Lake Geneva puts on a spectacular show in autumn. As the deep blue of the crescent-shaped lac Leman, as it’s known in French, blends with a patchwork of burnt orange and yellow foliage on the banks, it’s a magical time to dip into the natural wonder straddling the Swiss/French border. And as average temperatures start to drop below 20°C from September, you can get active around the lake without breaking much of a sweat. Here are some of the best things to do in and around Lake Geneva this autumn.
Get sprayed by the Jet d’Eau
Geneva’s most iconic landmark wasn’t meant to be a tourist attraction at all. Blasting 500 litres of water per second, 140m into the air, the Jet d’Eau fountain started life in 1886 as a safety valve to release the pressure at a hydraulic factory. Its eruptions became so popular, though, it was turned into a permanent fixture on the jetty at Eaux-Vives and modified to squirt lake water. These days, no trip to Geneva is complete without feeling the spray of the Jet d’Eau in your face having strolled down the tree-lined Promenade du Lac. The walkway also takes you past the Jardin Anglais park – home to the most fragrant timepiece in the world, l’horloge fleurie (the Flower Clock).
Explore the Lavaux wine region
Switzerland exports less than 2% of its wine, so it might come as a surprise that the country has rolling vineyards. Well, it does and Lavaux, on the northern shores of Lake Geneva is one of the world’s most picturesque wine regions. Exploring it is one of the best experiences you can have in the area. Dating back to the 11th century, the terraced vineyards are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and lure scores of oenophiles, who meander from one medieval village to the next, sipping fruity Chasselas and feasting on fish from the lake. Walking routes criss-cross the terraces and range from the epic Grande Traversee (a 36km trek from Lausanne to the grand Chateau de Chillon) to the more leisurely Terrasses de Lavaux, a 11km hike that starts in Lutry and ends in gorgeous Saint-Saphorin, and clings to the Lavaux hillside like a determined mountaineer.
Have an audience with Freddie
“If you want peace of mind, come to Montreux,” Freddie Mercury once said of the idyllic Swiss town on Lake Geneva. The Queen frontman loved this part of the world so much, his rock band recorded six albums at the local Mountain Studios inside Casino Barriere between 1978 and 1995. Since 1996 the late singer’s time in Montreux has been marked by a statue overlooking the lake on the Place du Marche. Fans have turned it into something of a shrine. A Queen tour around town also includes an exhibition at Casino Barriere, with a tribute wall on the left-hand side of the building; the lakeside residence Mercury bought in 1991 and le Petit Palace, where the band performed. The walk from Montreux train station to the statue is a treat as well, with public artworks dotting Quai de la Rouvenaz in a display of creativity Freddie of which would have approved.
Get your kicks on route 46
Take relatively flat terrain and throw in vistas of glistening water, the Alps and the Jura Mountains, and you have the makings of an unforgettable cycle trip. It’s a great way to spend your time at Lake Geneva this autumn. In Switzerland the Tour du Leman is marked out as route 46 – a network of roads that rewards hard work. By following the Tour du Leman trail, you can pedal right around the lake on 200km of dedicated cycling tracks in cities and quiet lanes once you hit the countryside. Stick close to the slightly busier lanes next to the lake and your legs will thank you for it, climb a bit higher to places like Chexbres and the panorama becomes more jaw-dropping. Be sure to tackle Route 46 clockwise so you can hug the lake all the way.
Catch a slow boat to Chillon Castle
Sitting snugly on a rocky island between Montreux and Villeneuve, Chateau de Chillon is such a perfect fairy-tale castle it was used as the inspiration for Prince Eric’s gaff in The Little Mermaid. While walking around its cavernous interior exploring a history dating back to 1005 is a fascinating day out, you need to head out onto Lake Geneva on a boat to capture Chillon’s best side for your Instagram account. The ferry from Lausanne to the castle’s pier offers magnificent views of Chillon’s lake-facing exterior from the boat’s open-air deck upon arrival. The trip to the chateau is not half-bad either as the lake’s northern bank with its multicoloured houses and mountainous backdrop gently floats by.
Go for a chilly dip
Even though Lake Geneva is miles from the ocean doesn’t mean you can’t find a good beach on its banks – in fact there are 116 to choose from. In Geneva itself sandy Baby Plage on the lake’s eastern bank is family-friendly and comes with a jungle gym and a grassy area perfect for picnics. On the western bank, bathers battle swans for a good spot on a long gravelly beach that runs alongside the Bains des Paquis – public baths located on an artificial peninsula. Meanwhile Geneve-Plage has a 10m-high diving board so you can enter the lake like a cannonball. Further afield, a dip in the waters off Vevey allows you to float on your back and take in the layers of mountains in the distance. True, things start getting nippy in September but it’s worth it to say you swam in one of the world’s greatest lakes.
Take in the lake from a mountain top
Reaching 2,042m at its peak, the Rochers-de-Naye offers a great perch to see Lake Geneva in all its glory. Getting to the summit is as memorable as the view with a charming cogwheel train winding its way from Montreux every hour past fields and small villages. In less than 60 minutes you’ll find yourself sitting pretty, taking in views over Lake Geneva, the Vaud, Valais, Bern and the French Alps. Rochers-de-Naye isn’t just about taking envy-inducing snapshots though. A proper playground for the adventurous, the mountain is ideal for hikes and downhill mountain biking. Also, make sure to visit the mountain’s cutest residents at Marmottes Paradis, where marmots dot the landscape like furry tumbleweed. Cap off the day with a visit to La Rambertia alpine garden. It’s filled with flowers from Switzerland’s mountainous regions.
See the world’s tallest fork
In 1995 Swiss artist Jean-Pierre Zaugg looked out over Lake Geneva from Vevey and decided to stick a fork in it. 25 years later the public artwork is still there – pulling in tourists and breaking records. The stainless-steel Fork of Vevey – commissioned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the nearby Alimentarium food museum – holds the Guinness World Record for the planet’s tallest fork, measuring in at 8m. The local authorities have installed swivel chairs on the rocks near its home off Quai Perdonnet, and it’s become one of the most Instagram-worthy spots in Switzerland. And, while there, be sure to pay your respects to former resident Charlie Chaplin, who settled in Vevey in 1953. There’s a statue of the film icon near the Fork – the pair compete for the title of Vevey’s most photographed landmark.
Next-up: Switzerland’s best health resorts