Socially Distanced Splendor in Lavaux

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January 6, 2021

Along with the sickness and sadness Covid-19 has wrought, it’s also inflicted social distance and separation. Luckily for Lausanners, not only can we enjoy a Covid-safe wander in an incredible landscape right on our doorstep, but we can also enjoy a few glasses of local chasselas while we’re at it. A wine walk from Bossière to Chenaux is a great way to discover incredible scenery, support local winemakers and avoid crowds.

As train platform views go, it would be a criminal understatement to say that the outlook from Bossieres is a good one. I drink it in as the train pulls away, having delivered me in just seven minutes from the centre of Lausanne to the gateway of the world heritage Lavaux wine growing region.

A crown of snow-capped Alps frames steep terraced vineyards that plunge into the crystal waters of Lake Geneva. An eagle soars silently overhead. The balance of sky, lake, mountain and village is perfect.

My reverie is shattered by a group of tracksuited teens who’ve decided the station is a great place to blast French hip-hop and drink warm beer. So I leave the station in search of peace and, thanks to a couple of brilliant little self-service wine fridges thoughtfully placed here and there, wine.

I join the path that runs beside the northern platform of Bossière station. One of the familiar yellow signs used by Switzerland’s fantastic network of connected walking paths says it should take me about 40 minutes to get to Grandvaux.

Despite the fact that the path runs parallel to the rail line, I’m immediately amongst the vines. Nature has well and truly calmed down after the warmth of summer and activity of the harvest. Through rows of amber autumn vine leaves I can see the thirteenth-century Berthold Tower dominating Lutry far below. From my perspective 150 metres up, the mediaeval village and the trains clacking beside the lake look like part of a model set.

After about twenty minutes (and a vertiginous walk over an impressive viaduct) I arrive at my first refreshment stop – a small shed with a wine fridge in the vineyard of Domaine Alain Chollet. It’s a testament to Swiss virtue that honesty systems like this are still relatively commonplace. They’re also perfect for these pandemic times when cafes and restaurants are closed and someone has drunk the home bar dry.

I pay for a half-bottle of Monsieur Chollet’s (chilled!) Chasselas drink it on one of the nearby benches. It’s delicious. Subtle, fresh, mineral, and very drinkable. So drinkable that I have another half-bottle, just to make sure the first wasn’t a fluke.

Although I’ve only gone a few kilometers the view has been in constant flux. The mountains still keep guard in the distance, but now in the foreground, the hills gently fold around the picturesque village of Villette.

Wherever there’s not a building, there are vines. And where there isn’t either of those things, there’s a Swiss flag. I count nine just in this small valley. The locals are justifiably proud of their landscape and ancient winegrowing techniques. UNESCO recognized the value of this unique, millennium-long interaction between people and their environment, awarding the Lavaux World Heritage status in 2007.

I finish my wine to the sounds of its maker wailing on the saxophone. Alain Chollet ages his wines to music, playing sax to the vats in his cellar after harvest. It seems incongruous with the scene, but if you walk around Switzerland for any length of time you find fragments of whimsy like this everywhere. They happily contradict Switzerland’s reputation as a serious and somewhat reserved nation.

Continuing along the narrow gravel path towards Grandvaux, the panoramic view is aromatically interrupted by a small thicket of pine forest that smells like the Mediterranean. Once I hit the Route du Signal near Grandvaux gare, I take a right, following the yellow signs pointing to Grandvaux Village.

A short but sharp downhill footpath makes me regret for a moment the second Chasselas, but the route levels out again at the corner of Route de Crétaz and Chemin de Baussan, where I join the Terrasses de Lavaux route (marked with green signage and the route number – 113). The vines on either side give way to the picturesque village of Grandvaux, and before long I arrive at my second socially-distanced refreshment shop.

Fischer Vins has a large, vine-covered deck that is a prime spot to watch the sunset over a glass of wine and a planchette Vaudois during the warmer months. It’s a popular spot, so if you can’t get a table or, like me, visit when Covid-19 rules prevent the cellar from opening, there is an honesty system at the front of the building offering wine and a selection of other local products.

I pay for a half-bottle of pinot noir and follow the Terrasses de Lavaux signs for about ten minutes to my final destination – a picnic table with yet another spectacular view. It’s easy to find, perched amongst the vines just after a narrow passageway that funnels walkers from the tiny winemaking village of Chenaux to another expanse of sky and lake.

The wine is powerful but elegant and made all the more enjoyable by gun-barrel views down Lake Geneva to the Rhone Valley. Endless rows of vines cling, as they have done since Roman times, to the impossibly steep terraces around Epesses and beyond

It might be the wine talking, but there’s something about these vines and their ability to adapt to adversity that reflects the human soul. With so many Lausanners coming from elsewhere, the isolation and separation enforced by the pandemic has been felt keenly by a lot of people here. But we’re growing and adapting to our new situation. And, like the vines, after a long, cold winter we’ll burst into the spring sunshine, stronger than ever.

The Route

Time

Bossière to Chenaux is about 4km and is about an hour’s easy walking (not including wine stops).

If you want to walk further, continue on the Terrasses de Lavaux route down to Riex, Epesses and beyond. If not, follow the yellow markers down to Cully and catch the train from there.

Difficulty

This route has a few short uphill sections but is mostly level or downhill (some parts are quite steep). No problem for anyone with a basic level of fitness. It’s suitable for kids, but several parts of the path are not pram-friendly.

The lofty slopes that make the views throughout the Lavaux so dramatic can also make it a real bugger to walk around. Starting somewhere high and finishing low is a good way to enjoy a casual walk without too much uphill graft.

As in the rest of Switzerland, the Lavaux is filled with nationally standardized wayfinding markers. You can follow designated routes like the Terrasses de Lavaux, or do as I did and choose your own adventure. The Swiss Mobility website and app are incredibly useful for discovering and planning routes.

Good to know

The Fischer Vins wine honor system is easy to find, it’s at the front of the cellar door building, to the right of the stairs. Chemin de Baussan 44, 1091 Cully.

The Domaine Alain Chollet wine fridge is located just off the signposted walking path near the railway overpass on Chemin du Daley. You can find it on Google Maps by searching for Alain Collet – Honour System Wine fridge/respite.

It goes without saying, but the faith the winemakers put in the honesty of their community shouldn’t be abused. Please don’t take the product without paying. Although both self-service systems offer payment by card, it’s a good idea to take cash as a backup in case card payment is offline. Take an assortment of notes and coins so you can pay as close to the exact amount possible. If you can’t get exact change, always leave more, never less. Consider it a tip for human kindness.

Matt is an Australian who jumped at the chance to live in the land of chocolate, mountains and on-time trains when his partner was offered a job in Switzerland. Two years on from a jetlagged stroll to Ouchy after 30 hours in transit from Sydney, he’s still discovering new things to love about Lausanne. During the week, Matt writes for a biotech startup. On the weekend he roams the streets in search of the best rosti in Vaud.
Matt Skinner
Food, Drinks & Cultural Contributor

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