BMW R1200GSA vs Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX

Monday, 6 August 2012

We rock, and roll into Montreux, Switzerland. 

2, 3/8/12

It's seven am and I'm sitting on the balcony of our hotel typing this overlooking Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland. Life isn't good, it's bloody fantastic. We like it here so much that we are staying another night. There is so much to tell that I wish I could type a whole lot faster than I can. Be warned, today's blog is a biggie.

Our view of Lake Geneva.

Montreux is found on the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland and it's famous for the Montreux Jazz Festival as well as Deep Purple's song, Smoke on the Water. The song is about the band's first appearance at Montreux early in their career when the casino that they were supposed to play in burned down the night before the gig. They were staying in a hotel on the other side of the lake and saw the "smoke on the water and fire in the sky". They wrote this song about the night.  

It's a song I grew up with, and with the recent passing of Jon Lord, one of the founding members, it is a visit tinged with a little sadness. I never got to see Deep Purple play live. They were playing in the UK when I was there once, but we didn't make it to the show. That sort of sums up this trip really. Get out there and do what you want to do while you can, before it's to late.

We made a reasonable start today and cruised around Torino having a sticky beak at the architecture and the sights. It's interesting how your mood can alter your perception of things. The previous day were were hot, tired, and grumpy and Torino was a dirty old city. This morning after a good sleep, some breakfast, and some clean clothes, Torino is actually a very beautiful place full of remarkable buildings. We only had to cover about 250 km to Montreux so we could kick back and relax.

We hit the Autostrada and put some miles under the wheels quickly in the morning. After the last few weeks of winding roads with only the odd car here and there sharing a long straight road with numerous cars and trucks is bloody horrible, but it's a good way to cover ground quickly.

There would be no mountains today, only some things called Alps, whatever they are. When we did see some mountains Suzanne said "After last week, they are pissy little things". Turns out they weren't so "pissy" after all reaching about 4,500 meters. That's more than double the size of Australia's largest mountain, Mount Kosciusko. As we rode through the mountains Mont Blanc, and the Matterhorn were either side of us, complete with snow.

That's not snow is it? yes it is Simon, yes it is.

Like I said, no mountains today.

I'm getting used to this whole mountain thing and really enjoyed today's ride. I'd even say it was the best days riding yet. The roads were smooth, the bends perfect, and I'm learning to cope with the sheer size of the cliffs we ride on. I'm happy to tell you I was only passed by two cars in the mountains today. I chuckle when I think back to our first mountain road experience in Austria / Slovenia where I was pulling over and letting lines of cars past.

Check out those curves. We came over the bridge on the left, then wound down the mountain. The road went on like this for miles and miles.

We rode through the Great Saint Bernard Tunnel (no, there were no dogs in there) which seemed to go on forever. There is a turn off in the tunnel which leads to a pass over the top of the Alps but we missed it, and I wasn't turning around in there. We'll definitely go over the top on the way back.

The entry to the longest tunnel I've ridden through.

About half way through the tunnel we hit the Swiss border. My first thought was that these guys have a very interesting drive to work every day. Not! There was a line of cars stopped off to the side and they were being checked over pretty thoroughly. There were even sniffer dogs going through the cars. We rode up and both the Police and border guards just waved us straight through. I guess you can't smuggle enough on a bike to worth bothering with.

When we popped out into daylight at the other end it was more of the same, then we came across the "Joe Bar" cafe. Motorcyclists who read Pommy bike magazines will be familiar with this. We had to stop and have a coffee. This was a great little cafe in a perfect location, but there was no one but us in there. Once we were inside we realised why. They girl serving was in dire need of a personality injection. Take notice people, staff make all the difference. We sat there and watched a multitude of all types of bikes go past. 

Joe Bar Cafe.

Only us inside. Miss personality is on her lap top in the back corner.

I love these tables. I didn't at first, but once I realised that the only thing required to have a full motorcycle again is a rim, tyre, tube, and some spokes, I was happy.
(Scotty - are you taking notice?)

Something I've noticed in Europe is that just about every biker that you see out on the road waves to you. I don't know why this doesn't happen in Australia any more. The rot probably started because the Harley riders wouldn't wave to you if you weren't on a Harley and spread from there. I'd love to see it come back.

Now it was time for some more fun. I can't tell you how good the roads were on the way into Montreux. I like the BM, and it does everything well, but, god I wish I had my Speed Triple on those roads. (and me not on they back hey Sime :)

We arrived in Montreux about mid afternoon and decided to ride to the centre of town and start working outwards to find a hotel. A hotel we could afford that is. We'd looked on the web the previous night and things in Switzerland are VERY EXPENSIVE. They are like hotels in Perth since the mining boom kicked in.

Sometimes you get extremely lucky and great things just fall in your lap. We did our usual. We stopped the bike in the dead centre of Montreux and saw a hotel. Suzanne got off and walked to the hotel entrance where she took off her helmet and jacket in preparation for the whole "we're travelling and haven't got much money" scenario at the front desk. A guy on the footpath, having seen the bike, asked if we were really from Australia. When Suzanne replied yes, she told him about me wanting to visit Montreux and the whole Deep Purple thing. He told her he really wants to go to Australia and tour around on a motorcycle. They got talking and guess what. He is the owner, in partnership with his brother, of the "Hotel Splendid" that they were standing in front of.

His name was Yvan and he is the third generation of his family to own the hotel. He explained to Suzanne that there is no such thing as a cheap room in Montreux, especially at this time of year. It turned out that Splendid wasn't that expensive, in fact it was pretty reasonable. A few minutes later we were in our room. 

DISCLAIMER: OK this is going to sound like an advertisement, so I want to state right now, I don't own this hotel, I didn't get paid to write this, and we paid for our room. Yvan did buy us a couple of drinks later during our stay, but that's it.

Hotel Splendid is great, it's not all chrome, glass, and sterile like a lot of new hotels. OK, it's not a five star hotel, it's a three star hotel, and it is old. In fact it's the oldest hotel in Montreux built in 1904 (I think), but for us this was a plus. It has real atmosphere. For Perth people it is like an very upmarket New Norcia Hotel. Suzanne and I loved it. It is right in the centre of the main drag along the edge of the lake and is within walking distance of most things you would want to visit in town. Our room had a large balcony with a table and four chairs overlooking Lake Geneva, a nice bath (happy wife = happy life), a large flat screen TV, and those brilliant beds that raise at the head and the foot. These beds are just what you need after a long day riding. Elevating your legs feels so good. Ahhhh, we slept so well. We were so comfortable we stayed in bed til about midday, and I never do that. It was inevitable that we were staying a second night. It was just to good not to.

Hotel Splendid was full of things like this. I'm very lucky this was heavy, otherwise it would probably have ended up in Suzanne's hand bag.

But the best thing about Hotel Splendid was our host Yvan. He is an encyclopaedia of information about Montreux. That afternoon we were having a drink in the bar downstairs and Yvan came over and sat down to talk with us. As he knew about my Deep Purple reason for staying in the town he proceeded to fill me in on all the music history of the place, including some great info I never would have found out. I'll go into a little of that that later. Thanks Yvan, you made our visit very special.

We took hundreds of photos in Monytreux, but not one of the hotel. I can't believe it. We'll just have to go back I guess.

You can visit the web site for Hotel Splendid here:

OK, end of rave about Hotel Splendid.

So, where were we? Oh yes, we'd just checked in to our room. We headed out for a walk and a look around. I got in touch with my feminine side and actually enjoyed looking at the shops along the main street. They were full of really interesting and unusual things. Believe it or not, I would love a Cuckoo clock. I didn't know I'd love one until I walked into a shop full of real Swiss Cuckoo clocks. They were incredible, but at about $2,000 i didn't think should buy one, and then there is the problem of mounting it on the bike. I did buy a T Shirt though. I had to because my other shirts are sealed in zip lock bags and aren't coming out until I have access to a very good washing machine.

Then it got really exiting. We saw Carlos Santana, and then B.B King on the other side of the street. I had to go over. I was lucky enough to have a chat with Carlos. I was so excited all I could do was ask him all the usual inane questions fans ask. It seemed as if he was ignoring me. In fact he didn't even acknowledge me, or speak to me.


B.B and Lucille.

These statues are in a park next to the 2M2C Montreux Music and Convention Centre, home of the Montreux Jazz festival.

Interesting fact: the first Montreux Jazz festival had six hundred people attend. Now there are over six hundred people working on organising the event every year. It was a surreal place to be for me. I was totally relaxed and imagined all the brilliant musicians who strolled along these paths on the way to gigs.

Then we spotted a nice little bar overlooking the lake so it was time to sit back, realax, enjoy the view, and have a drink. This bar was a part of one of the most expensive hotels in Montreux, but what the hell, you only live once. We enjoyed a very nice bottle of wine then asked for the bill. It wasn't over the top, and the guy who looked after us did a good job, so I left him a tip. It was only the next morning I realised I had paid in cash in Euros not Swiss Francs. The Euro is worth about twenty percent more that the Swiss Franc. The waiter got a very nice tip indeed. I only did that once.

Suzanne made a new friend.

Not a bad little spot to have an ice cream.

Something I didn't know was that Freedie Mercury lived in Montreux up until a few weeks before his death. Yvan filled me in on this. He loved the place, and the place loved him. There is a memorial statue erected for Freddie on the foreshore, in his classic pose, overlooking the lake. There are quite a few other musicians and movie people who live or spend a lot of time in Montreux. Apparently they love it here because they are treated no differently to the normal person in the street. They can relax.

Freddie. I gave him your regards Dave.

The current casino has an interesting feature. Down the side of the building is an innocuous doorway which is covered in graffiti. This is a bit strange because graffiti doesn't exist in Switzerland. This door is the original entry door to Mountain Studios, a recording studio purchased by Queen in 1979. The graffiti consists of messages to Freddie and peoples thoughts about him. A little bit of history.

Freddie and Brian May co wrote "This Could be Heaven" in Montreux and it is supposed to be inspired by Montreux, so what better way to finish today's blog.

Montreux could indeed be heaven...and my new favorite place.

Where's Rex's Buff?

Freddie was happy to wear the Buff.


  1. Why didn't you'll take the tunnel instead of the ferry?

  2. We thought about it Rukhsana but you get a view from the ferry which is a much better deal, and we got to see the white cliffs of Dover.