Wednesday, 23 March 2016

"We All Came Out To Montreux ...

... On the Lake Geneva shoreline”

So begins the song Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple, a song from their 1972 album Machine Head that tells the accident-prone story of their recording sessions there and which was inevitably running through our heads this weekend as we did, indeed, head “out to Montreux” to see Corsican folk/rock band I Muvrini.

Our first view of the lake Geneva shoreline

Lake Geneva is one of the largest lakes in western Europe, and is surrounded by mountains on most sides: the Jura to the west, the Chablais Alps to the south, and the Bernese Oberland to the east, with snow still draped across the higher slopes.

Distant snowy mountains

Montreux lies on the north east shore where the lake is more alpine in character. It’s certainly beautiful, and never more so than on a sunny spring morning such as the one we encountered on arrival, and the whole impression gained was much more “Riviera” than “mountain resort”.

Spring blossom


“To make records with a mobile”

Well, not to “make records” exactly, but music was certainly the focus for this short, sharp trip.

The origins of this weekend go back a decade or more, when we first came across the music of I Muvrini on a visit to Corsica in the early 2000s. Since then, we have harboured the thought that we might one day like to see them play live, but opportunities to do so proved few and far between as they rarely play outside of francophone countries. So, while the thought never quite disappeared, with the passage of time it had gradually worked its way to the back of our minds.

One of many sculptures beside the lake

Until August last year, that is, when Missy G spotted they were playing in Montreux on a Saturday night. Soon after, I received a phone call.

“What are you doing on the night of 19th March next year?” she said.

“Why?”, I asked.

“Well, I’m going to see I Muvrini in Montreux”.

"Can I come, too?"

OK, so Switzerland is not exactly on our doorstep. It’s a long way to go for a gig! But we had wanted to do something like this for a good few years, and I’m a firm believer that “whatever will be will be”. We were free, could get modestly-priced flights at convenient times and knew it was an easy transfer directly from Geneva airport. All of a sudden the stars came into alignment: this was our opportunity, and we should take it.

Looking back along the lake

Of course, taking just a weekend over the trip meant “we didn’t have much time”, but that which remained allowed us to explore the town and lake-side. Prompt transport and gloriously spring-like conditions meant we had the majority of Saturday and Sunday morning in which to do so.

We opted to follow the shoreline path towards the next town, Villeneuve. Walking beside the lake on a gorgeous spring day was a delight. There was a good sprinkling of waterfowl dotting the surface – Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Goosander, Tufted Duck and Red-crested Pochard, to name but a few – and we ambled along enjoying the relative quiet of the morning.

Chateau de Chillon #1

Chatueu de Chillon #2

Along the way we passed the Chateau de Chillon, an imposing castle on the lake shore, and passed the local fire service out on manoeuvers. Perhaps “some stupid with a flare gun” had been making mischief?

Before long the outskirts of Villeneuve came into sight. Amazingly, this route forms part of the Via Francigena, a 1,100-mile pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. We keep happening across these ancient routes: perhaps it’s some kind of omen?

Route 70: the Via Francigena runs from Canterbury to Rome

Anyway, it was precisely the sort of day that an idyllic lunch would consist of delicious pizza from a wood-fired oven and a glass of chilled white wine. So that’s exactly what we had, and very good it was too. Then we retraced our steps along the shore back to Montreux in time to prepare for the evening’s concert. 

Igor Stravinsky / Firebird

The arts, and music in particular, has played a significant part in Montreux’s recent heritage, the peace and beauty providing inspiration and the chance of creativity since the early part of the 20th Century. Igor Stravinsky lived here for a time, there is an internationally-acclaimed jazz festival held each year, and Queen recorded their seventh album Jazz here in 1978.

Statue of Freddie Mercury

I Muvrini’s brand of Corsican-influenced folk rock might not be to everyone’s taste, but the 2,800-strong audience lapped up every minute of the almost 3-hour performance. The band perform in both the Corsican and French languages, and there is a strong political dimension to the songs. The music employs the unique paghjella polyphonic vocal style which has become synonymous with the Corsican sense of national identity.

I Muvrini

During the evening such subjects as the Paris bombing, Corsican independence and the Environment were touched upon, and the new album Invicta covers the subject of “music for non-violence”. Here is a link to one of their songs:

I speak little French and no Corsican, but such music – emotionally-charged and beautifully played and sung – easily transcends the language barrier, and the impact of the songs and the message within them was not lost on me - or the rest of the crowd. It was a fabulous night, and we left on a high.

“Swiss time was running out”

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. After an early breakfast, we were out and about again, looking to make the most of our morning.

Sunday morning lakeshore

Marina at Clarens

First off, we headed along the lake shore in the other direction as far as Clarens, then decided to climb up into the hills behind the town. 

Looking out over Montreux

Following our noses, we ascended through the suburbs and through a couple of villages whose names I forget as we reached the edge of the woods and an enticing number of footpath signs. I do remember we turned round shortly before reaching Glion – our time was running out, and we had a train to catch.

Near Glion

Good walking tantalisingly close

  “I know we’ll never forget”

It was, of course, a memorable weekend. Not only because of the band and the walking we managed to fit in, but for the lovely scenery and ease of access. In fact, we were really surprised how easy it was, how much time we had to play with, and how much walking there was to be done. 

45 minutes from the centre of Montreux and the walking options open up

If you ever wanted a quick weekend getaway, then Montreux makes for an excellent choice. There is much to explore, especially along the lake shore and in the mountains behind the town. It's easy to get to, there is loads of choice when it comes to hotels and food, and the whole trip probably came in at no more than a weekend in London with dinner and a show or an away game in the Champions' League.

We certainly won't forget our time there, and who knows: one day, we may be back!


  1. Replies
    1. Hi Linda - Thanks for the nice comment. I use a simple "point-and-shoot" waterproof camera from Canon - and hope for some good lighting conditions!