To tell the truth, I’ve never really got on well with the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Since moving here in 2015, I’ve always felt much more at home in the Swiss German part. Maybe it’s a personality thing: I’m more restrained and orderly and don’t like breaking rules. The Swiss German part has a reputation of being a bit like that too. And I love it.
But my Via Alpina hike across the country required that I cross the language border, prejudices aside. This was first on my Gstaad – L’Etivaz hike, where I had to cross an actual fence on the divide from French-speaking territory. For the remaining three stages of the hike across Vaud, the French-speaking canton, I decided to make a holiday out of it. I booked two nights at Le Coucou, a hotel and restaurant at 1200m above sea level at Haut de Caux, high in the hills above Montreux. My second day’s hike would end at the hotel, and my third day would start at it. For the rest, there were trains and buses. Perfect.
I got the train from my home in Meiringen to L’Etivaz, the starting point for my three-day hike, on Sunday. Here I was resuming where I had left off last summer, and it was good to be back on familiar ground. I set off on what should have been an easy start to the hike. But alas things weren’t so straightforward.
I got my first introduction to the state of French Swiss footpaths, something that would get messier the next day, when I’d encounter more electric fences than footpath signs. Or at least it felt like it. I know that I’m completely spoilt having my home hiking ground in the Berner Oberland, which is probably one of the best places for hikes in Europe. But this wasn’t good. I stuck to GPS instead of looking for signs, but the paths were elusive. Off route on a steep mountainside and in grasses up to my knees, I dramatically contemplated if I’d need to call out a REGA helicopter (emotions were rising). I took a few deep breaths, stayed calm, and sat and looked at the GPS. The incredible views made things easier. Both nights were spent safely back in Le Coucou hotel.
My third day was the easiest: all I had to do was walk down to Montreux, with the view of Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva) to accompany me. There were signs, and it was easy! I also loved the walk through the Gorges du Chauderon for the final section. I had no idea this was so close to Montreux.
This trip has completely changed my idea of the city, by finding out what’s around it and above it. Beautiful mountains aren’t just in the Berner Oberland, after all.
Day 1: L’Etivaz – Rossinière (Via Alpina Stage 18)
– 14 km
– 3h 45m (I got lost and took longer than 4hrs)
– 340 m up, 580 m down (I somehow included a decent ascent in my route, the signs aren’t clear. Still scenic, though!)
Off to an auspicious start. One of my favourite parts of summer: the Alpine flowers. I love being on mountaintops, but I also adore the woods. Especially in the spring and summer months when everything is green and thriving. The view of Lac Léman from the cogwheel train up to Haut de Caux, where I was staying. Not bad, huh?
Day 2 (the most beautiful of the three): Rossinière – Rochers de Naye – Haut de Caux (Via Alpina Stage 19 + a bit of Stage 20)
A long day, about 27km. You can stop at Rochers de Naye and get the cogwheel train down to Montreux to save some km.
It’s meant to take 7 h 35 min to Rochers de Naye, but I kept losing the path (and/or the path was very badly maintained) and took about 1-2 hrs longer. Then it was an extra 2 hours to Haut de Caux.
About 1900 m up, 1740 m down
My hill descent nightmares were over this ridge. But the views were still spectacular. See the hill at the back, on the right-hand side above the farm? We’re not friends. But Vaud and I are getting closer. Looking back at beautiful ridges on the approach to Rochers de Naye. Why did I say I didn’t like Vaud again?
Snow and beautiful Alpine flowers. There are lovely mountain curves up here. Looking back at where I’d been that day. A few hours ago, I’d sat overlooking the lake you can see at the centre-right. The icing on the cake for a really beautiful evening. Le Coucou is a cosy place with a jazz vibe, and I spent my first evening remembering that fondue is great for the first 5 mouthfuls, then it becomes a real challenge.
Day 3 (the easy day): Haut de Caux to Montreux (the end of Via Alpina Stage 20)
About 120 m up, 780 m down
Lac Léman. The Gorges du Chauderon , just a short walk from the Old Town of Montreux.