The land-locked Switzerland is a nature lover’s paradise with soaring snow-capped mountain ranges, and emerald green slopes that tower over vast cobalt lakes.
When it comes to Swiss culture, the hills are very much alive with the sound of music, and Julie Andrews herself even burst into that famous song while out walking in the Swiss mountains last year (much to the surprise of some Japanese walkers), but there’s more to this country than yodelling and do-re-mi-fa-so-la’s.
While it might be famous for its delicious creamy chocolate, wooden clocks, expensive watches, and magnificent scenic railways, Switzerland’s music scene is now putting the nation on the map with an array of all-year-round festivals covering all genres, from pop to rock.
The picturesque lakeside cities of Lucerne, Lausanne and Montreux host a cornucopia of fantastic music events and festivals throughout the year, and all three destinations can easily be accessed via a spectacular voyage on the Golden Pass Railway, where you can experience the German and French parts of this stunning country, all in one trip!
Here’s my guide to some of the best annual music festivals happening on the shores of the lakes in Switzerland:
Famously known as the Olympic Capital, Lausanne is a medieval city built on three hills in southern Switzerland on the banks of Lake Geneva. The city is home to the Olympic Museum and the International Olympic Committee, an impressive Gothic-style cathedral, car-free streets, and the famous Beau-Rivage Palace in Ouchey where musical stars such as Diana Ross, Phil Collins married their partners, and frequent guest Coco Chanel buried her beloved dog.
Cully Jazz Festival – April
Founded by Daniel Thentz and Emmanuel Gétaz, the Cully Jazz Festival has been running for more than 30 years and is one of the biggest Jazz festivals in Switzerland. The nine-day event offers 30 ticketed concerts and 70 free music events across the charming lakefront town of Cully, situated between Lausanne and Montreux. Artists who have played in the past include Gilberto Gil, Madeleine Peyroux, Marianne Faithfull, and Dee Dee Bridgewater.
Label Suisse – September
Label Suisse takes place across six concert halls and a huge open-air stage in Lausanne. The festival is free of charge and features hundreds of artists covering all genres of music, including rock, pop, folk, electro, hip-hop, French song, jazz, classical and choral singing.
Lausanne Underground Film and Music Festival (LUFF) – October
Inspired by the New York Underground Film Festival, LUFF blends innovative film with unique music. Over the years, this annual one-of-a-kind festival in Switzerland has provided a platform for international artists who are looking to push boundaries and perform at less traditional music venues. The independent low-budget five-day event takes place in various venues across Lausanne, including the lakeside Casino de Montbenon and the rock club Le Romandie.
Lausanne Jazz Onze Festival – October/November
This annual jazz festival takes place at Casino de Montbenon in Lausanne and has been running since 1988 after a group of Lausanne-based musicians came up with the idea to promote creative music and improvisations. Acclaimed jazz artists who have performed at the festival include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Richard Galliano Trio, Polar Bear, and Dianne Reeves,. The EspaceJazz, is the second stage of the festival and offers several free performances.
Metropop Festival – November
If you love French pop, electro and rock, this is the festival for you. Situated on Lausanne’s Docks, the 2014 line-up included The Orwells, Protoje, Gramatik and Jabberwocky, and over the years, it has attracted artists such as Parov Stelar, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, The Wailers (Bob Marley’s band), and Lily Allen.
While you’re in Lausanne…
Visit: You can’t visit Lausanne without heading to the Olympic Museum where you can learn about the history of the Olympic Games and the chance to get close to authentic items including Torvill and Dean’s ice skating outfits from that gold medal win in 1984 and the Olympic Torch from London 2012 Olympics.
Eat at: Café du Grütli on Rue Mercerie in Old Town. A charming rustic restaurant located on the ground floor of one of the oldest building in Lausanne. Its delicious cuisine and friendly service has gained it a reputation that has made it one of the most popular restaurants with the locals.
Stay at: Hotel de la Paix in central Lucerne. This hotel is a few minutes’ walk into the centre and it has a charming restaurant and bar.
Located in the north-central German-speaking part of Switzerland, Lucerne is a charming, small city situated on Lake Lucerne, encircled my mountainous terrain that is made up of Mount Pilatus, the Rigi, and Stanserhorn.
Home to the KKL Concert Hall, the city hosts an array of music events every year and you’re more than likely to come across a local alphorn performance at some point during your visit to the region.
Blue Balls Festival – July
Taking place over nine days, the Blue Balls Festival is one of Switzerland’s biggest music festivals, attracting 100,000 visitors to more than 100 events. The event covers all genres of music from pop and rock, to blues, soul and jazz, with performances ranging from concerts at the Open-Air Pavilion and the KKL Luzern, to intimate late-night shows at the Hotel Schweizerhof. Past musicians have included Ed Sheeran, Joss Stone, James Blunt and Goldfrapp.
Lucerne Summer Festival – August/September
Founded in 1938, Lucerne Festival now attracts more than 120,000 international visitors a year. Held in Jean Nouvel’s KKL concert hall (Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern) on the shores of Lake Lucerne in the Old Town of the city, the summer festival features some of the world’s best orchestras, conductors and soloists, and classic and contemporary music. The Lucerne Festival has three festivals taking place at Easter, in summer, and at the Piano in November.
Lucerne Blues Festival – November
This non-profit festival attracts 11,000 blues fans and takes place in the Grand Casino and Hotel Schweizerhof in Lucerne. The festival features some of the world’s leading blues performers, in 30 concerts over ten days. The Blues Foundation in Memphis in the United States presented its prestigious “Keeping The Blues Alive” award to the Lucerne Blues Festival in 2007 – the first award to be given outside of the United States. Past performers include Trudy Lynn, Otis Clay, Johnny Rawls, and Snooky Pryor.
While you’re in Lucerne…
Visit: The Old Town is a beautiful part of Lucerne with colourfully-painted timber houses, cobbled streets and the famous wooden Chapel Bridge that divides the city.
If you’re staying in Lucerne for a few days, head to Mount Pilatus on the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. The mountain is 2,132 metres above sea level and when you get to the top there are two hotels, restaurants, and breathtaking panoramic views of 73 snow-capped mountain peaks.
Eat at: 1871 Restaurant located on the shores of Lake Lucerne. This restaurant has a variety of delicious fresh dishes and an outdoor terrace, complete with herb garden, and beautiful lake views,
Sleep at: Hotel Pilatus-Kulm, Mount Pilatus, just a short train journey from Lucerne. Perched on top of a mountain, 2,132 metres above sea level, you’re likely to get a peaceful night’s sleep here. The stunning sunrise views in the morning are not to be missed.
Situated on the shores of Lake Geneva at the foot of the Alps, Montreux has attracted a number of famous faces over the decades, with the likes of Russian composers Pyotr Iliych Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky, and Queen’s frontman Freddie Mercury all setting up home in the picturesque town.
Freddie Mercury’s former recording studio, Mountain Studios, is located on the banks of the lake and his memory lives on in Montreux with a bronze statue of the singer standing on the lakefront boulevard. There is also an annual festival and memorial day dedicated to the singer. Freddie recorded his last album at the studio, Queen – “Made in Heaven”, and visitors can make their own re-mix of Queen’s classics in the studio, which still has original fixtures and sound equipment (www.mercuryphoenixtrust.com/studioexperience).
The Swiss town is most famous for its annual Montreux Jazz Festival which has seen performances from world-class musicians over the last 49 years.
Montreux Jazz Festival – July
Taking place in the summer, the Montreux Jazz Festival is one of the world’s leading jazz festivals. Over the last 49 years, legendary jazz musicians have performed including Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Miles Davies, as well as more mainstream artists such as Prince, Pink Floyd, Queen, Phil Collins, David Bowie, London Grammar, Massive Attack, and Deep Purple, whose ‘Smoke on the Water’ song was written about Montreux.
The festival attracts more than 100,000 visitors and the event runs over two weeks in venues including Montreux Musique & Convention Centre, the renovated Montreux Jazz Café, Montreux Jaxx Lab, and Studio 41.
Montreux-Vevey September Music Festival
From late August to mid September, the town comes alive with classical music as the festival takes place over two weeks. There are concerts at the Montreux Musique & Convention Centre and various other venues and classical musicians from all over the globe come to Montreux and nearby Vevey to perform.
While you’re in Montreux…
Visit: Chateau de Chilion. This beautiful castle is perched on a tiny island on the shores of Lake Geneva against the backdrop of the magnificent snow-capped Dent Du Midi Mountains. The castle became popular after Lord Byron wrote the poem The Prisoner Of Chillon.
Eat: Casino Barrière de Montreux. Lakeside casino with restaurant, bars, entertainment, and table games. Sit out on the lakefront terrace and enjoy beautiful steak and local wine, accompanied by live music.
Stay: Eurotel Montreux. A stylish central hotel on the lakefront with spacious rooms with balconies and a beautiful terrace restaurant with lake views.
Avoid hiring a car. Switzerland is a very green country and the best way to see it is by train – the beautiful scenery is worth it. Trains are clean, comfortable, punctual and very efficient. You can also buy a pass that lets you board buses, trains and boats.
Thomson Lakes (www.thomsonlakes.co.uk; 020 8939 0738) offers a week’s half board at the Hotel de la Paix in Lucerne from £875 per person with flights from either Heathrow or Gatwick to Zurich and transfers. For a week’s stay at Montreux, prices are from £929 per person.
Thomson also offers the Golden Pass Tour, a ten or eleven nights independent train tour taking in three of Switzerland’s lakes: Lake Lucerne, Lake Brienz and Thun and Lake Geneva. After a few days in historic Lucerne, the train journey begins with the panoramic train across the Brünig Pass to Interlaken and perhaps a visit up the Jungfraujoch mountain railway before the spectacular train journey on to Montreux. Between Montreux and Zweisimmen the highlight is the ‘Golden Pass Classic’ train with carriages in the style of the Orient Express. Prices are from £1299 per person including flights, all rail transfers, half board.
For more information on Switzerland, please visit www.MySwitzerland.com - official website of Switzerland Tourism with thousands of ideas what to do in Switzerland.