Le Chic En Rose

Diaries of an independent traveller

We had thoroughly enjoyed our ride on the little mountain railway up to Rochers de Naye (see here). The information sign at the platform helpfully directed us to the various mountain top activities.

It would be fair to say, though, it wasn’t the best day for sightseeing at the summit or for too many outdoor activities – gloomy skies and a rather chill wind greeted us and we thought the best place to admire the scenery was from the comfort of the “Restaurant Panoramique”. Here we tucked in to hearty Swiss style mountain fayre and enjoyed a half bottle of the local Oeil-de-Perdrix, a delicious rose wine made from the Pinot Noir grapes that grow in abundance in the Vaud canton.

Intrigued by the information sign promising a “Marmottes Paradis”, we headed off to investigate the museum. Ever since we went to the Alpenzoo in Innsbruck a few years back, I have wanted to see one of these cute little creatures in the wild. Unfortunately they were still hibernating that day at Innsbruck Zoo. Here they appeared to be stuffed! Please excuse the quality of photos in the museum – lighting was tricky.

We did, however, learn a lot of new information about their life cycle, mating season and even grooming habits. We also found out that the marmot is known as a groundhog in America (for some reason I’d never twigged they were one and the same). Fortunately later on in our holiday we were finally able to see some marmots in their native habitat – scampering about in the snow near the summit of the Gornergrat Bahn high up in the mountains near Zermatt.

Braving the chill wind outdoors we considered heading up to the flag pole that marks the Rochers de Naye summit a few hundred or so metres above us. Having seen a few walkers slithering around on the snowy, icy path we thought better of it and went to look at the collection of yurts instead.

The “Yurt Experience” is one of the attractions on offer at Rochers de Naye – an opportunity to spend a night in an authentic Mongolian style tent. It sounds a good idea in principle, billed as a romantic getaway or family bonding experience with heating and cosy decor. Just one note though, the amenities (including the toilets and dining room) are in the main building. Something to bear in mind especially in mid winter! In that case you might want to consider staying in the hotel instead. Either way you do get to stay up the mountain after all the day trippers have left and the sunsets and sunrises must be amazing.

Despite the grey day, the views were still spectacular in all directions. It was too early in the season for the Jardin Alpin to be open but in the warmer months there are many opportunities for hiking and walking. A warming cup of tea and a lengthy browse round the well-stocked gift shop later, we caught the train back down the mountain.  More stunning views and displays of spring flowers on the descent – Rochers de Naye is definitely a place we’d love to come back to!

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

We’ve always loved train travel and one of the attractions of travelling in Switzerland is the opportunity to ride on a myriad of trains of all descriptions. From fast inter-city ones down to the quaint little mountain railways that seem to defy gravity as they trundle up and down the mountains, you are spoilt for choice. Plus, like most things in Switzerland, everything runs like clockwork!

We had noticed the little blue and cream train sitting on a side platform in Montreux station and found out that it went up the mountain above the town to the summit at Rochers de Naye.  Although we could get a discount with our Swiss Passes, we did have to pay a proportion of the ticket price. It would, however, have been well worth it for the journey alone.

 

 

Run all year round by the Montreux Oberland Bernois Railway (MOB for short), the journey transports you on the cogwheel train via Glion (known for its hospitality school) and Caux, wending its way via a series of tunnels and switchbacks to the top. It probably wasn’t the best day weather-wise but we still had stunning views back down to Lake Geneva.

 

The lakeside settlements gradually got smaller and smaller until they looked like toy towns. Every time we thought we had seen our last glimpse of the lake we went through another tunnel or round a corner to find that it had magically appeared again on the other side of the train.

 

 

Being late spring the meadows still had some of the narcissi in bloom – apparently the spring floral displays are famous here. We started to see snow appearing too – even at this time of year there was still plenty on the upper slopes (albeit a little grey and sludgy). There were even a few intrepid skiers still around.

 

 

After a journey of around 55 minutes we arrived at the little summit station. Rochers de Naye sits at an altitude of 2042 metres above sea level and in the course of our train ride we’d climbed around 1600 metres. The air at the top was lovely, crisp and fresh and we set off to explore more!

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

 

 

A postscript to last week’s post (see here). A few hours of wandering round the Chateau de Chillon and our thoughts were turning to lunch. The cafe at the entrance only offered fast food style snacks and we hadn’t had the foresight to pre-order a function room for a banquet! So we headed across the road to the conveniently situated Taverne du Chateau de Chillon.

Taverne du Chateau de Chillon

Looking out from inside the Taverne du Chateau de Chillon

The Taverne is homely with red-checked table cloths – the sort of place that you associate with Sunday lunches in France or, in this case, the French part of Switzerland. The main restaurant was full of families out celebrating Mother’s Day (they appeared to be locals too, always a good sign) so we found a cosy corner in the adjoining terrace area and settled in. It was useful to be able to speak some French as the wait staff weren’t that good at English but I enjoyed the practice.

The food was hearty rustic fayre such as chicken in mushroom sauce or fresh lake perch and the portions decidedly generous! It was however reasonably priced by Swiss standards compared to some of the restaurants in and around Montreux. A half bottle of the local wine washed the food down well and the view out of the window towards the lake added to the ambience. All in all a very pleasant Sunday lunch!

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

The Chateau de Chillon is one of Switzerland’s most popular tourist destinations. Perched on a rocky island close to the shores of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman), its iconic setting is stunningly beautiful. On the day we went there walking up from Montreux (see last week’s post here),  the early morning sun soon turned to mist and fine rain giving the old castle a rather mysterious and haunting appearance.

Chateau de Chillon - Lake Leman (Geneva)

Chateau de Chillon – Lake Geneva with alpine peaks in background

No surprises then to find out that the history of this sometime fortress, arsenal and prison is somewhat dark despite its serene location! Although a Swiss public holiday (for Mother’s Day) it was not unpleasantly busy with tourists. We were quickly through the entry queue courtesy of our Swiss Passes. These passes are essential in my opinion for travellers to Switzerland, giving discounted entry to many museums and galleries as well as access to all forms of public transport.

The castle was originally founded in 1150 as a fortress for the Counts of Savoy who controlled the strategic north/south route between the lake and the mountains. As time went on they took control of most of the Vaud region – essentially the part of modern day Switzerland that is French speaking.

We made our way down into the dungeons passing by the extensive vaults of the castle wine cellar! The Clos de Chillon (described as a “fruity Chasselas white wine”), is available for purchase at the museum shop, though we had to pass that opportunity by as getting bottles back home again wouldn’t have been too practical.

The dungeon is almost at water level and you could hear the waters of the lake gently lapping against the heavy castle walls. It must have been torture to hear the sound of the water, so close and yet so far, for the unfortunate Francois Bonivard (1493 -1570),  the castle’s most famous prisoner. Lord Byron was inspired to write his poem, “The Prisoner of Chillon” after visiting the castle in 1816. An ecclesiastic and political activist with (by all accounts) a rather colourful lifestyle, Bonivard incurred the wrath of the Count of Savoy and was allegedly kept chained up to one of the large stone pillars that support the dungeon ceiling. He was finally released by the Bernese who defeated the Count of Savoy and took over the custodianship of the castle for the next couple of centuries or so (1536 – 1798). It was cold, damp and distinctly oppressive down in the dungeons – definitely not a place to linger, although fascinating at the same time.

We made our way up to the relative light of the main courtyard. Since 1805 the castle has been the property of the Canton of Vaud and restoration work continues today. The castle houses a number of exhibitions and hosts cultural events such as concerts. We toured through the old kitchens and dining areas where there are a number of interactive displays. Apparently you can hire out function rooms to experience your own medieval banquet or children can have a hosted birthday party with a dragon and knight theme.

I loved the displays of old wooden trunks by local artisans especially since one branch of my family were originally trunk makers in London in the 19th century.

The castle has many different sections and it does take some time to go round. One of the highlights was the view from the top tower, which you reach by taking a series of old wooden stairways. Here walkways lead along the ramparts and you can gaze out across the old roof and turrets towards the lake.

We had a few lingering looks back at the lake on the way out via the extensively stocked museum shop and headed off in search of lunch!

View of Lake Geneva and the Alps from Chateau de Chillon

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

The promenade along Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) stretched for miles in both directions. We had only to go down the steps from our hotel (the Eurotel) to find ourselves on the lakeside path. The views are priceless – the lake looked like a glass mirror and always seemed tranquil even on rainy days.

Montreux is surrounded by the Alps. They rise up on the southern shore of the lake in the direction of the Mont Blanc Massif, the eastern edge of the lake leads up the Rhone Valley and the northern fringes take you up towards Rochers de Naye and the ski slopes of Gstaad. Best of all, walking is free – a very enjoyable activity in a country that tends to be expensive!

We set off to visit the Chateau de Chillon on our last full day in Montreux. Although there are regular buses to and from the town, we decided to walk the 3 kilometres or so along the lake. It took us about half an hour at a leisurely pace, stopping frequently for photos!

 

The old castle came into view just as the first spots of rain started to fall. Very atmospheric!

 

Next week – our tour round the old chateau made famous by Lord Byron’s poem, “The Prisoner of Chillon”.

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

One of the absolute highlights of our Montreux stay was dinner at the famous Montreux Jazz Cafe by special request of Mlle! It turned out that we were there on the Sunday celebrating Mother’s Day in Switzerland, which happens to be the same as Australia (2nd Sunday in May) so we figured we had a good excuse to go there since we don’t get to see Mlle too often.

 

Part of the iconic Montreux Palace Hotel (see last week’s post) the cafe is quintessentially associated with the Jazz Festival and during festival time hosts both organised concerts and impromptu jamming sessions by the jazz musicians. Claude Nobs, the founder of the Jazz Festival, originally trained as a chef so the cafe combines his love of fine dining with his passion for music.

I was a little apprehensive about going to such a grand place and we thought it advisable to book. We did this the day before by going into the cafe at breakfast time as I thought that would be easier than phoning. The waitress didn’t speak any English so I had to negotiate in French and hoped that we we wouldn’t be turned away the next day. Fortunately, on arrival, we were shown to a lovely table at the long banquette and the evening wait staff spoke impeccable English.

 

The dining room has the elegant feel of a bygone era updated with modern decor and you are surrounded with framed prints of the stars who have dined here and “sung for their supper”!

 

 

Several dishes are named after jazz stars such as the Quincy Jones roast chicken (Monsieur’s choice), the BB burger and Ella’s Cheesecake. We didn’t order a starter but were served warm fois gras with our drinks before the main course arrived. A first for me – am not too keen on the origins of this dish but have to say it was delicious. We didn’t want to appear too gauche by taking too many photos of the food so there are only a few of the desserts! Exquisite concoctions of light meringues, ice cream and fruits – a perfect compliment to the rich main courses (we simply couldn’t have fitted Ella’s cheesecake in!)

 

It was quite a mixed clientele including a number of families (probably out celebrating Mother’s Day).  I can imagine it would be a very different atmosphere at festival time when the place must be buzzing with music and people.

Overall we had a thoroughly memorable night! Given the price (not cheap!) it was also a once in a lifetime experience though we did joke as we left that Mlle could pay for us next time!

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Another of the framed jazz posters

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

It was only a few weeks ago that we were staying by the shores of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman in French) at the start of an 8 day Swiss holiday. We chose to start our trip in Montreux partly because our London based daughter, Mlle, is working in the music PR industry and wanted to get a feel for the town where the world-famous annual jazz festival takes place.

Montreux Jazz Festival - Back Of The Convention Centre

Montreux Jazz Festival – Mlle at back of the Convention Centre

I hadn’t realised until I checked our souvenir programme (picked up at one of the cafes) that the 2 week festival kicked off last night! Founded by Claude Nobs in 1966 (hence the name of the main street), the Montreux Jazz Festival has been an annual fixture for over half a century. Even out of season, we felt the spirit of the festival everywhere. The ambience was particularly special at night when the lights came on.

Each evening we did a walk along the lakefront from our hotel (the Eurotel) just a stone’s throw from the one of the main festival venues, Miles Davis Hall. We wandered through the adjacent gardens with statues of music legends set amongst the flowers in the shadow of the iconic Montreux Palace Hotel.

The rainy weather must have deterred people from venturing out as we more or less had the place to ourselves. It must be a different story in the heart of the summer when the festival kicks off! Alas our budget did not extend to staying in the Montreux Palace itself  with its magnificent “Belle Epoque” facade, but we did treat ourselves to a meal there on our last night in Montreux. More tales from Montreux to come!

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

It’s always tricky deciding where to eat in London – you’re spoilt for choice but places can be pricey and you probably want to avoid the more obvious tourist traps.

We wanted to have a family get together during Mlle’s lunchbreak (my dad had come up with me from Yorkshire for the day). So the easiest thing was to put Mlle in charge of the arrangements! She came up with an excellent choice – Percy & Founders just round the corner from her workplace in Fitzrovia.

A casual bar and restaurant tucked away in Pearson Square, halfway between Oxford Street and Warren Street, we wouldn’t have come across it if we hadn’t been in the know. The surrounding square is dominated by tall office buildings but the quirky and charming feature of Percy & Founders is that it is built into the side of the old Fitzrovia Chapel, a lovely Grade II listed building (now restored and preserved for functions including weddings).

 

Initially we were seated in the rather noisy bar area but the staff were very helpful and we were soon relocated to a quaint little corner adjacent to cosy display shelves and with a nice view towards the old arched window of the chapel.

Percy & Founders describes itself as “British European” cuisine – an interesting concept! I didn’t take any photos of the food and drink as we were busy chatting but I would describe it as traditional food with a modern twist and an excellent wine list. Our wait staff were friendly and attentive without being intrusive.

The interior is very chic and stylish and the arty theme continues down to the toilets which so intrigued Monsieur that he photographed them for posterity.

 

We had a thoroughly enjoyable time. It was the perfect spot for a lazy extended lunch though plenty of people just popped in and out for a quick bite to eat. Overall Percy & Founders is a great find! Afterwards we came across another old church now dominated by the trappings of modern life – All Souls Langham Place sitting at the top end of Regent Street in the shadow of the BBC building!

All Souls Langham Place Regent Street London

All Souls Langham Place Regent Street London

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Regent’s Park used to be one of our favourite places for a weekend stroll when we lived in London. We would push our elder daughter around in her stroller – she’s now grown up with a family of her own! I also remember trips to London Zoo, which is housed in one corner of the park and on one especially memorable trip there as a little girl, seeing the very old giant panda, Chi Chi, in her enclosure (am really showing my age now!).

We had a couple of hours to fill on our brief trip to London last month. We’d had lunch near our younger daughter’s workplace in Fitzrovia and decided to catch a bus up from Oxford Street, which dropped us off on Marylebone Road. We wandered up Park Square, past the elegant Regency style villas, to the southern entrance of Regent’s Park.

 

I had a good view back towards St Marylebone Parish Church, on Marylebone Road, which has a family connection as my 3 times great grandparents baptised some of their extensive brood of children here in the 1830s/40s (see here for a previous post about family connections around Baker Street).

 

 

We weren’t following a particular path round the park so am not sure exactly which direction we went in but there are plenty of maps to guide you on your way! Past trees overflowing with May blossom, attractive lakes and pretty bridges we ended up somewhere near the centre of the park and enjoyed a welcome afternoon tea before heading back to the hectic pace of the city.

 

 

 

It wasn’t a particularly sunny day but the spring flowers still looked lovely and the birds were out in force along with some friendly squirrels, one of whom followed me a considerable distance no doubt hoping for an edible treat (not forthcoming as I think he would have followed me home otherwise).

 

 

 

Amongst all this beauty it is sad to think of yet another tragedy in London this week not too far away in West London. It is beyond my comprehension that this dreadful fire could have happened – sincere thoughts go out to all the people deeply affected and suffering at this time.

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

 

York has always been one of my favourite places to visit both when I was still living in Yorkshire and nowadays on visits back home. With its rich tapestry of history, wonderful old cobbled streets, alleyways, the imposing Gothic minster not to mention the numerous little curiosity shops plus cafes and restaurants galore – suffice to say you’re spoilt for choice (see here for an earlier visit).

York Minster

Street leading up to the imposing Gothic York Minster

However on last month’s trip, there was only enough time to fit in a quick afternoon visit one day with my dad. With the bottleneck and one way systems in the centre of town we always use the Park and Ride and take the bus into the city centre. Getting off at Lendal Bridge there are attractive walks in all directions. We could have gone down to the River Ouse via the Museum Gardens or taken a tour along the city walls.

We were, however, making for Coppergate and the famous Jorvik Viking Centre which we discovered had recently reopened (courtesy of the advertising poster at the bus stop!) following extensive damage in the York floods of 2015. It’s about a 10 minute walk from Lendal Bridge and we skirted round the Minster, Deanery Gardens and the pretty Treasurer’s House nearby en route to the museum.

York’s history has always fascinated me – I can well understand why ghost tours are a popular attraction as there must be plenty haunting the old streets and buildings!

York has its origins as a Roman fortress town (becoming known as Eboracum at this time) and later as a trading city during the Viking period and middle ages. In the 1970s workmen came across some historical artefacts quite by chance during renovation works in Coppergate. This discovery turned out to be of major archaeological significance as over the course of the next few years the 10th century Viking city of Jorvik was unearthed. It led to a rethink of the Vikings’ links to the north of England as they had actually formed a thriving settlement here. Jorvik proved that they lived and traded extensively from this base rather than simply plundering and pillaging and disappearing back to their Scandinavian homelands.

The revamped Jorvik is an amazing experience. The famous interactive ride takes you through a re-enactment of the bustling town as it would have been in AD 960.  The last Viking King in Jorvik, Eric Bloodaxe, had been banished and the city was once again a flourishing manufacturing and trading centre. It was also a cultural melting pot with Scandinavians, Anglo Saxons, Irish and peoples from far away in the East coming to and fro to trade. The animatronic figures are very life-like and the homes, furnishings, markets and animals (down to the rats!) have been recreated complete with the sounds and smells of the ancient town. The time travel ride (with commentary in many languages) takes about 16 minutes. You really feel you could be in the old town – it’s a great interactive way for people of all ages to enjoy history. The lighting was not conducive to taking too many photos inside so you’ll have to imagine the experience!

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Jorvik Museum

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Coppergate Outside Jorvik

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Museum Exhibits

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Jorvik Museum

After the ride you can explore the museum exhibits in more detail including seeing some of the skeletons that have literally been unearthed. The gift shop, as always, is one of my favourite places to browse round, with a large range of books, jewellery, china, trinkets and toys – there is something for everyone here!

Wandering round museums is always thirsty work and we had just enough time to stop off for afternoon tea at one of our favourite cafes, Bailey’s Tearooms, before heading off back home!

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Bailey’s Tearooms Looking Out

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Bailey’s Tearooms Inside

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

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