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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Summer in Switzerland: how to make the most of Lake Geneva's balmy weather

It might be known for its snow-capped mountains, but Switzerland is just as enjoyable in the summer

Paragliding above Lake Geneva is the perfect way to take in the views of the countryside. Courtesy Fly-Xperience. 
Paragliding above Lake Geneva is the perfect way to take in the views of the countryside. Courtesy Fly-Xperience. 

I’m 1,400 metres above Lake Geneva looking down on the undulating hills and serrated peaks of the mountains around me when a moment of realisation dawns: “Ah, so that’s why they call it a croissant!”

The pastry-shaped lake sliced through the middle by the border between France and Switzerland, takes on a whole new meaning when you’re dangling above it in a thin harness, suspended by nothing more than a fabric wing.

Villeneuve – at the viennoiserie’s eastern tip – is becoming a paragliding hub, and on a clear summer’s day, we’ve snagged the last available flights. Floating off a cliff in front of an audience of unamused cattle at Sonchaux is quite the experience, but once in the air and surrounded by others also levitating across the countryside, a flying community forms. And though the views over the canton of Vaud are majestic enough at land level, there’s no comparison to taking it all at this height.

Chillon Castle is the most-visited monument in the country. Maude Rion/ Montreux Riviera Tourism
Chillon Castle is the most-visited monument in the country. Maude Rion/ Montreux Riviera Tourism

The Bernese Alps are on our left, jagged and dominating the Rhone River as it spills into Lake Geneva from the south. The Chablais Alps are right out in front – their tops actually cloudless.

If I really squint and turn my head at an odd angle, I can just about spot the ­outline of Mont Blanc in the distance. Before I know it, the trees have fallen away and I’m floating above crystal blue as far as the eye can see, unsure if I’m in France or Switzerland. ­Beneath me is the walled enclave of Chillon Castle – the most visited monument in the country.

The serenity of the moment is disturbed when my tandem pilot Fabian opts to take a few dips and spills over our landing spot – but the clear day and perfect conditions aren’t lost on him, even a decade after starting his company Fly-Xperience.

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It’s a balmy 26°C, and below, water sports on the lake awaits.

Switzerland may have fashioned itself into more of a winter wonderland, a place where the wealthy flock for skiing excursions and yuletide markets from November and March – but don’t let that fool you, the summertime is great too. When the snow melts and the lake warms, the shores of Lake Geneva transform into an adventure-lover’s dream.

We’ve arrived a week before the Montreux Jazz Festival – a week after Vaud’s Open Cellar vineyard event – so we’ve completely botched the timing, but even mid-week, the area is thronging.

Lausanne, the country’s fourth-largest city, can be reached by train in 45 minutes from Geneva Airport (27 Swiss Francs, Dh99). Along the way you’ll take in plenty of pristine lake and lush countryside views – and if you’re lucky you might even get a rolling commentary from your seat companion on where all the celebrities live. Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Phil Collins all have holiday homes here, to name but a few.

“Liz Taylor and Richard Burton used to live up on that hill there,” the unnamed man notes as his final point of interest. “They smashed up a pub – fiery relationship they had.”

The Lake Geneva region of Switzerland. Maude Rion/ Montreux Riviera Tourism
The Lake Geneva region of Switzerland. Maude Rion/ Montreux Riviera Tourism

A 10-minute walk to your hotel should be taken with caution in Lausanne, for if it’s anything like the 950-metre slog we faced upon arrival, you’ll be wishing Google had inbuilt elevation data. It’s also why you’ll be told at least 12 times during your stay that the females in Lausanne have the “best legs in Switzerland” – because of said hills.

We rejoice in the free public transport cards offered to hotel guests that the Swiss have so dutifully built into their tourism infrastructure. But it’s summertime in Switzerland, and in pursuit of the best legs in the country, we eschew public transport and spend our days wandering the streets and taking in the incredible vistas from just about every perspective possible.

The top of Rochers de Naye, at 2,000 metres up, is spectacular on a clear day. Maude Rion/ Montreux Riviera Tourism
The top of Rochers de Naye, at 2,000 metres up, is spectacular on a clear day. Maude Rion/ Montreux Riviera Tourism

When you find yourself distracted by all the green and lake panoramas, and you will be, and you realise you’ve walked further than you’d care to then paddle boats frequenting the many townships along the lake are there to carry you back to your starting point.

The original Montreux Jazz Cafe (there is an outpost at Abu Dhabi Airport) will help restore each of the calories burned. A 20-minute train trip (13 francs, Dh48) will have you in Montreux, the sleepy Swiss town that Queen frontman Freddie Mercury ensconced himself in to produce the band’s last album – which explains the waterfront bronze statue of the late singer. It’s also the launching spot for a spectacular early evening paddle boarding session on a calm, and admittedly quite cold, lake.

Next on our itinerary is to tackle the trails of Rochers de Naye – you can get there by hoofing it straight up a hill on the town’s historic cog train, or by a reasonably strenuous six-hour hike.

At the top, the panorama of the surrounding countryside – across Lake Geneva in one ­direction, and over to the German-­speaking region of Switzerland in the other – is just as impressive as viewing the country from the air.

There are a number of hiking spots that shoot off from each of the train stops too, but after an early morning run around the lake, we opt for an easy jaunt about the trails at the summit.

At 2,000 metres up, it’s significantly higher than the paragliding launch spot we began our trip on, and one of the best places in the region for a picnic.