Art, gastronomy and architecture tour in the environs of the Lake Geneva
Author: Anothertravelguide.com0 COMMENTS
When in Geneva, especially considering its location by one of Europe’s most beautiful lakes, it would be a sin to limit oneself to the city and not explore some of the other lakeside towns. However, truth be told, if you want to do this slowly and with relish, be forewarned that you might become “stuck” in the area for at least a week. Especially if you also stop at some of the vineyards and wineries on the steep banks of the lake and participate in the obligatory wine tastings. After all, Switzerland's best wines come from this area, but these wines often do not make it to store shelves in the rest of Europe. Due to their higher manufacturing costs, it is difficult for the local wines to compete with Spanish, Italian or German wines. But Swiss wines are good!
It is worth to head to Vevey, a small town located about an hour's drive from Geneva and famous for its “Eiffel tower” – a gigantic stainless steel fork stuck into the lake. The eight-metre-tall sculpture designed by Jean-Pierre Zaugg stands right across from the snowy peaks of the Alps. The visual impression is breathtaking, especially when the sun begins to go down on a slightly cloudy day. Of course, one wonders why exactly a fork, and why precisely this location. Vevey is the birthplace of the food giant Nestlé, and the fork was symbolically “stuck” into the lake in 1995 in honour of the tenth anniversary of the nearby Alimentarium, a food-themed museum.
The museum is located in the former Nestlé headquarters and reopened last year after an extensive reconstruction. I must say, it is quite an interesting institution. Established in 1985, the Alimentarium was the world's first food-themed museum. Following the reconstruction, its permanent exhibition has not only been made more interactive (as a sign of the times, it now even has a wall of “gastro-selfies”) but has also been divided into three topical sections: Food, Society and Body. There, visitors can learn how people's preconceptions about food and a healthy lifestyle have changed over time, and they can also try to predict what lifestyle habits may emerge in the future. In addition, visitors can take a look at a typical menu and learn how the body copes (or does not cope) with all of the different foods. The process can be visualised in a red, hallway-like installation that replicates the digestive tract and allows visitors to literally walk through this corporeal process and wonder at the finely-tuned mechanisms that work tirelessly in our bodies.
The Alimentarium exposition and collections are also digitalised and form one of the world's most thorough centres of information about food, nutrition and eating habits. In any case, it is a wonderful place to take the family for an educational and thought-provoking afternoon. And the museum's café and restaurant are the perfect place to discuss the visit afterwards. Actually, the early 20th-century Neoclassical museum building is also impressive from an architectural standpoint and calls to mind refined gourmet dinners at which the women wear pearls and the men wear fine suits.
A few kilometres back in the direction of Geneva is another legendary destination, this time for lovers of architecture. The Villa Le Lac (Lake Villa) was designed by Le Corbusier, the master of 20th-century modernism, for his parents. Of course, this fact renders the building even more valuable, and the love with which it was created is almost palpable. And oh, one can only envy the architect's parents, who were able to enjoy the view from the window that their son created for them – a breathtaking panorama of the lake and mountains with no visible sign of civilisation. Except for maybe a lone boater or swimmer.
But the Villa Le Lac also embodies Le Corbusier's “machine for living” aesthetic. Its northern and western façades are covered with galvanised steel sheeting, while the southern façade is covered in aluminium. The laconic concrete building, which measures only 60 m2, was built in 1923-1924 and was one of Le Corbusier's first projects as an architect. He worked on it together with his cousin and long-term collaborator, the architect Pierre Jeanneret. The search for the ideal location for the house – both secluded and inspiring – took a long time. In the end, however, the villa served as a springboard for Le Corbusier's famous “five points of architecture” and embodies three of those points: a flat roof on which a sun chair may be placed or which may be used as a garden, an open plan that includes movable and adaptable interior constructions, and ribbon windows.
Unfortunately, Le Corbusier's father lived in the house for just a little more than a year, before passing away in 1924. But his mother – thanks to either good genes or the aesthetics created by her son – lived in the Villa Le Lac until 1960 and celebrated her 100th birthday there. The villa was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2016 and is now a museum. However, a word of caution is in order – the villa is open to the public only on Saturdays and Sundays.
A few more kilometres down the road, in the town of Bellevue, is a natural waterfall that was destined to play a significant role in the career of another 20th century genius – Marcel Duchamp, known as the founder of readymades and creator of the famous La Fontaine sculpture (Fountain, 1917). In 1946, Duchamp spent six months in Switzerland, choosing Lake Geneva as the backdrop for a five-day romantic outing with artist Mary Reynolds. The couple stayed in a very beautiful spot, in a small hotel right by the rocky shores of the lake with the sonorous, if clichéd, name Hotel Bellevue.
The shores of the lake around Bellevue are very steep, and Le Forestay, which begins just a couple of dozen metres from the hotel, is one of the most impressive waterfalls in the area. In springtime the water gushes over the three-stepped waterfall down to the lake. According to local legend, the passionate Duchamp associated the waterfall, which seems to erupt from a thicket of green bushes and branches, with a vagina. He memorialised the scene in a series of photographs and later in his last great masterpiece, the installation Etant donnés: 1. La chute d'eau, 2. Le gaz d'éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas; 1946-1966), which is currently located in the permanent exposition of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The installation consists of an old, worn door with a keyhole through which one sees a nude female with no pubic hair lying in a thicket of branches and holding a lantern in her hand.
The landscape around the waterfall has changed greatly since Duchamp's day and no longer resembles his photographs very much. But the waterfall is still there and still gushes with the same force as in bygone days.
Another location linked with Duchamp can be found in the main square in the nearby village of Cully. It's the KMD (Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp), or the smallest museum in the world. I'll give you a hint – don't search for a building! The KMD is an object reflecting Duchamp's signature style and was created in honour of his Boîte-en-valise, or box in a suitcase, which he made as a portable miniature monograph containing 69 reproductions of his work. Duchamp made 20 such boxes between 1935 and 1940, each placed in a slightly different brown leather suitcase. The KMD looks like a lantern, or a suitcase atop a post, and acts almost as a miniature “doll house” with regularly changing “exhibitions”. It was created in 2010 by the Association Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp (established in 2009) and, despite its small size, is a full-fledged member of the Swiss Museums Association. Needless to say, a visit to the KMD is free of charge, and the museum is open 24 hours a day. It is even equipped with a special sensor that lights up the exhibition when a person nears it. The appreciation of art is further heightened by the presence of the lake nearby. No matter what is exhibited in the “museum”, the lakeside panorama invariably enters the miniature space and is an essential part of it.
A likewise intriguing gastronomical destination can be found in the town of Dully on the banks of Lake Geneva – the Auberge de Dully, or, as it's locally known, “the chicken place”. Since it was established in 1964, the charming roadside tavern has offered only two main dishes, always made according to the same recipe: roasted chicken and roasted lamb. The lamb, however, is there so that diners have a choice; the real specialty is chicken. And, judging by the many photos of auto sports giants on the restaurant's walls, there is no lack of fans. When I arrive at a little before seven, the chefs and their assistants are having a meeting before they begin the evening shift. The interior is warm and cosy, just like a home kitchen.
Chickens for that evening's meals are slowly turning and roasting on a spit over an open fire. The aroma is mouthwatering. The host comes out to greet me and right away offers me some wine – so that I may spend the time until my meal arrives in worthwhile contentment. The Auberge de Dully also takes pride in its impressive wine cellar, which houses more than 10,000 bottles. Outside the window is a small veranda that also serves as a kitchen garden for the restaurant. And beyond that is the lake and the Alps, which gradually turn a magical shade of pink as the sun sets.