By Bill Zwecker
For many people the idea of a vacation combining stays in the South of France and in the Western part of Switzerland may seem a bit off-beat — mainly since most would think of a French Riviera holiday as being such a far different experience from time spent cruising the waters of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman).
Yet in many ways that exact combo, which I tackled recently, turned out to be a lovely new adventure. Except for the fact that French is the principle language in both locations, and there are various similarities of attitude, cuisine and (fortunately for us!) glorious late June/early July weather — this trip proved that one can indeed mix seemingly disparate travel moments and end up with a very satisfying pool of great memories.
Entrance to Villa La Maillane, Mougins.
The pool at La Maillane.
To begin, my husband and I were fortunate enough to be the guests of great pals who had rented a truly charming La Maillane villa in Mougins — complete with a terrific pool and elegant gardens and terraces, all overlooking Cannes and the Mediterranean in the near distance. While we did experience some very good local restaurants in the area, the joy of renting a wonderful house that includes a fully-equipped kitchen and outdoor grilling equipment means you can partake of the outstanding local markets and their offerings of mouthwatering fruits and veggies that are all in season.
Fruit and veggie market.
Inside the Mougins market.
Of course, dining out on vacation is — or should be — a highlight of any European trip and in the area of Mougins, some of the standouts that we found included the talented chef Denis Fetisson’s Le Place de Mougins in the Vieux Village of the town (amazing grilled pigeon, plus foie gras served with dollops of polenta and sliced fresh peaches); the more casual Sardine (try their signature sardines, the linguini vongole or Thai Shrimp salad) and Bobo Bistro both located in the center of Cannes, and Le Cafe de Arcades in nearby Valbonne — where we had a nice sighting of retired Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who has been spending some months in the South of France penning his memoirs.
Fried zucchini blossom at Le Place de Mougins.
Another good lunch choice in the Mougins area is to dine by the pool at the main hotel in the village: the 5-star Le Was Cadille — where their salad nicoise is a true winner and not to be missed.
A trip to this part of the Cote d’ Azur should, if possible, include a sun-drenched luncheon on the terrace at the Eden Roc Grill at the Hotel du Cap in Antibes.
The Hotel du Cap pool below the Eden Roc Grill.
Ready for lunch at the Eden Roc Grill.
Besides the superb service, the place is a treasure trove for people watching. On our afternoon, we got particularly lucky as my longtime friend, music mogul Clive Davis popped by with his usual summer entourage of friends — having boated over from the villa he had rented in St. Tropez for the season. It was hard to think about food after that charming mini-reunion, but I must recommend the enormous “gambas” grilled and topped with a delicious pesto sauce.
After out wonderful five days of houseguesting in Mougins, it was time to move on. We moved down to the Hotel Majestic in Cannes, which is a great place to stay if you particularly want to enjoy a top-rated hotel’s seaside beach club — which the Majestic offers.
Entrance to the Hotel Majestic in Cannes.
The Hotel Majestic pool.
Then, it was time to turn our thoughts northward and after a weekend at the Majestic, we jumped on a Swiss flight from Nice to Geneva. We immediately transferred to the historic Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in nearby Lausanne (45 minutes by car), where we headquartered ourselves for the following week.
Lausanne, the fourth largest city in Switzerland is a great little jewel of a town. Tourists are provided with free transit passes for their metro (subway), streetcars, and buses — a great way to travel around this easily navigable, history city — overlooking the exquisite Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman, as the French-speaking Swiss prefer to call it). True musts in Lausanne are a visit to the very exciting, interactive Olympic Museum [our modern Olympics were founded in Lausanne} — and…at least one (hopefully more!) rides on the charming lake ferry boats (most dating back to the early 20th Century), which can take you to virtually every town along the Lake Geneva shoreline — including the French side as well. (For only a few Swiss francs, which are equal to our dollar) play up to buy a first class ticket — allowing you to ride on the top deck and also have access to refreshments.
Lake Geneva ferries.
View from the lake.
Lakeside terraced vineyards en route to Montreux.
While we were in Lausanne, the famed Montreux Jazz Festival was having its 54th year of providing great music to the public — much of it enjoyed completely free, as the festival showcases upcoming talent constantly during its 2-week run with great “Concerts in the Park” along the lakefront. To travel from Lausanne to Montreux, we found it best to take the ferry (approximately 90 minutes) and then return to Lausanne on the high speed train that funs very often (20-25 minutes).
Free concert in the park.
Scene at Montreux Jazz Festival.
Salsa boat dancing.
As for the dining scene in Lausanne — check out Cafe du Grutli (founded in 1849), one of the oldest restaurants in the city, for a true Swiss fondue (preferably served with their delicious sliced fingerling potatoes) or another cheesy delight: rachlette. Restaurant Au Chat Noir near the University is another great bistro choice — small and charming and wonderful food.
Finally, it was time to say goodbye to the great French-speaking side of “Suisse” and head back to Chicago. So it was off to Geneva and a lovely day exploring that historic city’s old town area, before flying home. Speaking of home, it was amusing to discover our lunchtime waiter at the Cafe du Centre had actually lived in the U.S. for awhile — including Chicago “very near Wrigley Field on Fremont Street.”
Hearing that, I decided, it probably WAS a good time to head back!