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Walking Through Vineyards on the Swiss Riviera

UNESCO named Switzerland’s Lavaux region, on the sunny north shore of Lake Geneva, a World Heritage Site for its cultural landscape of vineyards and farms.

I expected to find sweeping views of snow-covered Alps forming the skyline, and sumptuous Belle Epoch hotels overlooking the lake, but I was surprised to find mile after mile of neatly striped hillsides covered in ripening wine grapes.

In this relatively small area are six wine regions and 28 controlled appellations of origin (DOC), and although they are rarely found outside of Switzerland, the wines consistently win in the world wine competitions.

UNESCO’s citation noted particularly the scenic beauty and authenticity of the land, divided into small plots and held in place by stone terraces, some of which date to the early Middle Ages. Along with its rich heritage of wine-growing (the first vines were planted by the Romans, more than 2000 years ago) the area has the country’s highest concentration of Michelin stars, so it’s not surprising that food and wine tourism are popular here.

A series of handily mapped routes made it easy for me to enjoy the best of the scenery as well as the food and wine experience. I found these maps, plus information on food and wine destinations on Lake Geneva Region’s website (www.lake-geneva-region.ch). When I followed sections of the 18-mile Discover the Lavaux Terraces trail, I found it sprinkled with signs about food and wine. I could do sections of it each day, since the trail is designed to be broken into shorter walks, and is easy to reach from several stations on the Swiss Rail network.

The route begins at Château de Chillon, one Europe’s most beautiful medieval castles, and follows the lake shore past Montreux before climbing into the vineyards to follow the terraces to Lausanne. Here, a few steps uphill from the lake, chocolatier Dan Durig demonstrated his art for me and several other visitors (with samples).

The shorter Vully Vineyard Footpath also passes winegrowers, craftsmen and food shops where I sampled more local products. The 6-mile circular Coeur de La Côte walk through the vineyards combines splendid views with tasting stops at winegrowers and village wine cellars. I stopped in the village of Bougy-Villars to visit the artisanal chocolate maker, Tristan.

Along the trails, I stopped at farmhouses for afternoon snacks of fresh bread and homemade jams, and to buy cheese and grainy rustic bread from farms for picnics in some of the many scenic spots overlooking the lake.

I found a Bread Museum at a 17th-century farm in Echallens, and at Vieux Leysin Cheese Dairy watched cheesemakers at work, and sampled the product in a 17th-century chalet. Cheeses here take their complex flavors from the profusion of mountain wildflowers the cows graze on.

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