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Lake Geneva with Dents du Midi and the steamer 'Italie'

A Taste of Geneva Region

Foodies have plenty to get their teeth into in Switzerland’s Lake Geneva Region. Picturesque and mountainous, the area encompasses the affluent lakeside cities of Geneva, Lausanne and Montreaux and has Canton Vaud at its heart.

Vaud joined the Swiss Confederation in 1803. Within this canton you can visit the Alps as well as the Jura mountain ranges. As the spring sunshine slowly melts the mountain snows, the meadows and passes of the Lake Geneva Region are gradually opening up to walkers and cyclists. These activities require plenty of calories to fuel long hours out in the open on undulating countryside. Dining while exploring this part of Switzerland thus becomes a pleasurable necessity.

You are not going to be short of restaurants with fine views. One of the best, for aficionados of mountain scenery, is up on the Tsanfleuron glacier, above the town of Villars-sur-Ollon. Cable cars run to the summit of what has become known as Glacier 3000, because of its altitude when measured in metres. This accessibility ensures you need not to be a mountaineer to enjoy the vistas or the food served in Restaurant Botta, which was named in honour of its designer, the architect Mario Botta.

Cow bells hanging in La Maison de LGÇÖEtivaz
Cow bells hanging in La Maison de L’Etivaz

If you simply fancy a snack then Restaurant Botta (www.glacier3000. ch) has a self-service section but it is the 120-seat dining room on the fourth floor of the spectacular building that attracts gourmands. Regional specialities from the Vaud, Berne and Valais cantons are served in an airy, modern restaurant with sweeping panoramas of nearby summits and the valley below. Provided the weather is clear, you’ll be able to view the Matterhorn, which peaks at 4,478 metres above sea level. The restaurant is regularly used as the location for press conferences and product launches, so it is worth reserving a table in advance.

From Villars you have views over the Rhone Valley to the seven rocky summits known locally as the Dents du Midi meaning ‘the teeth of the south.’ The highest of the forbidding peaks rises 3,257 metres into the clear mountain air. The town hosts a number of quality hotels and is a fine base for sorties into the surrounding countryside. As you would expect, it also has a number of fine dining spots.

For a true taste of the region you could argue there’s nothing more authentic than the Alpine Garden menu served by Chef Jöel Quentin at Peppino, the cosy restaurant within the Eurotel Victoria Villars (www.eurotel-victoria.ch). For well over a decade Quentin has foraged for ingredients on a daily basis in meadows around the town. Locals have become accustomed to seeing him out and about. He uses his bounty to flavour and garnish dishes, which draw largely upon locally sourced ingredients, such as lamb that has grazed on grass in nearby valleys.

Quentin is intensely knowledgeable about mountain herbs, leaves and berries and has written a booklet about the ingredients that can be found and sourced between 500 and 2,000 metres above sea level. He draws on that to create a beautifully presented series of dishes and, simultaneously, raises awareness that people tend to walk past plants without thinking about the flavours and medicinal properties they hold. The dishes served in the Alpine Garden menu are Continental in character but Quentin also cooperates with chefs from South Asia to add a twist to traditional Indian cuisine served at Peppino.

Most people intuitively think of the Alps primarily as a winter sports destination rather than a place for golfing holidays. During winter the fairways of Golf Club Villars (www.golf-villars.com) double as pistes. The clubhouse, at 1,600 metres above sea level, is open throughout the year and has a fireplace to warm by on chilly days. The hearty, gourmet cuisine served within the clubhouse restaurant includes dishes such as tender grilled steaks, baked camembert cheeses and pears boiled and softened in wine from the Rhone Valley.

The Swiss Wine Switzerland quietly gets on with producing some fine wines and consuming most, meaning there’s little left for export and building an international reputation. 30th May, ninety estates throughout the Geneva region will be participating in the Open Wineries Day, providing free entry and selling wine at 5 Francs a glass. Free shuttles will run between the estates.

Swiss cheeses and regional wine tasting in La Maison de LGÇÖEtivaz
Swiss cheeses and regional wine tasting in La Maison de L’Etivaz

Bernard Cavé’s winery (www. bernardcavevins.ch) in Ollon makes use of innovative concrete egg-shaped maturation vessels to maximise the character of his wines produced from grape varietals including Gamay and Gamaret as well as the better known Syrah. While you’re in the region it’s worth exploring the produce of local estates and pairing them with the cuisines.

Cheese is often matched with wine and in the village of Etivaz you can see one of the finest styles of Swiss cheese maturing in La Maison de l’Etivaz (www.etivaz-aoc. ch). Production takes place between May and October on farms between 1,000 and 2,000 metres above sea level. The herbs growing in the mountain pastures help give the cheese a distinctive, slightly nutty flavour. Freshly made wheels of cheese are delivered more or less daily, then allowed to mature for between 135 days and 30 months. Etivaz cheese is a protected regional product, carrying the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) label that’s often seen on wine as well.

You can experience cheese and wine tastings in La Maison de l’Etivaz, which has a well-stocked delicatessen with an extensive array of culinary products from the region. It’s a good spot to shop ahead of an Alpine picnic or to acquire supplies before heading home.

Switzerland, of course, is well known for raclette and fondue, cheese dishes bursting with flavour. You can try these at the characterful Le Chalet restaurant (www. lechalet-fromagerie.ch) in Château-d’Oex. During summer months you can also view cheese making demonstrations over a log fire in the 19th century building. Scooping up fondue on pieces of skewered bread takes skill. Local diners joke that those who lose their bread in the fondue pot must buy a round of drinks. At Refuge de Solalex (www.refugesolalex.ch) – a cosy, rustic restaurant in the mountain hamlet of Gryon – you can try this in a traditional setting. Sitting by the fireside you watch as cheese is soften by the roaring fire for raclette, a dish consisting of melted cheese served with vegetables.The dish slips down particularly well on spring evenings when the air outside still carries a chill.

Cheeses ripening at La Maison de LGÇÖEtivaz
Cheeses ripening at La Maison de L’Etivaz

Under the vaulted ceiling of the restaurant in Ollon’s Hotel de Ville (www.resthotelollon.ch) you can taste locally caught perch served with a meunière style sauce or with vegetables from the region. If you’ve enthusiastically overdosed on cheese and meat – always a possibility in the restaurants of the Alps – there’s also a selection of salads to choose from.

If you’re also looking for Michelin starred fine dining experiences then you won’t go home disappointed by this region. The Auverge de Vouvry (www.aubergedevouvry.ch) serves beautifully presented seasonal dishes in a refined dining room but also has an informal brasserie with wooden dado panelling and chalkboard specials.

Just a few kilometres away, Lausanne, the capital of the Olympic movement, has ten restaurants holding Michelin-stars. Only one, the Restaurant De l’Hotel De Ville Crissier (www.restaurantcrissier.com), carries the coveted distinction of three stars. Chef Benoît Violier leads the team within this culinary establishment that has been open for more than four decades. The tasting menu starts from 375 Francs.

The cuisine of southern France is served at La Table d’Edgard (www.lausannepalace. com), within the upscale Lausanne Palace and Spa hotel. Edgard Bovier and his team have won a reputation for serving beautifully prepared seasonal vegetables with seafood, fish and meat dishes. The restrained décor of the dining room contrasts with the bright views from terraces with lake and mountain vistas.

Montreaux is known throughout the world for its annual jazz festival, which will be held this year from 3 to 18 July.
The city’s culinary scene is also deliciously harmonious. Just outside of town, Stéphane and Stéphanie Décotterd hold two Michelin stars at the modern Le Pond de Brent restaurant (www.lepontdebrent.ch). Tasting menus of between three and eight courses are served in this establishment, which is highly regarded by wine lovers.

Vevey, the place where milk chocolate was invented in 1875, is less than 6km from Montreaux. The lakeside municipality has around 19,000 inhabitants and three Michelin-starred restaurants. Restaurant Denis Martin (www.denismartin.ch) serves amusingly playful creative dishes, some of which intersect the boundary of art and food.

Geneva itself, of course, is culinary centre of note. It is home to 11 restaurants with a single Michelin star plus two holding two stars. The waterfront Rive Droite area is the district to head to for luxury restaurants and fine dining. Modern French cuisine is served in Vertig’O (www. geneva.concorde-hotels.fr) by Chef Jérôme Manifacier, whose menus have a touch of Mediterranean flair. Dominique Gauthier oversees the food leaving the kitchen of Le Chat Botte, within the Beau Rivage hotel (www.beau-rivage.ch), which this year celebrates its 150th anniversary. Gauthier’s spring menu features fish from the lake, Swiss milk-fed veal with cheeses from the country and neighbouring France.

As the Swiss well-know, there’s much to explore in the Lake Geneva Region and to make the most of your time here, refuelling is essential. Good, hearty food is a key part of enjoying mountain life.
Useful Information Lake Geneva Region (Lake-geneva-region.ch), Chateau d’Oex (Chateau-doex.ch/en/index.cfm), Villars-Gryon (Villars.ch/en).

 

Golfers on the fairway of the 18 hole Golf Club Villars
Golfers on the fairway of the 18 hole Golf Club Villars

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