An Englishman in Lausanne: Visiting Montreux



Montreux, 1900 – Original image: Photochrom print (color photo lithograph)Reproduction number: LC-DIG-ppmsc-07108 from Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, (picture credit).


Venturing east of Lausanne brought me to Montreux, home of the famous music festival. Nestled close to the far eastern corner of Lake Geneva and blessed with both mountain and lake scenery, both of which were superbly showcased when I visited on a bright and unseasonably warm late October day.



Photo: Author’s own.


The town’s musical heritage becomes apparent by the lakeside. Freddie Mercury (a statue of) stands tall and for many visitors, me included, it’s camera time. Queen were based in Montreux throughout the 1980s following their acquisition of the studio inside Montreux’s casino before moving onto to Fribourg, a facility that has also been used by the Rolling Stones, Prince and David Bowie. The original casino building burnt down during a Frank Zappa performance at the venue in December 1971. The incident provided the inspiration for Deep Purple, who were staying in the town at the time, to compose their track Smoke on the Water:

We all came out to Montreux,
On the Lake Geneva shoreline.
To make records with a mobile,
We didn’t have much time.
But Frank Zappa and the Mothers,
Were at the best place around,
But some stupid with a flare gun,
Burned the place to the ground.
Smoke on the water and fire in the sky.
Smoke on the water…

Desiring to witness this musical landmark, I next headed along the shore to the casino. However after entering the casino I learned that the studio was unfortunately closed until December.



Photo: Author’s own.


Montreux is a town of two parts. Whereas the part close to lakefront is mainly made up of smart hotels, apartments, restaurants and shops a short venture over the train line brings you to the old town, an area complete with narrow streets and postcard-esque Alpine buildings. The Church of St. Vincent, perched at the top of the old town along the Rue du Temple, is worth the visit with its views overlooking Montreux and Castle Chillon.



Photo: Author’s own.


While in Montreux I thought about the rich and famous who have come and continued to reside on or close to the Lake Geneva shore, in particular Freddie Mercury who had a home here when Queen were based here up until he died. It’s easy to dismiss his and others’ reasons to live here as being purely financial ones but there are plenty of places one can go to avoid higher taxes. Certainly the ‘Swiss Riviera’ has a lot to offer; ideally located in central Europe, a temperate climate, beautiful scenery and peace and quiet away from a London or a New York. Personally I don’t blame Queen et al. for spending time out here.