Heroic viticulture: It’s a phrase often employed to describe the farming of difficult landscapes, and Lavaux, Switzerland is a region that exemplifies the concept perfectly. The first time your eyes set upon its steep terraces, you’re struck by the impracticality of it all. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, this sun-blessed side of Lake Geneva evokes a fairytale setting of flower filled balconies, shimmering blue waters and frosty mountain peaks to be relished with a glass of local Chasselas. Similarly, its lake-hugging plots soar at extreme slants that only a winged Tinker Bell and team should harvest. While viticulture seems impossible here, it’s simply heroic. —Lauren Mowery
Though rarely associated with wine, the Swiss have cultivated grapes for centuries. Akin to Burgundy, Lausanne’s Cisternian monks delineated vine sites carefully around Lake Geneva. The principal grape that benefits from such ancestral fastidiousness is Chasselas, a white variety that grows across the Lavaux appellation and its subregions, including the Grand Cru sites of Calamin and Dézaley. At one end, Chasselas produces mineral-flecked, floral whites, while at the other extreme are more structured, complex and full-bodied selections. Though “Swiss red” sounds like a misnomer, the triple warming effect of the lake, sun and soil allows Syrah and Pinot Noir to thrive, along with seldom-seen Gamaret and Garanoir.
Where to Taste
From delicate St-Saphorin to textured Dézaley, learn the nuance that distinguishes grand cru Chasselas at Clos Du Boux. An experimental streak runs through the biodynamic wines of Domaine Henri Cruchon in Echichens. Think unfiltered, low-sulfur indigenous whites like Altesse. Domaine La Colombe is also biodynamic, while crystalline whites bloom from the fruit of icon Domaine Louis Bovard. Domaine Du Daley is a 14th-century property with heart-tugging views of the terraces. On the lake’s outskirts in Yvorne, Domaine de la Pierre-Latine produces taut, mineral-soaked Chasselas that’s a perfect match for buttery Gruyère. While Chasselas is the local hero, Syrah and Pinot Noir thrive in hotter sites. For the former, visit Cave des Rois in Villeneuve, run by a father son team. For the latter, Domaine Croix Duplex in Grandvaux crafts vivid examples served on an expansive patio. Stop by Lavaux Vinorama to make up for any wineries you miss, stocking around 300 wines from the region, many open for tasting.
Where to Dine
During the day, eat amid the vines. Tuck into a three-course lunch at Tout un Monde in Grandvaux. A 13th-century stone building in charming St-Saphorin houses Auberge de l’Onde, known for specialties like local perch. The venue’s sommelier and maître d’, Jérôme Aké Béda, originally from the Ivory Coast, is a local celebrity. Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel is home to one of Europe’s greatest cellars, which supplies bottles to French Chef Anne-Sophie Pic’s namesake, onsite restaurant. Famous among Michelin star chasers, Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville in Crissier creates food that imitates art.
Where to Stay
Savor peaceful lakeside Montreux. At Grand Hôtel Suisse Majestic, ogle breathtaking views at sunset from your private balcony. Nearby, Relais & Châteaux owned Grand Hôtel du Lac Vevey, founded in 1868, appeals to a slightly older, moneyed audience. In bigger, bustling Lausanne, the grande dame in town is Hôtel Beau-Rivage Palace, a graceful setting that channels 19th-century gentility. For more intimate and affordable lodging between cities, take dinner and a room at family-run Auberge du Raisin.
When to Go
The lake contributes a pleasant Mediterranean climate. Summer months from June to August are warmest.
In warmer seasons, don’t miss sailing on postcard-perfect Lake Geneva; floating past vineyard terraces bathed in the pink light of dusk is fantasy come to life. You can hop the ferry or hire a private boat. For the latter, contact Swiss Riviera Wine Tours. Starting around $200 per person, you can head out on a restored 1966 Riva replete with sundeck.
Switzerland is expensive, and even simple pizza and pasta dinners add up. To give your wallet a break, hit village markets or chain Migros for charcuterie and Gruyère to pair with your stash of Chasselas.