Prior to our departure from the UK, friends more widely travelled than us had hinted that we may find Switzerland expensive, so we’d previously determined that we’d dine in-van whilst within that country’s precincts.
It turned out to be a good plan because as we made preparations to cycle into Montreux that evening from our Swiss suburb, a thunderstorm put paid to that ambition and we did indeed dine in-van that night.
The following morning dawned damp, clearing and fair, so we unracked the cycles and set off along a lakeside path designated for the purpose. A delightful ride – with early-morning views across Lake Geneva towards cloud-shrouded mountains – saw us reaching Chateau Chillon, a magnificent and clearly historic building edging the lake, and therefore providing easy pickings for the photographic enthusiasts who were already beginning to murmurate around its base.
Our intended but uncertain destination was a Hotel in Montreux itself which had provided Seafield Convent School Choir with accommodation 40 years prior for their (elsewhere reported) appearance at the Montreux Festival. Would it still exist after all the intervening years? Would The Musical Navigator recall its location? And would we find it on our short cycle ride? Yes, yes and yes. The Hotel Splendid had indeed survived and we found it located in a surprisingly impressive spot on Montreux’s main drag. Upgrades seem to have included a very swish, illuminated interior sign proclaiming its name – which seemed a little extravagant since this only therefore advertised its existence to resident guests, who presumably already knew which Hotel they were staying in? But hey, it provided the chance for yet more wry and hopefully vaguely humorous observational cynicism from your author.
Objective achieved, we sought out a bakery but could only find a convenience store, which – as per earlier warnings – inconvenienced us by charging over eight quid for two pastries, a baguette and a couple of peaches, although we still felt this to be justified on the basis that was the only monetary benefit the Swiss were going to squeeze out of us – and we had just stayed the night for free.
So, back to the van, reloaded and set off on yet more upwardly exhilarating alpine roads towards our next key objective – the Grand St Bernard Tunnel – to take us out of Switzerland and on into Italy. This indeed it did, in a spectacular feat of mountain engineering. Following a sunny pitstop for brunch in a roadside alpine meadow, we approached the tunnel through a lengthy run of still-empty road, enclosed within a tunnel-like concrete overhang, pillared and open to the continuing mountain views on one side – presumably to protect the approaches from snow and maybe falling rocks?
The Grand St. Bernard Tunnel (it says here) was opened on 19 March 1964 as the first road tunnel through the European Alps. It’s an impressive 5,798 metres long; is absolutely ruler-straight for almost all of that length (and why wouldn’t it be, if you’re going to all the trouble of blasting your way through virgin rock underneath one of the planet’s major mountain ranges?) and it has two lanes, thankfully one in each direction. Our access point on the Swiss side stands at 1,918m above sea level and on emergence into Italy, we were at a similarly impressive 1,875m.
We emerged into daylight under a similarly lengthy run of protective open-sided tunnel on the Italian side, where we commenced another spectacular, hair-raising and hair-pin-bending descent onwards towards our next planned destination.
Crumpled somewhere into one of the numerous and cavernous Knumptywagen door-pockets will be the tunnel toll receipt, which – if I could be bothered to go and find it – would remind me what we paid for the privilege of driving through (virtually on our own as there continued to be very little traffic) but put it this way: it was surprisingly less than we’d anticipated so, a bit like our experience of Switzerland in general, we felt as though – on the whole – we’d got a good, old fashioned bargain from our brief and rewarding stay.