Chateau de Chillon, Alpine mexicana and a flippin' pricey car park: One day in Montreux

Montreux doesn't require much introduction. We parked in a swish underground car park and exited onto an expansive waterfront. The enormous facades of glitzy hotels lined up, jostling for the best views of Lake Geneva and the Alps rising from the opposite bank. Live jazz music floated from a terrace to the promenade below, where we sidled along, excited about our first visit to this renowned resort town. Exploration could wait until later, though, as we had other plans.

We boarded a Belle Epoque paddle steamer - the commoner's way to feel like royalty - which sped us further east to Chateau de Chillon. Viewed from the water, Montreux certainly had something of Monaco, but many of the high-rise buildings were intrusive - a blot against the backdrop of the rocky Rochers de Naye mountain.

Chateau de Chillon, recognisable from any Swiss memorabilia you pick up, looked as if implanted by CGI. It was a golden, turreted affair, built onto a little island at the edge of the lake. Inside, the 12th-century monument oozed an oppressive sense of history. The vaulted cellar rooms were cold and shadowy, home now to just a nesting bird and her chirping chicks, while the adjacent prison featured graffiti by Lord Byron, who based his "The Prisoner of Chillon" on Francois Bonivard - a prisoner here in the 15th century, able to hear the lake lapping outside but not see the gorgeous view. In the crypt, an eery projection of a priest moving across the wall made me jump out of my skin.

We continued via a maze of courtyards on different levels, each leading into different parts of the castle. There were latrines projecting into the lake, walls decorated using tempera and ceremonial rooms with wood panelling and an ancient scent of damp.

Later, back in Montreux, hunger led us around the alleyways. We didn't find much of interest, bar the statue of Freddie Mercury performing to the lake and famous Confiserie Zurcher, where we bought melt-in-your-mouth cheese straws and house speciality chocolate-coated, wafer-thin meringues. We ended up on Avenue des Alpes, where there is a slew of restaurants - of varying quality but much cheaper than those on the waterfront.

Spontaneously, we entered Fondu Mexicana - a seedy-looking place, but Tim "really fancied Mexican food". it went something like this: "Une table pour deux, s'il vous plait." Waiter: "I speak no French, only Spanish and English. Please..." (motioning in sweeping gesture not far removed from Basil Fawlty). He seated us at "the best table", in the window, with views onto the mountains, but cleared off a "reserved" notice in the process.

We were the only guests there, surrounded by brightly coloured napkins bursting from glasses and a Mexican soundtrack charging the atmosphere. After taking our orders, the waiter set to - he seemed to be the chef as well. Within 10 minutes, he brought out fajitas, guacamole, and a sizzling pan of chicken and vegetables. Then he departed, leaving us with no crockery or plates. "Perhaps he's gone to get them," I suggested, hearing rustling from the kitchen. Minutes later, nothing. Tim called to kitchen and asked for plates. "Oh, I wondered why you not eating!" exclaimed the chef/ waiter. "I'm sorry. My place is in the kitchen, not out here!"

Well, we couldn't have asked for a more characterful end to our day. And the food was really good to boot. Perhaps not the Montreux we had expected. No, we got that when paying for the car park later - just CHF 22!!!
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