The long and winding road to Geneva
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