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Beaches are hot in Switzerland

BY ATHENA LUCERO Published: May 7, 2012
Beaches in Switzerland? Let's just say that in Switzerland, no one is ever very far from a beach.

In the heart of Europe, this landlocked country is usually noted for the Alps and world-famous ski resorts. But when the snow has melted, the Swiss flock to the shores and take to the lakes like, well, ducks take to water.

Most of Switzerland's major cities, towns and villages are located along its many lakes and rivers.

With three-fourths of the country bordered by France and Italy and blessed with the luscious Mediterranean climate, it's no surprise that the Swiss enjoy water fun — from natural sandy beaches in the countryside and "imported" beaches in the city to beaches in mountain valleys and lakeside lidos.

Two hours south of Zurich International Airport in the French-speaking canton of Vaud is Lake Neuchatel, one of Switzerland's 16 largest lakes.

"It's 100 percent Swiss," said my guide, Jeanine Dufour, proudly as we walked the peaceful sandy beaches around the village of Yvonand. She explained that other lakes share their waters with neighboring countries.

A short drive from my hotel in the spa resort town of Yverdon les Bains, the lure of Yvonand is its natural beauty — the Jura Mountains, pine forests, wildflowers, nature reserves, hiking trails and campgrounds on the lake. Sailboats, sunbathers and windsurfers welcomed the first days of summer.

I continued south one hour to the northern shores of Lake Geneva, home to Lausanne, the trendy capital of Vaud, and to its east the stylish Swiss Riviera and the dramatic terraced vineyards of Lavaux, a World Heritage Site. Shared with France, Lake Geneva is one of Western Europe's largest freshwater lakes.

A walk through the doors of Lausanne's Bellerive Plage (plage is French for beach), built in 1939, took my breath away. Its expansive acreage offered multiple swimming pools, including an Olympic pool, a children's pool, a manicured park, a sandy beach, a water park, beach volleyball, lawn tennis, basketball and a terrace cafe with stunning views of the lake and the French Alps.

There's also a scuba-diving school and accommodations for physically challenged guests to ensure a lake-friendly visit.

Up the hill near the cobbled alleyways of la Cite, Lausanne's Old Town steeped in medieval history, the beach comes to the city.

Just steps from shops, fashion boutiques, cinemas and restaurants, Le Flon Plage in the very modern and lively Flon area invites passersby to refresh, wiggle their toes in the sand and watch a beach volleyball game. It's like seeing a beach at Union Square in San Francisco!

Less than 10 minutes away by train, the delightful village of Lutry was my base for a few days as I traveled by train and boat between Lausanne and the picturesque Swiss Riviera — or Montreux Riviera, the region of Montreux-Vevey-Lavaux.

My bed-and-breakfast inn was a wonderfully restored 16th-century townhouse, Le Bourg 7 (also its address) that was a stone's throw from the lakeside and a 10-minute walk from the train station.

A boat cruise along the Riviera treated me to a floating panorama of Lavaux's steep vineyards and sun-worshippers staking claim on small beaches dotted along the coast below.

I disembarked at Chateau de Chillon on the eastern edge of the lake and toured the 12th-century island castle that achieved literary fame in Lord Byron's 1816 poem, "The Prisoner of Chillon."

Outside the castle wall, a small sandy beach was a lovely spot to repose amidst the profound backdrop of the castle and the Alps.

Before heading back to Lutry, I stopped for dinner in romantic Vevey, where milk chocolate was discovered and writers, poets, artists and politicos gravitated, but not before witnessing summer's vibe with visitors strolling the quay and hanging loose at Vevey Plage, its imported and very chic beach furnished with beach chairs, colorful umbrellas and a dome-covered bar lounge.

On the move again, I switched gears to all things Italian in the canton of Ticino bordering Italy. High temperatures and palm-lined promenades give Switzerland's famous resort towns their unmistakable Mediterranean flair.

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