy tales, but as we were wandering through the halls, I could almost picture myself as royalty and Kyle as my dashing knight. Apparently we were not the only ones to be swept up in the ambiance of the castle. As we wandered through the dungeons, we discovered that some recognizable names had also found inspiration here. The poet Lord Byron wrote The Prisoner of Chillon based on what he discovered in the dungeons and the story he was told of a man chained to a pillar for 6 years. He even left a his mark on one of the “seven pillars of Gothic mould”. It was also not surprising to hear that Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo gained inspiration for their literature through the dungeons.
The dungeons were dark, ominous, and eerie, but the rest of the castle presented large rooms filled with intricately painted decor, massive fireplaces, iron-plated windows, and beautiful wood and stone work. We especially loved the toilets, which basically consisted of a wood slab with a hole in it, which allowed excrement to drop to the base of the castle and into the lake. Swimming anyone? Though we didn’t get to participate, the castle often hosts banquets and parties in the rooms, allowing guests to really feel as if they are a part of the castle. I wouldn’t mind going back for one of those.
Our tour then took us to the outdoors areas and into the towers. We were amazed to learn that this castle actually began as a Roman outpost built on what appears to be a stone island, about 20 feet out on the lake. Its strategic placement led for it to be developed into a fort, then a small castle around 1005 AD. During the next 6 centuries, it was taken over and developed on many times until it reached its current height and magnitude. If you’d like a more in depth look at the castle, I loved reading this history of the castle.
If you are interested in visiting Chillon Castle, which I highly recommend, it is free with the Swiss Rail Pass (which we purchased because we were going to be on public transportation so often), and you can download an audio-guide app on your phone or listening device for much less than the audio-guide you would purchase there. Honestly, we liked it so much, we would have paid full price for everything just to visit, but it’s nice to know there are less expensive options.
We tried to time our trip back to the train station as best we could but ended up missing our train by about ten seconds because we went to the wrong side of the platform first (this is the first of many instances where we were relieved to have bought the Swiss Rail Pass, which allowed us to jump on any transportation without actually having to purchase a ticket for that specific transport). However, that turned out to be in our favor. After all, adventure is out there! Montreux had come alive and was bustling with people. There was a Christmas market just down the street from the station, which allowed us to get taste of a European market.
While walking through the stalls of the market, I had to stop when I saw the crepe stand. About 10 years ago when I was in Paris with my mom and touring Dance Company, I had the most amazing crepes. I’ve tried many a time to make one just as delicious but have failed just as many times. I couldn’t pass up another opportunity, plus I got to use my French again. While I munched on a banana and chocolate crepe, Kyle found his lunch, vin chaude maison. This is a traditional Swiss dish that starts with pickles, onions, and boiled potatoes. Then a half big wheel of cheese is placed under a heater. As soon as it gets bubbly and melted, it is scraped over the vegetables. Delicious!
Making sure to leave enough time to make it onto our next train, we then found ourselves riding up into the mountains to Gruyeres. We were on a quest to find another castle there, but were pleased to see such beautiful surroundings and we rose higher on the slopes. For a moment, I almost felt like I was back in the Utah mountains near Midway. I can see why so many Swiss people settled there.
Following directions, we jumped off the train only to find an abandoned train station. For a moment we thought we had jumped off too soon. Thankfully, we were able get enough service on my phone to locate the castle. We ended up walking along the edge of a highway for a mile, setting off many of the deer crossing alerts, before seeing the castle in the distance. With the castle in sight, all that was left was to hike up the hill through a rural neighborhood. Don’t worry, we didn’t trespass, there was a public trail to walk on.
By the time we made it too the top, we were both a bit sweaty, and were relieved that we had to bag check our backpacks at the visitors center for the Castle of Gruyeres (in the picture of Kyle with his backpack, we were all the way over in the lighted area when we started our walk to the castle). Though this castle may not have been as structurally impressive as Chillon, that was still fresh in our minds, it was another wonderful glimpse into Swiss history. This castle was owned by a series of Dukes starting in the 11th century, though much has been added on throughout the following centuries. We absolutely loved the faux-tapestry paintings in the dining hall, stained glass windows, and other relics that were displayed through the museum. I especially enjoyed learning the story of a group of female villagers who protected the castle from siege by lighting the horns of their goats on fire and set them running loose down the hill towards the attackers.
We had heard that any stop to the Castle of Gruyeres needed to be followed by a treat at Le Chalet. This quaint restaurant, located just next to the castle, housed many specialties, including framboises avec creme. Also known as raspberries with cream. The cream was so thick that it coated the raspberries and balanced out the tartness. However, it was so rich we could barely finish one helping between the two of us.
By that point, night had fallen, and we needed to get to the next train station. After waiting for the station shuttle for a half an hour and deciding it wasn’t going to come, we hiked down the opposite side of the hill and were thankfully able to find the station. From there, we rode a series of trains and a bus to make it to our next location, in Bern. These rides weren’t as lovely as the ones earlier in the day. We were fighting sleep the entire time, but weren’t able to sleep in fear that we would miss our next transfer.
All that tiredness paid off when we finally located our next hotel. Having booked it online, we hadn’t quite prepared ourselves for such a nice place. Our room was priced well, but the hotel itself gave off the appearance of being ritzy and expensive. We took a short break to relax and settle into our new accommodations, but then were out on the streets again to get some dinner and explore around a bit. Night in the city of Bern was magical, but our tired eyes and feet were longing for our bed. More exploring would have to wait for the next day.
*Title of this post is based off of one of my favorite books, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a whimsical story with witty writing.