Continuing on with a royal theme – but from a different era, with very different styles of reign. Chillon Castle (Chateau de Chillon) dates back as far as 1150 with the Savoy family occupying it until 1536. At this point the Swiss, or more specifically the Bernese, occupied the castle until 1798. It was during this era that the castle endured its darkest hours, as it was primarily used as a fortress, arsenal and prison for people accused of witchcraft.
Restoration on the castle began in the late 19th century and continues today. The exterior of the castle elicits the romantic royal style of castles seen in children’s fairy tales or at Disneyland. But inside is a different story. Remnants of the prisoners quarters – an open, stone cavern in the bowels of the castle where prisoners were shackled to posts and left to lay on the stone floor for months, and sometimes years. There is a barely visible drawing of people on one of the prisoner stone walls, showcasing the artistic talent of one of the prisoners, with a piece of charcoal as his paintbrush.
The floors above show the opulence of the royal families that occupied the castle throughout the different eras. The rooms were large, with oversized ornate wood beds and other furnishings. Yet the beds were short, and at my 5’6″ I was having to stoop to get through the doorways, showing the average height of people of those bygone eras. Fireplaces were large enough for the cooks to stand in them while cooking meals in large pots over the fire.
Castles of this era were self-sustaining. Chillon had its own winery and chapel. Large storerooms of food were placed throughout the castle to help families and their servants weather the weather or sieges upon the castle.
Apparently parts of the castle can be rented for special occasions. This would surely be a grand setting for a fairy tale wedding, or children’s birthday party with ample places to hide for a game of hide and go seek.
The castle is about a 20 minute train ride from the heart of Geneva, that takes you along an elevated line above the shoreline of Lake Geneva. It was a crisp fall clear day, and showcased scenery depicting more of the natural beauty of this area of Switzerland.
Other highlights of the Geneva region were Old Town – where my traveling companion and I walked for hours through the cobblestone curving streets, stopping in small quaint independent shops to buy an old leather-bound book or a locally made Christmas ornament or shawl to throw over our shoulders as we sat having a cafe’ au lait after our walk.
The flower clock is a reminder of what this region is really known for – swiss time pieces. Every canal along the hub of the city is flanked by Swiss made retail watch stores: Rolex, Patek Phillipe, Piaget, Swatch, Bucherer, Omega – but don’t be looking for a deal being in the heart of watch-making – watches are sold at a premium here.
The beautiful ornate architecture throughout the city is worth several pictures. There is an eclectic mix of fine dining. And the walks along the shores of Lake Geneva are worth several strolls to take in the breathtaking views of the Alps that peek through the low-lying clouds.
Where we stayed: The Grand Kempinski Hotel, http://www.kempinski.com/geneva, Quai du Mont-Blanc 19 1201 Geneva, Switzerland +41 22 908 90 81. $$$$ For the price the hotel was lacking in the wow factor. But the service was top-notch. The patrons of the hotel ranged from royal Arab princes dressed in traditional garb to Texas oil barons in their cowboy boots being obnoxiously loud. The spa is worth the price of admission. And although the meals and drinks were expensive the amounts were ample.