Visiting Montreux Switzerland

Part 1 of Our House-hunting Trip

With less than a month to go until our big move to Switzerland, my husband and I were over there last week to look for a place to live. While we were there, we got a chance to do a bit of sight-seeing in Montreux.

French Alps

View of the French Alps from the Montreux Riviera.

There are a few things to know about visiting Switzerland if you’ve never been. First, don’t assume everyone will speak German or English. Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansch. In the Geneva area, French is the main language and you are extremely unlikely to hear any German or English. While most locals do speak a bit of English, not everyone does, so its a good idea to familiarize yourself with a few key French phrases, especially since restaurant menus will be in French. You may get lucky in some of the tourist areas and find more English speakers- especially at hotels.

If you’re staying in a hotel, they do not provide conditioner with the complimentary toiletries like they do in the states. This was a surprise for me and was a bit of an issue considering how horrible my hair looked because I didn’t have any conditioner. I ended up wearing my hair in a pony tail the whole week. This was definitely a big lesson learned for when we move over and travel around.

Lac Leman

Lac Leman at sunset in Montreux.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all stores or restaurants take credit cards. Most of the big stores and restaurants will, but the smaller places may not so its a good idea to carry cash. Switzerland is actually not part of the European Union so the official currency is Swiss Francs, but most places will also accept Euros. It’s a good idea to also carry a few coins since almost all parking is paid and the parking machines take coins. Definitely make sure you have a big coin purse since you’ll get change in 1, 2, and 5 Franc (or Euro) coins and not paper bills.

We flew into the Geneva Airport and picked up our rental car. It ended up being a Skoda Fabia. That was an interesting experience in itself. Living in America, you always hear that people in Europe have much smaller cars- after driving in Switzerland, I understand why! First, the parking spaces are much, much smaller! Even with the smaller cars, its still very difficult to get out of the car after you park because the cars are so close together. Additionally, the spaces are shorter so the occasional large van or truck that we saw would stick out of the parking spaces.

After picking up our car, we hopped on the motorway to drive to Montreux. That was quite the interesting experience. The roads in Switzerland are really nice- we didn’t see any potholes which was a welcome break from Boston. However, figuring out what the signs meant was rather interesting. Luckily, we didn’t get into too much trouble and were able to find our way around pretty well. A tip to remember when driving in Switzerland is that there is a motorway tax. Its about 40 Francs per year for a sticker and you can’t drive on the motorway unless you have this else you’ll face a hefty fine. However, rental cars should come with the sticker. Another thing to keep in mind is that because of this, the motorways on google maps are marked as being toll roads, but the sticker is the toll.

As drove to Montreux, I was surprised at how many vineyards we passed. There are tons of them up and down the hillsides between Geneva and Montreux. In fact, the vineyards in Lavaux are listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time outside of our apartment hunting and other sightseeing to visit them. However, I think they’ll be much more fun to visit in the summer or late spring when there are actually green leaves on the vines.

We stayed in Montreux for the first part of our trip, which is a little over an hour by car from Geneva and an hour by train. Montreux has a beautiful Riviera and most of the hotels will provide you with a Riviera card as part of your stay. The Riviera card will give you free access to public transit within a certain part of the city and will give you discounts on some tourist attractions.

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I would highly recommend taking a walk along the Riviera. It provides a gorgeous view of the French Alps. There are lots of restaurants along the lake where you can eat with a view of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). Just be prepared for the high cost of dining out in Switzerland. You can easily expect to pay 30 or 40 Francs for a main course and soda is sometimes very overpriced compared to other beverages. If you order water, the waiter will assume you want bottled water which comes as either still or sparkling. You can ask explicitly for tap water if you want.

Continental breakfast in Switzerland.

Continental breakfast in Switzerland.

One of my favorite parts of being in Switzerland was the Swiss continental breakfast. The breakfast includes fresh baked breads and croissants, jams, fresh cheeses, nutella, orange juice, and coffee. The fresh croissants were so amazing- they were light and flaky and so much yummier than what we get in the states. The cheese was also really good. Unfortunately, the coffee was really strong! In the US, I’m used to getting a nice big cup of coffee. I usually take mine with milk or creamer and sugar. In Switzerland however, they’re really big into strong coffee and don’t give you a lot of milk or sugar. Despite the strong coffee, the Swiss breakfast was very delicious and a great way to start the day.

Below are some photos from our time in Montreux. I’ll share more of our apartment-hunting adventures in Nyon next week.

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