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Lake GenevaGeneva has so much more than a handy airport for Alpine ski resorts. In summer its beautiful lake is a paradise for walking, biking and boating. Graeme Spratley sampled the natural, cultural and culinary pleasures of the Lake Geneva region

IN WINTER, GENEVA IS THE GATEWAY TO THE SLOPES for thousands of UK skiers – and if you’re one, you should think about making the short hop here in the summer, too, to sample a wealth of mountain action available in the Lake Geneva Region. Dominated by its breathtakingly beautiful lake, the region is split into four distinct zones – towns and lakes, the countryside, the mountains of the Jura, and, located in the east of the region – the Alps. Visitors arriving by air into Geneva will get a bird’s eye view of the iconic Jet d’Eau, a tremendous water-spout powering 140 metres into the air – the ‘signature’ of one of the most famous lakes in the world.

Arriving on a glorious summer day in July, the train ride from Geneva Airport to Lausanne takes less than an hour and from there it was just a short trip to Lutry and the unique Lavaux vineyards. Stretching for about 30 km from the outskirts of Lausanne to Montreux, along 10,000 or so terraces rising from the lake shore, the whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been continuously cultivated since the 11th century.

The vineyards are criss-crossed by a network of walking and cycling paths, and it’s hard to imagine a better way to enjoy the summer air by the lake. The paths through the vines from village to village are all well signposted, and en route it’s a joy to stop off and sample local wine and food, often under the shade of a leafy pergola. Some delicious fare, combined with the torrid July heat, made me thankful that the afternoon required nothing more energetic than getting on a boat to Montreux, my base for the night, and with it a ticket to the Montreux Jazz Festival where Massive Attack promised a night to remember.

The following morning, after visiting the impressive castle at Chillon, immortalised by Lord Byron in his poem The Prisoner of Chillon, it was time to leave the lake shore for now and head into the Lake Geneva Alps for a taste of mountain action. At an elevation of 1,300m on a natural terrace, the resort of Villars/Gryon is a sun trap and doesn’t miss a moment of warm summer sunshine. 

Jet_DEau_GenevaThis open position reveals unrestricted views to Lake Geneva in one direction and Mt. Blanc in the other, and all guests who stay at least one night in resort during the summer receive a Villars/Gryon Free Access Pass (available from July to October). The pass includes free use of cable cars, local buses, outdoor tennis courts, swimming pool, artificial ice rink, mini golf and the mini steam train for children, as well as the bus to Les Diablerets (for access to Glacier 3000) and the Alpine Coaster – the highest rollercoaster in the world. The cable car to Glacier 3000 isn’t included on the pass, but holders of a Swiss Pass – indispensable for most visitors planning to use public transport – will get a 50 per cent discount on the fare. Incidentally, Glacier 3000 offers the rare opportunity of hikes across the glacier as well as via ferrata routes and cross-country skiing.

Villars/Gryon has more than 300 km of marked walking paths and 150 km of all-terrain bike trails to discover the beauty of the area. I can recommend an early(ish) morning hike to the Col de la Croix Alpine farm serving a tasty breakfast cooked on wood fires, or the easy four-hour hike to explore the labyrinthine tunnels of the 17th century salt mine at Bex. However, Villars isn’t just about hiking and biking, and at last count there were nearly 30 activities on offer, ranging from canoeing to climbing, as well as an exciting Adventure Park, where, with a harness you can move through the trees at heights of up to 15 metres.

From the relative cool and high-octane activities of the Alps, the road back to Geneva Airport included one more stop, in the lakeside city of Lausanne, Switzerland’s fifth biggest and headquarters of the Olympic movement. Any sports fan should include Lausanne on their ‘to visit’ list and immerse themselves for a day or so in the Olympic Museum, set in an impressive building and grounds beside the lake, full of memorabilia from winter and summer games past, including plenty of archive film and interactivity.

Chillon_CastleIf you’re inspired to get active, the lake and lakeshore are humming with activity, with sailing and windsurfi ng on the water, whilst on the lakefront cyclists and inline skaters come and go, looking impossibly tanned and fit. The city itself is a fascinating warren of the old and new, crowned by its medieval Gothic cathedral, and the compact metro system makes it easy to get around the various levels of the city, which rises steeply from the lake. If you choose to visit during the first week in July, as I did, the city streets are alive until late with crowds enjoying the many events of the Festival de la Cité.

The attractions of the Lake Geneva Region are many, not least of all because Geneva is so accessible from UK airports, and destinations such as Lausanne are less than an hour by train from the airport, and once in Switzerland, irrespective of the eventual destination, the super-efficient, fully-integrated Swiss transport system makes light work of any journey.

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Getting there

Graeme Spratley travelled as a guest of Neilson Active Holidays and Switzerland Tourism


Many airlines fly to Geneva from the UK including Swiss, British Airways and easyJet


Doubles from CHF 250 per night room and tax.

Doubles from CHF175 per night inc. breakfast

Doubles from CHF295 per night room and tax.


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