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MONTREUX is a snooty place, full of money and not particularly exciting. It’s spectacularly located, bathed in afternoon sunshine streaming across the lake and protected from chill northerlies by a wall of giant mountains, but once you’ve had your fill of window-shopping and strolling beneath the palm trees, it’s really rather dull.
From the early nineteenth century, Montreux was one of the centres for pan-European – and particularly British – tourism to Switzerland, following on from the importance of the impressive medieval Château de Chillon 3km away as a controlling presence on the road over the Alps: an edict dated 1689 from the Bernese lords of Chillon authorized the building of inns in the area to accommodate travellers making their way to and from the Grand-St-Bernard pass, and since then travel and tourism have been mainstays of the region’s economy. Up until the 1960s, the name Montreux referred to just one village in a loose affiliation of some 24 vineyard-communes spread around the neighbouring hills, including picturesque Clarens to the west, and Territet to the east. Both of these are now super-plush suburbs, their long and venerable visitors’ books taking in the great and the good, crowned heads of Europe, Russia and elsewhere, and literary and artistic personages famous and struggling.
The main reasons to visit Montreux are to absorb the spectacular panorama of the Dents-du-Midi peaks across the lake, and to visit Chillon – the latter perhaps Romandie’s only genuinely unmissable sightseeing excursion. The stellar annual Jazz Festival, which broadcasts Montreux’s name worldwide, offers top-drawer performers in all areas of music. In a gleeful case of truth being stranger than fiction, a century ago Montreux’s hoteliers were casting about for a logo they could attach to the advertisements they placed in the English press each season. On a walk in the nearby hills they came across the perfect answer, growing in lush abundance all around; and so since 1897 the symbolic flower of Montreux has been, with ever-increasing aptness, a narcissus.
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