Lavaux: Hiking the Swiss Wine TrailSaturday, October 29, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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!