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Destination Guide: Alpes vaudoises

Destination Guide: Alpes vaudoises

Written by Megan Brownrigg // Photography by Grace Taylorson Smith Pritchard
Produced in partnership with Switzerland Tourism

Lake Geneva’s edge might be billed as the crown jewel of Alpes vaudoises, but surrounding it is a blanket of lesser-known gems. This is a region where indoor meets outdoor, timelessness meets innovation, and industrious adventure knocks knees with unapologetic indulgence. These paradoxes are made possible by the distinct characters of Alpes vaudoises localities – Villars, Leysin, and Château-d’Œx, each offering a different take on escapism.

Summer can be felt most keenly in a place like the Alpes vaudoises. Aside from the sun’s nudge on your skin, space feels infinite here, as do lung-wallops of fresh air and a jammy choice of things to do. Solo hikers can find solace, as they slow their roll in this region’s hills, while family and friends forge memories together in its landscapes. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to experience the sweet osmosis between vineyards, cheese factories, and museums has a place in this pocket of Switzerland.

The Alpes vaudoises really lucked out in the game of geography. The region is part of the Canton de Vaud and is a stone’s throw from Montreux, on the shoreline of Lake Geneva and at the foot of the Alps, Martigny, and Gstaad. The downside? There’s so much to do inside of the region’s realms that you might not get to half of it.

If walking is your meditation, 1,000km of marked trails in the Alpes vaudoises are ready to ease your mind and give your legs the ‘good ache’. For a sharper injection of discovery, there are via ferrata, pendulum jumps, mountain biking, rafting, and paragliding. And if your bones are in need of a rest, thermal centres with PhDs in pampering abound in this place.

Thanks to a dedication to traditional gastronomy and craftsmanship, the food scene is strong here. Beer, cheese, chocolate, wine, and bread making are just some of the artisan efforts your tastebuds can try for size in the Alpes vaudoises. It’s worth sitting down to enjoy them – some of the iconic settings for dining here include traditional mountain huts, revolving restaurants, and meadow floors.

It’s already a lot to digest, but the Alpes vaudoises region can be best absorbed through its network of four resorts: Villars, Leysin-Col des Mosses, Les Diablerets, and Château-d’Œx.

Destination Guide: Alpes vaudoises Destination Guide: Alpes vaudoises Destination Guide: Alpes vaudoises


At 1,300m, this Swiss village casually looks out onto the Mont Blanc Massif, the Dents du Midi mountain range, and even as far as Lake Geneva. All from a self-carved south-facing balcony. Despite this bullseye location, Villars maintains an unaffected charm with its affection for Nordic walking, old-fashioned flea markets, and toasty thermal springs.

For those with itchy feet, Villars boasts 300km of signposted footpaths and 150km of mountain bike routes. A tour we’d recommend leads up to the mountain lakes of Lac de Chavonnes, Lac de Bretaye, and Lac Noir. It’s quite something to watch waters turn from teal to black during one morning in the saddle. Another mindful way of soaking up the sights of Villars is via its 18-hole golf course, which pokes its head out at 1,600m altitude.

Home to the Climbing World Cup, there are plenty of rock faces to scale in Villars – and a via ferrata to boot. The Miroir d’Argentine is a cliff worth writing home about, as anyone who climbs it can say they climbed an ancient seabed on land. With 15 bolted routes up its 400m height, it’s a steep ascent that curves more gently towards the top, and offers a treasure trail of fossils to tempt your focus.

If a hardy ascent sounds a bit taxing, we have a flying descent for you in mind. The trusty Mountain Cart is a cross between a go-kart and a sled, and can whip you down several miles of sunny hills around Villars at speed. This fast fun can be hitched from the Roc d’Orsay gondola, but if hurtling around doesn’t tickle your fancy, e-biking is a gentler alternative.

For anyone craving snowflakes no matter the time of year, Glacier 3000 is a must from Villars. The 107m-long Peak Walk by Tissot bridge is the only suspension bridge in the world that connects two mountain peaks, but it offers a view to so many iconic silhouettes, the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and Eiger among them. Other fun to be had up there includes glacier walks, dog-sled rides, and Europe’s highest tracked toboggan run. From snow to salt, back down in the valley there’s a labyrinth of mines and caves to explore in the Bex salt mines.

Whichever irons you place in Villars’ fire, a great way to ease down afterwards is in the thermal baths of Lavey-les-Bains. Fed by the hottest spring in Switzerland, these baths will fix almost anything.


Le Refuge de Solalex
After climbing or hiking the Miroir d’Argentine, it’s an absolute must to visit Le Refuge de Solalex at its foot for lunch or dinner. Chef Martin and his team welcome hungry mountaineers in this rustic cabin. While listening to folk music, savour local produce: cuisine of the soil, raclette on a wood fire, fondue, puff pastry with mushrooms; there’s just too much to try! And don’t miss out on the wine of the region – it is one of the best.

Hotel Alpe Fleurie
Located just across from the Villars train station and with unlimited views over the Rhône Valley to the other side, this hotel supports both eco-friendly travelling and the enjoyment of nature. The cosy rooms embrace mountain heritage and mix it up with a modern interior to find the right balance. And after a day in the outdoors, you can simply stay on the terrace for your home-made cheese or meat fondue.

A great hop from Villars is Les Diablerets, a community made up entirely of traditional chalets. A huge effort to protect Swiss heritage has been made here, but it’s also managed to evolve as a centre for adventure sports. In summer, try the tightrope walk at the treetop circuit at Parc de Diables, or take a 45-minute stroll to dip your feet in the pools of the Cascade du Torrent waterfall.

Les Diablerets is a true spot to simulate time travel. Tracing the banks of the River Eau is an ageless pilgrimage in itself, but we also recommend heading towards Vers-l’Eglise just 3km away. This rural hideaway has a quirky history, including a chapel that was built in 1396 before being converted to a temple in 1530. The Musée des Ormonts across the road often holds fantastic exhibitions delving into traditions that deserve more limelight.

For a hot tip-off on summer sunsets, head to the Refuge de Pierredar in the Diablerets Massif. At an altitude of 2,298m, you won’t want to go to sleep with those views, so it’s a good job it gets dark eventually. The refuge is only accessible on foot, and can be reached between mid-June and mid-September. Or head further up into the mountains and enjoy a wide range of activities and gastronomy at the magnificent Glacier 3000.

Destination Guide: Alpes vaudoises Destination Guide: Alpes vaudoises Destination Guide: Alpes vaudoises


Once a famous health resort, you can see why doctors have historically considered Leysin a destination medicine. The area’s recipe is simple: south-facing sunshine, mountain oxygen, and a slow pace of living. Difficult things to find these days, but in Leysin they remain the way of life.

250km of hiking trails are the best way to acquaint yourself with the quiet contours of Leysin. Tour d’Aï, the area’s highest mountain at 2,331m, acts as a great north star for any routes you’re planning. We recommend venturing to Lac d’Aï as well as Lac de Mayen, near Tour de Mayen and Tour de Famelon. For fishing, consider Lac Lioson above Col des Mosses.

If you want a hike that includes Lac d’Aï and keeps you on your toes, the Berneuse–Refuge de Mayen loop from Versmont is a difficult and rewarding trek coming in at just under 13km. The route pings you onto magnificent paths that few others reach, so check you have the right kit before you try it.

Leysin’s bike park, meanwhile, is raring to give you that giddy skip in your tummy. There’s a 700m drop for those who want to get right to it, and if you want prestige the Nérine jump line featured as the official track for the 2021 Swiss Downhill Championships. The park also boasts technical cross-country trails, endurance routes, and dirt tracks to roll your tyres in. You can get to it in a few minutes from the cable car in the heart of Leysin.

Road bikers will also find their haven in Leysin. Fluid networks of scenic tarmac surround the nearby Aigle, which is home to the World Cycling Association (UCI). (We know, it’s as if the Alpes vaudoises region just loves name-dropping.) If you want to break convention on two wheels, ditch the bikes and hop on a dirt scooter. Their ridiculously large tyres can whistle you down from the Refuge de Mayen into Leysin in a jiffy (available for groups of 8-14 people).

Climbers, you’ll be teased by Leysin’s cliff faces, which can cater both to beginners and seasoned pros. There are also two via ferratas – The Tour d’Aï via ferrata with the best views and the Plan Praz via ferrata, located just above the village which is extremely technical with several overhanging sections to navigate. If you just want to jump off a cliff, though, Leysin is also a sweet spot for paragliding.

An altitude resort by trade, Leysin has a lesser-known secret. It’s home to the highest concentration of caves and holes in all of Switzerland. For fans of the underground, we recommended the tours of the Gouffre du Chevrier, the Aven Artère, and the Grotte de la Cathédrale. As well as helping you get your explorer’s kicks, they’re a mine of interesting history and science thanks to the guidance of local experts. After your studies, you can enjoy a silly old fly around the underground zipline as your gold star.


A place where you can let your restaurant do the work for a 360° panorama. At the top of the Berneuse mountain, the futuristic Kuklos revolving restaurant completes one turn every hour and a half, offering stunning views of Lake Geneva, the Jura mountain range, and the Rhône Valley – all while enjoying great food.

La Fromagerie
Built in the 1700s, this chalet is one of the most picturesque buildings in Leysin and is both a restaurant and a museum. Before you taste some of the delicious dishes, experience how the cheese is made on site. Over an open fire right in the centre of the restaurant, the master cheesemaker expertly curdles the milk in an enormous cast-iron cauldron. And sharing a fondue afterwards is always a social event – each huge wooden table seats at least 10 people.

Monts Chevreuils
Sometimes a bunk bed is more luxurious than a five-star resort. In the rustic mountain hut Monts Chevreuils you can find out why. Waking up with a panoramic view across the Pays-d’Enhaut is priceless. And, because it is only accessible on foot or by mountain bike, this cabin above La Lécherette is spoiled with calm. Sneak out of your bedroom or dormitory and experience the sunrise over the mountains at 1,700m.

Destination Guide: Alpes vaudoises Destination Guide: Alpes vaudoises Destination Guide: Alpes vaudoises


History and hot-air balloons, village folklore and Alpine dens, Château-d’Œx is nestled between some gorgeous contrasts. Geographically, it’s set between the Bernese Oberland resort of Gstaad and the town of Gruyères in Canton Fribourg, at the heart of the Alpes vaudoises. The best way to reach its climes is by the Montreux–Bernese Oberland Railway. These lavish train carriages will give you a memorable ride, especially if you visit the wine cellar coach that sells nectar from the local vineyards. As you climb to 1,000m of elevation, you’ll also be able to drink up views of the crests of the Pays-d’Enhaut and the edges of Lake Geneva. Close enough to touch, these landscapes are yours to explore when you alight. Mountain bikers will be thrilled by the trails along the tracks of the 1997 World Championships, whilst walkers and trail runners will be occupied by 300km of trails, including the reserve of La Pierreuse in the foothills of the Alps.

French for ‘the stony one’, La Pierreuse marks the largest nature conservation area in western Switzerland and marries fresh green grass with ancient limestone outcrops. On the left-hand side of the Sarine River, this reserve is a particularly good hike for spotting a bounty of flora and fauna, thanks to its fertile moors and deciduous woodland. A spectacular 9.5km walk around La Pierreuse starts from Les Granges, climbing through forest and encircling the peak of Tête de la Minaude. You’ll find traditional Alpine pastures where the famous L’Etivaz AOP cheese is made, as well as a wide variety of wildlife such as ibex, chamois, marmot, golden eagle, lynx, and black grouse.

Water babies need look no further than Château-d’Œx and the powerful pull of the Sarine River. Whitewater sports that you can enjoy here include river rafting, canoeing, kayaking, canyoning, and hydrospeed. Haven’t heard of that last one? Also known as riverboarding, it’s a laugh and a half involving foam on your hands and fins on your feet. If you’re looking for a more classic rafting route that soaks up the quick-quick-slow foxtrot of Sarine’s waters, we vote for floating between the Vanel and Gérignoz gorges. Adrenaline seekers who prefer not to get wet should try the pendulum jump in the nearby Pissot gorges. Unlike a bungee jump, the pendulum doesn’t induce shock thanks to its tango with acceleration and a centrifugal force. Crucially, this feels like you’re flying instead of falling. Clever.

If we’re serious for a moment, you can’t really leave Château-d’Œx without getting in a hot-air balloon. This is the spot where, in 1999, Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones began their non-stop circumnavigation of the Earth in a balloon, and ever since it’s been a nerve centre for passenger flights. From the basket in the sky, you’ll be able to look down on a sea of mountains and meadows – and play Swiss bingo for every cowbell you hear jangle from the clouds. If you prefer to keep your feet firmly on the ground and watch the sky fill with colour, the international hot-air balloon festival in January is a real spectacle. For the kids, there’s also the Espace Ballon museum to learn more about these flying globes fuelled by fire.

One of Château-d’Œx’s most delicate traditions is the art of paper cutting, otherwise known as silhouette cutting or decoupage. Iterations of this preserved paper art can be seen in the Pays-d’Enhaut museum, and the area still boasts plenty of practising artists taking it in new directions. The craft itself was inspired by mountain folklore, so it’s worth taking time to read the stories the shapes are telling in their lace-like scenes.

A proud gastronomic craft of this area is L’Etivaz AOP: widely hailed as some of the best cheese in the country. The production procedure of this hard Alpine cheese is centuries old and under strict regulations: more than 2,800 cows feast on 130 Alpine pastures located at an altitude of between 1,000 and 2,000m (not below!). Due to the large quantities of herbs they eat in this beautiful mountain landscape, their rich milk has a flowery bloom and powerful aroma. This milk is then heated solely in copper cauldrons over a wood fire, and, after a long ripening process, the resulting cheese is quite literally mountain fresh. You’ll find that many of the rustic cheeseries conveniently crop up on local hiking routes, so it would be rude not to. If you’re in need of some wine to go with that cheese, venture down in the valley of Aigle where you’ll find a flurry of vineyards as well as a whole museum dedicated to the stuff.


Maison d’Hôtes Ermitage, Château-d‘Œx
What an example of how to blend tradition with modern influences: Sophie Labarraque, a former decorator who worked in the fashion world, took over this charming country inn and completely remodelled it. Now there’s a tearoom, a coffee corner, a wine bar, a large terrace, and of course, an exhibition space. In addition to the tastefully furnished hotel rooms, the restaurant offers fresh seasonal dishes and is an ambassador for authentic Pays-d’Enhaut products and slow food.

Hotel Valrose, Rougemont
This modern and family friendly hotel in the heart of Rougemont village was established in 1904, completely renovated in 2016, and is equipped with 12 bright, spacious rooms with superb views of the surrounding mountains. It’s renowned for its food, too, and has been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand and 18/20 Gault&Millau. An authentic and friendly destination for your stay.

Hôtel de Ville, Château-d‘Œx
Located in the heart of the charming village and only three minutes away from the train station, the Hôtel de Ville in Château-d’Œx is the perfect choice for a relaxed stay. As the mountains are so close, all outdoor activities such as hiking, climbing, trail running, or biking start pretty much at your doorstep. The same goes for the hotel’s own restaurant, Le Bistrot, and the Caribou Bar next door, where you deserve a glass of local wine after your excursions.

Written by Megan Brownrigg // @brownriggmegan
Photography by Grace Taylorson Smith Pritchard // @grace.t.s.p
Film by Summit Fever Media // @sfm_films

Produced in partnership with Switzerland Tourism and Vaud // Alpes vaudoises



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