Small pleasures – walking the Lac Léman vineyards

Although it’s only the second week in April, today felt like the first day of summer, so my wife and I headed off to walk the terraced vineyards between Rivaz and St. Saphorin on the northern shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva).


Rivaz, on the southern shore of Lac Léman


The vineyards here produce some of the best wine in Switzerland. The terraces they sit in have been carved out or the hill, bound in stone and irrigated with care from the eleventh century onwards. The walls of the vineyards look like battlements, defending the ability to produce wine from this hilly, high altitude land by force of will.


The much reinforced terraced vineyards at Rivaz

We started with Sunday lunch at the Auberge de Rivaz which has a shaded terrace garden with a view of the lake.

Sunday in Vaud is for families and families like to go out to eat. Today we what looked like three generations of two families, about sixteen people sharing food and wine together. Everyone was dressed up, even the teenagers, but the atmosphere was relaxed and intimate. People traded places spontaneously to talk to someone new for a while. In this kind of meal, conversation is as important as the food.


The view from the shaded terrace of the Auberge de Rivaz

It’s asparagus season so we started with asperges vertes à la vinaigrette which was tender and tasty and finished off with a fresh ravioli stuffed with aubergine and served coated lightly with a butter and sage sauce and grated Parmesan cheese. A little wine, a lot of water, some desert and some coffee and after a couple of hours, we were ready to start our walk.


The walk is an easy one these days. The main path has been smoothed out to allow the Lavaux Express,  a tourist “train” consisting of a dressed up tractor that pulls open carriages behind it, easier access.

Every twist in the path offers breathtaking views of the twisting terraces, the shimmering lake and blue black mass of the Swiss Alps all the way east to the Dents Du Midi.

The vines are just starting to green, banishing the memory of a winter spent as barren, dark, snow-covered shadows of themselves. The sun on the water makes you smile with its promise of long summer days.


The vineyards of St Saphorin with Rochers de Ney in the background

Le château de Glérolles


Le Château de Glérolles

As we approached St Saphorin we were able to look down on Le Château de Glérolles. The name of this medieval castle derives from the old Roman town of Glerula which was, almost unbelievably, destroyed by a tidal wave in 563. An important part of infrastructure of political power on the lake from 1300 onwards the Château now manages local vineyards, runs wine tasting and host small business meetings. Today it looks so well cared for it might almost be a film set.


Entering St Saphorin from the west

St Saphorin has been a wine growing village for hundreds of years. A village of less than 400 people, its buildings are taller than usual and its alleyways are narrow, as if it was huddling at the edage of the lake, trying not to take up too much space.


The courtyard outside the gothic St Saphorin church

Today, St Saphorin was quiet and sun-soaked but even so, the shadows seemed long and dark until we reached the church at the centre of the village. Here the sunlight on the tree that dominates the space was tranquil and soothing.


Leaving St Saphorin by the lake road, heading west

We passed down through St Saphorin to the main road along the lake to walk back to Rivaz. The railway to Geneva lay below us, almost touching the lake. The train ride from Lausanne to Zermatt along Lac Léman and along Valais, is one of the most spectacular in the world.

As we climbed back into the car to go home, I was struck yet again at how fortunate I am to be able to spend time in a place as beautiful as this.


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