Thursday, August 11, 2016


We spend most of our leisure time getting outdoors and exploring the mountains, but we have neglected some of the more urban attractions Switzerland has to offer. And so we decided to spend a sunny Monday in Geneva, the so-called "capital of peace" as it is home to the UN and Red Cross.

We were impressed with how very clean the streets of Geneva were. We strolled through the high-end fashion shopping district and saw first hand how Geneva qualified as the third most expensive city in the world!

A clean city centre
A bit further uphill and away from the lake, we arrived in the more historic Old Town. At the heart of the old town is the Place-de-Four, the oldest square in the city. We saw St Peter's Cathedral and then headed down into the grounds of the University of Geneva to see the Reformation Wall. This 100m-long wall was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Calvin's birth and it honours the main individuals, events and documents of the Protestant Reformation. It is built into the old city walls of Geneva. At the centre of the wall are four 5m-tall statues of Calvinism's main proponents: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox.

St Peter's Cathedral

The Reformation Wall

The main Calvinist proponents at the centre of the Wall

After exploring the old and modern parts of the city, we made our way down to Lac Léman to stroll along the promenade where the Rhône leaves the lake. There we saw the Jet d'Eau, one of Geneva's most famous landmarks. Five hundred litres of water per second are jetted to a height of 140m, with the water leaving the pump nozzle at 200km/h! The first Jet d'Eau was installed in 1886 a little further downstream from its present location and the present fountain was installed in 1951.

View from the lakeside promenade

The Jet d'Eau - I can see this from my classroom!

During out visit, the Geneva Lake Festival was taking place and the waterfront was packed with stalls, arcades and mobile restaurants. We stopped off at a wine bar to enjoy a glass of champagne in Switzerland's most international city.

A wine bar at the Lake Festival


Monday, August 8, 2016

Rochers de Naye

The Rochers de Naye is a mountain in the Swiss Alps overlooking Lake Geneva near Montreux. It lies on the watershed separating the Rhone and the Rhine. The summit is accessible via a charming cog railway, the highest railway in the canton of Vaud, but we took the other option: on foot!

The route 

We followed the Via Alpina trail (#1 on the Swiss trail system) up from Montreux, and the round trip covered 29km and 1580m of climbing. The first part of the route, just coming out of Montreux, passes through the Gorges du Chauderon.

The Chauderon Gorge
As the route continued up the mountain, we were treated to beautiful Alpine flowers and spectacular views over the lake. There are several activities at the top of the trail, including a marmot sanctuary, a restaurant, accommodation in Mongolian yurts, further walks along the ridge line, and ski slopes in winter.

A Chemin de Montagne

View over Lake Geneva

A good day to launch a paraglider

The steep ascent near the top

The railway station and marmot sanctuary at the top

Furry marmots!

It was a tough day out, but it's always a pleasure to see a new part of the Alps!

Gorges du Durnand

Champex-Lac is the midway point on the CCC route and we spent a couple of nights nearby while Daniel did some training. It is accessed by an incredibly steep and winding road and we discovered that just off the road is a hidden valley with the Gorges du Durnand. The gorge was made accessible in 1877 and is ranked in the top ten most beautiful gorges in Europe!

We have visited a few gorges recently (Aare, DiosazChauderon), but this one was something special. It is accessed by wooden walkways and stairs (330 steps in total) which hang steeply over the raging torrent below. The climb up the 'floating stairs' is an adrenalin-inducing ascent, and even though we completely trust Swiss engineering, we felt the magnetic pull of the water down below! There are 14 cascades along the route accessible to the public, and visitors who make it to the top will be hard pressed to say whether it was the falls or the climb that took their breath away!

Waterfalls and wooden walkways
A very steep climb!
See some of the 330 steps up the side of the gorge

Beautiful cascades plunging into pools

Gorges de la Diosaz

Also near to Les Houches in the Chamonix Valley and well worth a visit is the Gorges de la Diosaz. Visitors make their way up the gorge on a shaded wooden footpath suspended over the river; it feels like walking through a tropical rainforest! It is a riot of bright colours. The green forest and white waterfalls contrast with the black and green schist and the grey and red oxidised rock. There are also natural crystal formations in the steep cliffs.

The paths and bridges were a feat of engineering when they were first built by the owner, Achille Cazin and a local carpenter, Pierre Berthoud in 1875. Numerous information boards along the path explain all these features in detail. This site really is a great way to spend a morning in Chamonix!

Forest trails

Suspended wooden walkways

The Eagle Falls near the top

A natural fallen rock bridge at the top of the gorge

Parc de Merlet

While Daniel was out conquering mountain trails, I visited the Parc de Merlet, a wildlife sanctuary in Les Houches just outside of Chamonix. It is home to many Alpine animals, including marmots, chamois, ibex and deer, and also has a few imported animals such as Japanese sika deer and even a couple of llamas! The animals receive food twice a day throughout the year, but are otherwise free to come and go as they please, making them 'semi-wild'. There are large quarantine enclosures for some animals, but the rest wander at will through the spruce trees and meadows. There are a few trails through the park and visitors can get quite close to the animals.

The feeding area

A small chapel on the grounds

A couple of llamas in the meadow

A sika doe
The climb up from the parking lot to the park entrance is pretty steep, but it's worth it. It's great to see the animals up close and there are also spectacular views over the Mont Blanc massif.

It was a bit cloudy on my trip, but I glimpsed
Mont Blanc, a glacier and a waterfall through the clouds!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Courmayeur - Champex-Lac - Chamonix

At the end of August each year there is a mountain trail festival based in Chamonix in France. This year Daniel is competing in the 'CCC', a 101km race from Courmayeur (Italy) through Champex-Lac (Switzerland) to Chamonix (France). We spent part of our summer doing a recce of the route. Daniel learnt the trails and I renewed my impression of how hard his job is (those mountains are high!!).

Chamonix and Mont Blanc - where the trail ends

The race starts in Courmayeur, an Alpine town in Italy which is accessed through the Mont Blanc tunnel. We hiked up to Grande Col Ferret at 2537m which forms the international boundary between Italy and Switzerland. How cool to hike to another country!

The Aosta Valley in Italy where the race starts in Courmayeur

The international border in the Alps (from the Swiss side)

The route down into Switzerland is beautiful. The Alps were at their most majestic as we descended the fairly steep path. Fortunately there was a convenient and much-appreciated refuge en route where we stopped for a rest and lunch.

La Peule Refuge - great sandwiches here!

Green mountains and cascades

Lots of hiking options. We followed the TMB route.

Glacial rivers abound in this region

The halfway point of the race is at Champex-Lac in Switzerland. We've visited here before on a day trip, and it was good to return to an old haunt. We spent two nights in nearby Bourg-St-Pierre, including the Swiss National Day on 1 August, but the clouds rolled and the wind picked up at night so we didn't see any fireworks.


The race route continues to wend its way up and down the Alps, reaching a total of 6,100m of vertical gain. I joined Daniel for a hike between Vallorcine and Chamonix, the last 18km of the race. At the top of the pass at Tête au Vents we saw three chamois, including a baby! It was a sturdy little creature, true to its goat-antelope heritage. The views from the top were spectacular - a panorama of mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and of course, the highest mountain in Europe, Mont Blanc.

A chamois mother and kid

Glaciers overlooking the Chamonix Valley

The peak at Tête au Vents with Mont Blanc in the background

The race reaches its grand finale in Chamonix, where we've spent time before. This season, we've visited the Alpine resort a few times for Daniel's training. During some of his runs, I did a bit of sight-seeing around the region, including visits to Parc de Merlet, Gorges de la Diosaz and Gorges du Durnand.

Mont Blanc overlooking Chamonix
A rainbow in the clouds above Chamonix!

Annecy, France

A lovely day trip from Aubonne is to Annecy in France, 35km south of Geneva. This charming city has been nicknamed the "Pearl of the French Alps" and the "Venice of the Alps". It lies between the mountains and a lake and has two canals and a river running through the old town. It has also won the "Golden Flower" award for being one of the nine most-flowered cities in France!

Needless to say, it is idyllic. We spent a beautiful summer's day having a picnic in the park by the lake and strolling through the old town.

Restaurants lining a canal in Annecy Le Vieux (the old town)

One of the canals passing through Annecy

The Palais de l'Isle in the Thiou River

Promenade along the lake

Lake Annecy and the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps

The park on the lake's edge