The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about Switzerland are the breathtaking landscapes, the Alps, lakes, and the pretty towns. But very fewer people know about Lavaux Vineyards in Switzerland – the famous Swiss wine region which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Lavaux Region located in the canton of Vaud is one of the best places to visit in Switzerland. The UNESCO protected a stretch of vineyard terraces spans over 830 hectares along the shores of Lake Geneva from Lausanne to Montreux and Chateau de Chillon.
The vineyard terrace put up a spectacular show every season – lush green in summer, golden hue in autumn and covered in a blanket of snow during the winter, the vistas are always awe-inspiring. The paths winding through the vineyard terraces offer stunning views over the Lake Geneva and the Alps.
We were based out of Geneva and every time we would head to explore a new destination in Switzerland our train would chug past the vineyard slopes. And we would gawk in awe at the scenic vista. The maze of vineyards sloping into the shimmering blue Geneva Lake and on the other side of the lake in the distance, we could see small towns with a backdrop of massive snow-capped mountains.
Lavaux is very extensive with over 30 km of hiking trails and exploring it all in a day would be impractical especially when accompanied by a 3-year-old, with frequent photo stops and breaks. We wanted to explore the most scenic part of the Lavaux region which offered some of the best vantage points. We contacted the tourism website for the information. They were very helpful and provided us with all the required information.
How to Get to Lavaux?
We boarded a train from Geneva to Vevey and then a train to Chexbres Village which took us little more than an hour. One can also take a train from Lausanne or Montreux to Chexbres Village which takes around half an hour. If you are based in the Swiss capital Bern then Lavaux is 90 minutes train ride away with train changes at Lausanne and Vevey.
Once at Chexbres train station we started walking uphill into the village of Chexbres. The pretty houses and the sidewalks decorated with colorful flowers was awe-inspiring. The village is nicknamed as the ‘Balcon du Leman’ in French (means Balcony of Lake Leman/Lake Geneva) for wonderful views it offers over the lake.
Other prominent points of interest in Chexbres Village are the 19th century Church of Chexbres with neo-Gothic tower and remarkably stained glass windows, the 15th century De Crousaz Castle, the 18th century Town Hall and some well-preserved farmer houses dating from 17th to 19th century.
Chexbres is a wine-growing village which offers several trails with vantage points of the vineyard terraces and Lake Geneva. There are several wine tasting cellars across the village where you visit the cellar and taste different variety of wines. Out of the list we had of the wine cellars we choose Domaine Bovy which was only one that didn’t require prior appointments.
Wine Tasting at Domaine Bovy
When we visited, the cellar was kind of closed. They were preparing for a big party for the evening. But still, we were received with a warm welcome. They quickly arranged for a couple of chairs on the terrace to accommodate us. The prices for the tasting session depends on how many wines you want to taste. We settled on two glasses of wine one red and the other white wine or Chasselas. There was no one around on the terrace just us relishing the Swiss special wines taking in the vista of sprawling vineyard terraces, Lake Geneva and the silhouette of the Alps.
Once we finished with our glass of wine we requested for a quick visit to the cellar where we learned about the local wine-growing culture and the variety of grapes.
The cellars had huge oak tuns (wooden barrels that could hold 2,500 to 5,000 litres). Some of the wooden barrels in the cellar are over hundred years old which was evident from the dates inscribed on them. The barrels had beautiful pictures painted on them by Maurice Bovy and were a symbol of traditions. The cellar dates from the 16th century and currently the estate is being run by the fourth generation.
We also learned a bit about the wine-making process. The wines of Chasselas origin are stored in the oak tuns from 4 to 6 months while the red wines stayed for 6 to 8 months. Prior to barreling the grapevines had to undergo direct pressing, yeasting and fermentation between 20 and 24° C for Chasselas and 28-30° C for red wines.
The bottling and the sale happen from March and September. Thereafter the cellars are ready for the next round of barrelling after the ‘Grape Harvest Festival’ in September. More information here.
There are few more options for wine cellars which offer wine tasting. As per our information, these are open only by appointment. We suggest you confirm before you plan to visit. Click here for the list.
We continued onto ‘Route de la Corniche’ to reach the village of Epesses. The village of Epesses is located in the heart of Lavaux region and offer incredible views of the vineyard terraces, the Alps, and Lake Geneva.
We had our lunch at a restaurant called La Crochettaz on Route de la Corniche in Epesses. The restaurant has a terrace with beautiful views over the vineyards and the Lake Geneva. They offer traditional Swiss food as well as Indian cuisine.
Further, some 6 km from Epesses is the medieval town of Lutry. The town apart from remarkable views of the Lavaux vineyard terraces is also worth a visit for history and heritage. Lutry Castle (built in the 15th and 16th centuries), the Roman Catholic Church of Saint-Martin (built between 13th and 15th centuries) housing rich collection of 16th-century paintings by Flemish artist Humbert Mareschet and several Gothic facade houses listed as Swiss heritage site of national significance can be found in Lutry.
Every year thousands of tourists and locals head to the Lutry in the month of September to celebrate the Grape Harvest Festival. The festival that lasts for 3 days is held in the Old Town of Lutry.
From Epesses we walked downhill following the map to the town of Saint Saphorin. The path winding through the vineyard terraces passed through Chemin du Dezaley and Chemin de la Dame.
Chemin du Dezaley
The Dezaley is a white wine from Lavaux protected by an appellation of origin Grand Cru with the Chasselas being the only variety of the appellation. The part of the land was offered by the bishop of Lausanne in the 12th century to monks of Hautcret and Montheron. The monks planted and cultivated vineyards here making it the oldest cultivated land of Lavaux Region. The word ‘DEZALEY’ written in gigantic letters at the top of the Vineyard terrace was placed on the occasion of the last Winegrowers Festival in 1999. ‘The Dezaley’ we believe was the steepest part we had come across in Lavaux and the one with the most beautiful panoramas all along the path. The wine produced in the Dezaley is said to be of a very rich quality owing to the steep vineyard terraces which endow it with ideal sunshine.
The Wine in the region of Lavaux is believed to have been produced since Roman times but the terraces and stone walls were built only in the 11th-century by the monks of Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries. The monks gave up the land to the winemaking families of Lavaux who have been cultivating the vineyards for several generations now. Some of the best wines produced in Lavaux region are Chasselas, Plant Robert or Pinot Noir.
The historical Clos des Abbayes was founded by the Cistercian monks in the 12th century. It is located in the vineyards of Dezaley and is owned by the City of Lausanne.
Similar to the Clos des Abbayes the Clos des Moines is owned by the City of Lausanne and was founded by the Cistercian monks in the 12th century.
You will find a couple of small shops selling wines on the way to Rivaz. And the wide terrace here offers wonderful views of the Lake and the Alps.
Most of the grapes had been harvested when we were visiting in October still we could find some bunches hanging in the vine bushes. We could not resist picking up a bunch or two and pop them in. Sweet and scrumptious they were! It is interesting to know that the vineyards of Lavaux are not treated with synthetic pesticides. To protect the grapevine from the birds the winegrowers use the harmless method of netting which keeps the birds away from destroying the harvest.
Rivaz is a small charming village with about 70% of the village of Rivaz is said to be covered by vineyards which makes it an authentic wine village.
Lavaux Vinorama in Rivaz welcomes its visitors to discover unique wines from the vineyards of Lavaux with over 250 wines to choose from. A documentary film walks one through the origin and working of the winemaking process in 8 different languages. Vinorama also offers different wine tasting packages with an accompaniment of bread, puff pastry sticks, meat or cheese.
The medieval village of Saint-Saphorin was the final part of our hike in the UNESCO Heritage region of Lavaux. Saint-Saphorin is a picturesque village with the cobblestone alleys winding through the houses decorated with colorful flowers and the small squares dotted with fountains.
The first stop as we descended into the village was the Church of St-Saphorin built in the 16th-century. The church features two-sided bell tower and remarkable stained-glass windows but the most important part not to miss are the archeological ruins of the old Roman church underground. The ruins can be reached via a set of stairs from inside of the church.
Alternative Options to Hiking in Lauvaux
Lavaux Express is a small tourist train to discover the slopes and vineyard terraces of Lavaux. The ride would convenient and fun if you are traveling with the kids. There are different routes on which the train runs for you to choose from. Lavaux Express runs on all days from March until end of October. More info here.
Another option is the’Lavaux-Panoramic’ which departs from Chexbres taking the visitors along the wine trail on the steepest paths of the terraced vineyards of Lavaux.
The train chugs past the towns of Saint-Saphorin, Rivaz, and Chardonne and offers the travelers some of the breathtaking views of the Lake Geneva, Alps and the vineyards. The Lavaux Panoramic runs on weekends from April to October. More here.
Group Guided Tours
There are group tours organized by the official World Heritage Guide of Lavaux every Sunday. The tour offers anecdotes about history, viticulture, and traditions in Lavaux. The guided tours are a great way to explore the best vantage points, the hidden points of interest in the terraced landscape. Make your reservation at firstname.lastname@example.org. More info here.
There are several tours organized from the neighboring cities of Geneva, Lausanne, and Montreux. Below are few recommended tours to explore the UNESCO region of Lavaux:
Bikes can be rented in Vevey. The shop rents bike from Tuesday to Saturday. Do keep in mind that the Lavaux region has steep roads and hairpin bends so you have to be comfortable cycling if you plan to rent one. It is possible to rent a seat for children as well. You will need to rent an e-bike of 25km/h bike as 50 km/h bike has a restriction on the road in Lavaux. More Info here.
Places to Eat in Lavaux
Here is a list of few places to can stop by for lunch or buy something to eat and drink-
Bakery Bidlingmeyer SA
Grand’Rue 1, 1071 Chexbres
Lion d’Or, Chexbres
Grand’Rue 10, 1071 Chexbres
Route de la Corniche 4, 1071 Chexbres
Auberge de la Crochettaz (Where we had our lunch)
Route de la Corniche 16A, 1098 Bourg-en-Lavaux
The hiking trails are extensive with a limited number of restaurants. Plan accordingly on when and where you want to have your breakfast or Lunch. You do not want to starve looking for the restaurants.
Wear appropriate shoes for hiking and carry enough water bottle.
The best time to visit is from July to November. We visited in October and the weather was pleasant. May and June can be hotter. But do keep in mind that many wine cellars and restaurants in Lavaux close for winter from mid-October so plan accordingly.
From Saint Saphorin we boarded a train to Vevey. Another charming Swiss town well-known as the home to Charlie Chaplin. There is also a museum dedicated to Charlie Chaplin in Vevey.
Montreux and Chateau de Chillon
From Vevey, there are boats running to Montreux and Chateau de Chillon. It was already late so boarded the boat directly to Chateau de Chillon past the city of Montreux. Cruising is one of the best ways to explore the beautiful shoreline of Montreux Riviera. We boarded a train back to Geneva from Montreux.
While you have some time you cannot miss to explore the global city of Geneva which has some unique and interesting landmarks to discover. Book a tour or explore on your own there are plenty of things to do in the city of Geneve and the Geneve Old Town.
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