Letter from Europe

Cully by Lake Geneva

Issue no. 2018/11

Picture above: The Lavaux vineyards on the shore of Lake Geneva, viewed from the lakeside promenade at Cully (photo © hidden europe).


Travelling east on the steamer from Ouchy , we are struck by how vines dominate the shoreline of Lake Geneva. At Cully we hop ashore to explore this small town in Switzerland's Lavaux region. It is the area from which Switzerland's acclaimed Chasselas wines originate.

Dear fellow travellers

Ouchy, on the shore of Lake Geneva below Lausanne, is a place where one might linger. Byron did just that in late June 1816, when summer storms brought heavy rain. The English poet used his enforced stay to good effect, taking the extra two days in Ouchy to write The Prisoner of Chillon. Rarely has a poem so powerfully influenced patterns of travel and tourism. Communities around the lake have surely been giving thanks to Byron ever since.

Travelling east on the steamer from Ouchy, we are struck by how vines dominate the shoreline. This is a densely settled part of Switzerland, but the much acclaimed quality of the wines of the Lavaux region means that no spare patch of land is left uncultivated. There is no better way to see this blessed sweep of historic vineyards than from the deck of the heritage paddle steamers which ply the lake.

Cully looks appealing from the boat, so we hop ashore. "Cully is as old as the hills," says a fisherman by the quay. "The old name for this place was Collium," he notes, going on to tell the story of how the Romans erected a temple in Collium in honour of Bacchus, the god of wine.

A heron makes a bid to steal a fish which the fisherman judges is rightly his, so he turns his attention back to the lake and we set off to explore Cully, a community of about 1,500 people which extends up towards the railway from the promontory where the boat stops. There was a time when traffic from western Switzerland bound for the Valais or for the Simplon and Grand St Bernard routes to Italy all passed through the very centre of Cully. But with the village now sensibly bypassed, many motorists dash east towards Vevey without sparing a second thought for Cully.

Like many of the Lavaux villages, Cully is acutely aware of its history. We stop to buy a bottle of local wine, and the lady serving in the shop tells us in reverent terms of the winemaker. "Monsieur Bovard," she says, "is in the tenth generation of his family making wine here in Cully."

With the traffic now largely banished from the centre of the village, it's easy to linger outside the Café de la Poste and idly pass the hours. Cully is not picture perfect in the manner of Saint-Saphorin just a few kilometres away to the east. Nor does it have the grand views over the lake which attract visitors to the higher Lavaux villages like Grandvaux or Chexbres. But Cully has fine lakeshore promenades and a strong sense of being a living, working community.

The Café de la Poste has a faded pink facade. Most customers gather not in the café itself, but by the cluster of trestle tables and green chairs on the opposite side of the road. It's a fine spot to let the first coffee of the day slip into a second, before moving on to a mid-morning glass of the local cool, fresh Chasselas wine. Climbing up through the back streets of the village, there are lots of quiet corners. Red roses climb up the front of a building with striking blue shutters. Two women sitting outside a bakery look at us with evident interest. Down on the lakeshore, there are upturned boats, a tangle of fishing nets and a small bain des dames, a secluded bathing area once reserved for women where nowadays men are tolerated too. It is the very ordinariness of Cully that makes it so appealing. In an area noted for its chic appeal - this is after all the Montreux Riviera - Cully is reassuringly normal. Just our kind of place!

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

Issue 55 of hidden europe magazine is published on 16 July. The Lavaux vineyards are featured in that issue, which also includes articles on Ukraine, Abkhazia, Austria, Brittany, London and much more. Issue 55 can already be ordered in our online shop.

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Editorial hidden europe 62

We do rather like an amble, even sometimes a ramble, but when we are in rural regions we do also quite like to vegetate, and the current pandemic has certainly allowed us many opportunities to do just that. And thus maybe unsurprisingly, there is a walking theme to this issue of hidden europe. Enjoy the read.