The long and wind­ing road to Geneva

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

A tour through the vine­yards of Lake Geneva un­earths cel­lar doors and glo­ri­ous views, finds Brian John­ston.

RECKON a me­an­der along Lake Geneva is one of the world’s most beau­ti­ful drives. Few other places can of­fer such im­mac­u­late roads com­bined with such splen­did scenery, all squeezed into so com­pact a dis­tance that you can do it all in a day – and still have time for a long lunch.

Take to just about any coun­try road here and you could hardy go wrong but, if you want a pre­cise itin­er­ary, fol­low the brown signs with a stylised bunch of grapes that lead you be­tween the towns of Nyon and Mon­treux.

The Route des Vignerons or “wine­mak­ers road” me­an­ders above the yacht-stud­ded lake with views to the French Alps be­yond, pass­ing through me­dieval vil­lages where the road some­times be­comes so nar­row that your wing mir­rors brush against gera­ni­ums in flower­boxes.

And, while alpine scenery and old cas­tles along the drive might be ex­pected in Switzer­land, spec­tac­u­lar ter­raced vine­yards and some fine wines pro­vide other, per­haps more sur­pris­ing, at­trac­tions.

Swiss wines are hardly known, since the coun­try only pro­duces enough for do­mes­tic con­sump­tion. Still, Switzer­land man­ages a fairly good drop, with a quar­ter of its wine pro­duc­tion – and the best in qual­ity – com­ing from the shores of Lake Geneva. The tiny re­gion, about 100km end-toend, counts 26 dif­fer­ent ap­pel­la­tions. Most pro­duce crisp, fruity, white wine from chas­se­las grapes, con­fus­ingly called fen­dant fur­ther up the Rhone Val­ley and per­lan around Geneva.

Other va­ri­eties in­clude chardon­nay, ries­ling and pinot blanc. Red wines are more limited, and of­ten blended. Pinot noir and gamay are the most com­mon. For those with an in­ter­est in ob­scure va­ri­etals, one of the rarer red types, Plant Robert, is grown around the vil­lage of Cully.

The Route des Vignerons and the vine­yards start out­side Nyon, about 20km along the lakeshore from Geneva. The pleas­ant town is dom­i­nated by a cas­tle and old city walls, linked by tree-lined prom­e­nades that of­fer views across the lake to Mont Blanc. A pair of Ro­man col­umns and a statue of Julius Cae­sar take pride of place on the ram­parts. It was prob­a­bly the Ro­mans who first in­tro­duced vines to the re­gion, and many of the lo­cal wines still have Latin names.

From here you can take a slow drive above the lakeshore to Lau­sanne, through vine­yards that pro­vide a sub­tle va­ri­ety of grow­ing con­di­tions. The sandy gravel soils of Beg­nins are best suited to pinot noir and pro­duce a slightly spicy wine. Around Fechy, you’ll find a rich and

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