Lavaux: Hiking the Swiss Wine Trail

Hiking in Lavaux, the wine terraces of Switzerland

Our first hike in Switzerland was, funny enough, not exactly a hike but a long and meandering walk through what could possibly be the world's most beautiful wine country. Lavaux is vast and an undulating swathe of terraced vineyards set against the turquoise waters of Lac Léman and the towering peaks of the Savoie mountains. Stretching 30 kilometers from St. Saphorin to Lutry, Lavaux is a UNESCO Heritage Site, protected since 2007.

It's very easy, albeit pricey, to take the train from Geneva to St. Saphorin. On a Sunday afternoon with little planning, we coughed up about 50 francs each for the pleasure of traveling round trip by über efficient Swiss train. It was a good option for a couple who didn't feel like driving under the influence—and the views are stunning, especially when you get to the Lavaux area (make sure to take a seat on the right side side of the train). But if you have a group of at least 4 and a willing designated driver, coming to Lavaux by car would probably be the most economical option.

Hiking in Lavaux, the wine terraces of Switzerland
Old Town of St. Saphorin in Lavaux, the wine terraces of Switzerland
Classic Swiss house in Lavaux, the wine terraces of Switzerland

We came on a Sunday because we were more interested in hiking and enjoying the scenery than swilling wine. If you are more interested in the imbibing part, do not come on a Sunday as, similar to most everything else in Switzerland, the winetasting rooms are shuttered then. We quite liked having the quiet medieval towns and rolling vineyards mostly to ourselves, through the heat was punishing in late August with most of the walking route fully exposed to sun. October is supposed to be the optimal time to visit Lavaux so that one can enjoy the golden foliage and fruit-laden vines at more comfortable temperatures.

Vines with grapes in Lavaux, the wine terraces of Switzerland

We meandered along the Swiss Wine Route and walked from St. Saphorin to Chexbres, which is deservedly known as the balcony of Lac Léman. The incline is very steep and on a hot day, it can feel like torture to take on that climb. But when you get to the top, you'll find that it is absolutely worth it. Aim for the popular bar Le Deck at the hotel Le Baron Tavernier for postcard perfect views. Le Deck is only open from April until about September but if you come at the right time of the year and can manage the wait (they don't take reservations), the views here are splendid. If you have a more urgent hankering for beer, as we did, you can simply cross the street and have a drink at the hotel. The advantage to this approach is you are also likely to see the impressive parade of luxury cars zipping through this most picturesque of driving roads.

View from Chexbres in Lavaux, the wine terraces of Switzerland

We ended the day by walking from Chexbres to Epesses, which was mercifully all downhill and with amazing views most of the way, to boot. The train tracks in these parts are all the way down near the lakeside so you always have the option of waiting alongside the lake, watching the locals paddleboard and swim in the incredibly clear and clean waters. Even without the wine and with all the sun-drenched walking, we fell in love with Lavaux. You can't miss it if you're coming through this part of Switzerland!

Hiking in Lavaux, the wine terraces of Switzerland

La Salève - Hiking to the Balcony of Geneva

View of Geneva from Mont Saleve

The Swiss life is known for certain key pleasures: cheese and chocolates as major food groups, and hiking and skiing as national pastimes. As we continue settling into our new life in Switzerland, we've also started to partake more and more in these delights. Funny enough, however, our first hike as Geneva residents was not in Switzerland but across the border in France. Nothing quite drives home the oddity of this Swiss city tucked in the bosom of France as the process of hopping on a Swiss bus, crossing the border on foot and hiking up a French mountain to get a proper overview of Geneva.

La Salève is the closest and most easily accessible mountain for Geneva city dwellers looking for a good nature romp. You can take Bus #8 all the way to the end of the line in Veyrier, cross the border and take any of about a dozen possible hikes up the mountain. I brought my passport but the office was closed that Sunday so we unceremoniously crossed over into the EU.

Hiking up Mont Saleve

In addition to multiple hiking trails, one can easily reach the top of Salève by car or cablecar (a one-way ticket for the téléphérique is 4,30€ while a round-trip ticket is 6,30€). We elected to hike up the mountain and take the téléphérique down, which I recommend. While going up a mountain is certainly more challenging that going down, we decided to save our knees from the pain of a steep descent, and are still glad that we did.  

View of the Telepherique du Mont Saleve

We basically winged it, as far as hiking routes go. Similar to Switzerland, Salève had several signs pointing to and estimating times for various routes. We took the route to L'Observatoire, which at 2 hours and 15 minutes is the fastest but also has the steepest incline. It is largely a walk among the trees, with occasional breaks where one can glimpse Geneva—not the most impressive views, if you've hiked elsewhere in stunning Switzerland, but delightful enough for us amateur hikers. We largely enjoyed just being away from the city, taking on a physical challenge and communing with nature.  

When we reached the peak, we found ourselves reluctantly back among the tourist throngs at the landing point of the téléphérique. I pulled out my euros and we enjoyed some hotdogs at Buvette Sympa. We skipped having a beer here as we intended on walking on to L'Observatoire but I would urge you to try the special Mont Salève microbrew at this point. We continued on to L'Observatoire and along the way passed the table d'orientation where we were lucky enough to glimpse a paraglider beginning his flight to the plains down below. When we reached L'Observatoire, I was surprised to find a Buddhist temple adjoining the restaurant. It felt anachronistic, almost, but the colorful Buddhist flags flapping in the wind did make for a stunning visual together with the view of the city of Geneva. At the restaurant, we enjoyed the view with some beers on the terrace then walked back to take the téléphérique down.

Mont Saleve, France

We didn't consult any guides before hiking up Salève but you would perhaps enjoy the guide prepared by Téléphérique du Salève (available in English and in French), as it has a lot of interesting historic tidbits about the mountain. If you plan well and are a more experienced hiker, you can also join the Geneva Association of friends of the Salève for their Sunday 10am hikes, which can take 5 to 8 hours (3 hours of which will consist of a rapid climb). You can find more information here.

Happy hiking!