In this case, “worst” is very relative as I’m pretty sure every town in Switzerland belongs somewhere on Unesco’s World Heritage list. But for our trip we were looking for the best town to stay in as a base where we could day trip to others. In my research though, I found it difficult to discern the nuances between them all. So here is our take on the Swiss Riviera towns we experienced. Hopefully it will help you choose where you to stay and where to skip!
First Things First
For starters, the Swiss Riviera is the area between Lausanne and Montreux on the northern shore of Lake Geneva, or as the locals call it, Lac Léman. If you’re coming to stay here the nearest major international airport is Geneva.
For orientation purposes, we are:
- Traveling as a couple
- Big wine drinkers
- Not overly concerned with nightlife (bars, clubs, etc.)
- Fond of wandering around (and between) cities on foot
- Excited about small towns with lively atmospheres versus sprawling cities or sleepy one-horse hamlets
So without further ado, here’s our take on the cities we experienced in the Swiss Riviera:
Lausanne is the largest city on the Swiss Riviera and I definitely don’t want you to think we forgot about it. However, we didn’t stay here or even visit. I’d read that the town is hilly and separated in half horizontally, with the shoreline at the bottom and the town higher up on the hill. That didn’t sound super walkable and since walkability is important to us we opted to skip Lausanne.
Montreux is the next biggest city and where we actually stayed. It’s further from Geneva airport but still only about 1.5 hours by train.
Montreux has a wonderful flower lined pathway along Lake Geneva. You can take this straight to Chateau Chillon, a castle built almost completely surrounded by the water. We loved our visit to Chateau Chillon and highly recommend it.
As pretty as the lake and the pathway was, we expected more sidewalk cafes or places to relax and enjoy the view. There were some restaurants with views but they were more like “know before you go” not like “oh look, let’s pick from these obvious options that we’re walking right by.”
We also had a hard time finding a boulangerie for some good bread. Again, this was a matter of having to google search for it versus just wandering by one. I guess we thought the Swiss Riviera would be more like France with a boulangerie on practically every street corner.
It was unseasonably warm and I wanted to shop for something cooler to wear. (Actually a packing fail on our part, to be honest. After a summer of triple digit temps in Austin, mid-70s weather sounded downright chilly. Turns out, that’s not quite sweater weather.) I found the stores in Montreux a bit disappointing. There were lots of big box/international brand stores like Zara, H&M, and (weirdly?) Esprit. I was hoping to find something more local. I’m sure there were some but like the boulangeries and restaurants with views, they weren’t something we just wandered by.
The views from the lake in Montreux were truly breathtaking but Brian and I kept wondering if there was a main plaza or an old town or basically somewhere else we were missing that had the quaint sort of old European vibe we were expecting. We never did find it.
Vevey is a smaller town than Montreux and where we wish we would have stayed. We took the ferry from Montreux here. The minute you step off the boat, you can immediately tell a difference in the two towns.
Vevey is much more compact, with a grid of streets that have small shops and restaurants lining them. The streets are more narrow and less trafficked than Montreux’s and the center of town has a dense, lively atmosphere.
There is still a beautiful walkway along the lake and even some cool chairs bolted directly into the rocks so you can sit literally right there on the water. Overall, the town was more walkable than Montreux. It also was very pleasant for meandering and shopping since the stores here had a more local feel.
Vevey also has a Läderach chocolate shop! It’s not exactly mom-and-pop, but it is a Swiss company and a fancy chocolate shop is always a good thing for a town to have. 😀
We visited Chexbres as the starting point to a day of wine tasting in the Lavaux vineyards. Immediately up a short hill from the train station is a little restaurant that is perfect to grab a cup of coffee and a pastry and enjoy a view of the vineyards from the balcony. However, it is a very small town, not the sort you’d want to stay overnight in.
Chexbres was not built along the water so there is no promenade, but the lake and mountains beyond make for a stunning backdrop to the vineyards that surround you. The streets of this town are narrow and winding but there was a surprising amount of traffic so it wasn’t as relaxing to stroll around as we had anticipated. There are little roads that snake through the vineyards though, and they are much quieter.
I wouldn’t recommend staying overnight in Chexbres. In fact, I’d come here only if you have a winery in mind, like Domaine Bovy, which is near the train station and where we had an excellent tasting. If you love wine and vineyards, the tastings and views are truly awesome but there isn’t much else here.
While walking back from Chexbres we stopped at the tiny town of Saint-Saphorin. This was on my radar as a must-see, super cute, super quaint little enclave. We were sweating like dogs and dying of thirst by the time we straggled in but it didn’t disappoint! Saint-Saphorin was just as charming as it was made out to be.
Tall stone buildings, winding cobblestone streets, window boxes full of flowers, the lake just beyond. Saint-Saphorin looked like a fairy tale. To be honest though, it was less like a town and more like a neighborhood. We saw one restaurant that was closed and well…that’s about it. No water for us!
Saint-Saphorin is a cute place to wander around but it’s not worth going out of your way for. It does have a train station though so if you are a sane person and take the train here instead of walking from Chexbres, then it’s possible to add Saint-Saphorin as a footnote to whatever else you might be doing that day.
If you’re looking for a quaint place to stay with access to the region and plenty to do in the town itself, I’d recommend Vevey. The next bigger town is Montreux and even bigger than that is Lausanne. Based on our experience, any town smaller than Vevey would have too little to offer as far as restaurants, shopping, etc. to qualify as a good home base.
Trains between towns are frequent and easy to navigate so visiting a wide swath of the Swiss Riviera is certainly doable. Ferries run between many of the towns as well. They are slower but let you enjoy the land views from the water instead of vice versa. The fresh breeze on your face isn’t too shabby either!
Or if you’re adventurous like us, you can visit some wineries and walk between towns on foot. However, if you do please take note of the weather, and dress responsibly!
I hope this post was helpful! If you have anything to add or have questions about the towns in this post, leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you. 😀