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Looking out over Lake Geneva, the terraced vineyards of Lavaux offer great cycling and some cheeky refreshments along the way Words JENNIFER CARR

“Don’t be shy. Go on, get your nose right in there.” In different circumstances, sticking my schnoz in a glass like this might be considered odd. But it’s par for the course during Geneva’s autumn harvest, when Switzerland’s top wine growers unite to pluck, press and quaff grapes straight from Unesco-endorsed vines.

I’ve come to Lavaux, in the Lausanne wine region, which is home to 830 hectares of ancient stone-terraced vineyards, stretching for 30km along the northern shores of Lake Geneva. There are also dozens of exceptional biking trails where you can peddle, sample and savour the scenery – and grapes – at your own pace. The entire harvesting process occurs over several weeks and is a manual labour of love, simply because the terraces are too steep for modern equipment. But they’re not too much for thick tyre treads and a half-decent level of fitness. (And remember, there’ll be plenty of refreshments along the way.)

Lake Geneva

Starting from the historic town of Vevey on Lake Geneva’s northern shore, I fast-track my journey up to the bike trails with a ride on the aptly named ‘Train des Vignes’, or wine train. It’s a 10-minute trip that comes with gorgeous views of the lake, the Alps and the vineyards, and gets me excited about the picturesque pedalling that lies ahead. (Random fact: Vevey is where milk chocolate was invented, by Daniel Peter in 1875. But it wasn’t until he enlisted the help of Henri Nestlé that he could bring the product to the market, and Vevey is today the world headquarters of Nestlé.)

My guide, Jean Marc, and I hoist ourselves and our bikes off at Chexbres, a wine-growing town that looks like it’s sprung straight from some alcoholically laced fairytale. Admiring the 16th-century architecture, we grab a strong cafe au lait before zig-zagging down to the old village of Saint Saphorin. The town’s impressive Roman clock tower and ancient crypt do nothing to distract from how eerily silent the village is. Then I remember that the locals are out on the terraces, deftly plucking grapes off the vines before the fruit peaks and lose its value.

Spurred on to experience the results of the locals’ labour firsthand, we cycle towards the home of winemaker Alexandre Chappuis, an award-winning vintner known for great wines and even greater generosity. You can actually stay on his working vineyard, and if you volunteer to get stuck in with the plucking, Alexandre will doubtless keep you in ample supply of his award-winning grapes. Seated on our host’s lake-facing terrace, I learn the importance of pouring wine no more than a glass’s shoulder, or in simpler terms, the widest circumference point of a glass. The reason is surface area – it’s crucial, apparently, when unlocking a wine’s full potential. Spinning my glass to release its aromas, I push my nostrils towards the swirling liquid and inhale a cloud of flowers, grass, maybe even a whiff of pear.

“Chasselas,” Jean Marc grins. “Our signature wine – its DNA comes straight from Lausanne’s soils.” Certainly, the mineral freshness coating my tongue couldn’t be a more fitting byproduct of the crisp alpine environment.
Rising a little unsteadily (it’s not yet midday), I purchase ?a sneaky Syrah – a powerful red wine – for later. Then, working on the premise that time waits for no wine lover, ?we catch a local train to Vevey, then Grandvaux, where a thigh-busting 20 minutes uphill grind ensues.

As the road plateaus, we speed over wafer-thin walls ?that run parallel to the train tracks, the biking equivalent ?of going off-piste – and it’s more than a little hair-raising. Here we find my guide’s favourite spot: ‘les capites’, or ?‘the little house’. Hidden to the untrained eye, this ?ancient stone outhouse was reportedly once a refuge ?for monks, but local winemaker Alain Chollet has reworked it into a scenic honesty bar for bikers and hikers thirsting ?for refreshment.
Charmed by the simplicity of the moment – dropping Swiss francs into a box and helping ourselves to a crisp Viognier – we sit beneath a canopy of vines and let the soft acidity slide slowly down. For not the first time that day, I’m forced to kick myself: I can’t believe I’ve never before considered the Alps in autumn.

Lake Geneva 2

Eat

Budget

Load up on reliably good, generously sized plat du jour – including the local fish fillet de perche and steak tartar – at Bidlingmeyer SA, or keep things simple with baked chevre and a selection of the bakery’s nine varieties of bread. (Grand Rue1; tel +41 21 946 10 2)

Midrange

A favourite haunt of the Tour de France, Cafe de la Poste is a cosy roadside cafe that excels in Mediterranean/ Swiss fusion from an enthusiastic Portuguese owner. Don’t miss the house special – garlicky gambas. (Grand Rue 48)

Luxury

Tucked away in the cobbled streets of historic Vevey, Le Mazot offers cramped seating, less than 30 covers and a tiny menu. So what’s it got going for it? It’s unapologetically romantic, the wine is top notch and you can slice through the steak like butter. Book ahead. (Rue du Conseil 7; +41 21 92178 2)

Drink

Budget

Tucked away in the cobbled streets of historic Vevey, Le Mazot offers cramped seating, less than 30 covers and a tiny menu. So what’s it got going for it? It’s unapologetically romantic, the wine is top notch and you can slice through the steak like butter. Book ahead. (Rue du Conseil 7; +41 21 92178 2)

Midrange

Another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it location, Vins Potterat affords a unique induction into winemaking. With 600-year-old wine barrels and a heavenly garden with wisteria canopy for al fresco sipping, it is open intermittently during the week for guests to enjoy aperitifs, cold local meats and cheeses.?(vins-potterat.ch)

Luxury

Al fresco sofas, an infinity pool and, oh yeah, one staggeringly good view of le lac. Don’t miss Le Deck, if only for one (justifiably) expensive glass of local red. For determined budget-blowers, there are tables perched right over the vines and haute cuisine aplenty. (barontavernier.ch)

Sleep

Budget

Fancy staying right in the thick of it on a working vineyard? B&B lodgings at Domaine Alexandre Chappuis & Fils are basic but comfy in this 16th century stone abode on the terraces of Rivaz.?(vins-chappuis.ch)

Midrange

Hostellerie De Genève is a two-star, lake-facing hotel offering a friendly atmosphere and typically Swiss interior. The top floor suites  are desirable with balconies facing the lake, and feature old wooden skis on the wall and cow bells hanging from the furniture. (hotelgeneve.ch)

Luxury

Fusing a love of nautical with old school silver screen glamour, Le Bourg 7 is a chic, playful boutique B&B in Lutry offering luxurious interiors, squishy beds and an inviting honesty bar packed with delicious local pinot. (lebourg7.com)


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Vine time - Cycling Lake Geneva and the vineyards of Lavaux
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