Monday, May 19, 2008

Chateau de Chillon

A visit to Montreux[near the southern border of Switzerland] is incomplete without a walk along Lake Geneva and a tour of Chillon Castle a.k.a. Chateau de Chillon. The castle stands on a rocky extension in the lake from the eastern edge. Surrounded by a moat –with the water from the lake, Chateau de Chillon would pass as an impregnable enclosure which has stood the test of time having several centuries of different construction and alterations. In fact the excavations carried out indicate that the site of Chillon has been occupied since the Bronze Age.

The castle’s history was marked by three important periods:
- The Savoy era [12th century to 1536],
- The Bernese era [1536 – 1798],
- The Vaudois era [1798 until today].
And each of these landlords has made modifications into the castle in terms of the architecture to suite their preferences. On the land side the castle is designed for defense, while on the lake side it’s for residence.

Right from the moment that you enter the castle via the wooden bridge across the moat, you are transformed to a different era. The cobblestone paths that lead you from the courtyard to other significant sites in the castle have been smoothened by centuries of usage, yet they do not fail to make you think –what would have been life then.

The weather was cold, but we were eager to explore the castle [over time we came to know that it almost encompassed a small town]. The Castle is surprisingly well kept, I mean for a structure so old it would not have stood so strong had it not been for the monumental restoration work that had gone into it.

All the rooms have a history of their own right from the Constable’s Dinning room to the Coats of Arms Hall. You cannot image what all you’d find in this Castle right from a prison, a cellar, a chapel, the bastion, the watch tower, a treasury building to a crypt!! Not to mention the numerous bedrooms, the administration rooms, the dinning and kitchen, phew!! By the end of the tour –about 2 hours or so- I did not quite remember all that I had seen and read in the Information Guide. Oh, I did not mention about this –Just as you enter the place you’re handed a detailed tour information guide which not only tells you about the history of each room to visit, the route to take but also “mind the steps” and “watch your head”.

From a holistic point of view the Castle is very well constructed [what else did I expect?]. The sentries’ gallery is constructed such that it has a complete view over the Castle’s inner courtyard on one side and the Lake, Villeneuve and the Pre Alps on the other. In fact you’d get a good view of the Lake from most of the windows in the castle. However, the best is the mind-blowing 360 degree view that you can enjoy form the top of the 25 mts high Keep of the Castle. The Keep as expected happens to be right in the centre of the Castle which was used as a refuge tower, a defense observatory post, storehouse and more recently –a prison!

By the end of the tour I felt as if I’d visited a small town and I wondered how the lives of the residents would be about 100’s of years back. No television, telephone and gosh…no internet!!! But then life must have had a different meaning. The Chateau also has about 12,500 sq. mts of vineyards and its own brand –the Clos de Chillon [no I did not try that]

The Chateau had a story of its own to tell, a story which has lived almost a 1000 years and I don’t think a 2 hour trip would be enough to appreciate the history as its worth. But nevertheless a must visit if Montreux is in your travel itinerary.

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