Text by Mary L. Peachin with photos courtesy of Fairmont Le Montreux Palace
Volume 20, No. 8
Who slept in this bed? Was it a President, Czar, Sultan, or Royalty? Perhaps it was a movie star, a jazz musician, or famous author. If only the walls could talk, they could share the mystic and magical historical of Switzerland’s iconic Le Montreux Palace.
In the late 1700s, technically climbing Mont Blanc’s glacier attracted English and French adventurers. Translating to “White Mountain,” it is the highest mountain in the French Alps, and, at 15,777 feet (4808.73 m), with the exception of several peaks in the Caucasus range, it is Europe’s highest peak. In terms of the world’s highest topographic prominence, Mont Blanc is ranked eleventh.
Lake Geneva’s shoreline served as an original base camp for these climbers. The city of Montreux, which followed the development of Geneva, would become, what is considered today, Switzerland’s Riviera.
Today’s upscale Fairmont property destination historically began in 1837 with Edward Vautier’s Lake Geneva water front construction of du Cygne, a small inn. In 1881, hospitality pioneers Alexandre Emery and Ami Chessex hired architect Eugene Jost to build Montreux Palace. In a period of eighteen months and an eight million gold Swiss franc price tag, the hotel opened in 1906. A tunnel linking the Palace and the Petit Palais, primarily furnished in Louis XVI decor, would open in 1911.
Since that time, Le Montreux Palace has become the place where treaties have been signed, international leadership meetings have been held, and authors and musicians have resided. In fact, the hotel has played a significant role in Switzerland’s history.
Valdimir Nabokov resided in Le Montreux Palace for sixteen years between 1961 and his death in 1977. He spent his time there writing his famous novel Lolita. Between 1914 and 1918, and again during World War II, the hotel served as a convalescence home for Allied soldiers.
A number of treaties were signed at the hotel including the 1937 agreement between Egypt’s King Farouk and twelve European delegations. The 1936 Treaty of Dardanelles demilitarized the Straights providing access to the Black Sea to the alliance between the Turks and the Germans.
Fast forwarding, Montreux is perhaps best known for its fifty year old Montreux Jazz Live Festival. Its founding in 1967, by Claude Nobs, a tourist office employee passionate about music, attracted the world’s greats including B.B. King, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, and different styles of jazz music. Montreux Casino hosted the first Montreux Jazz Festival with fifteen stage performances and jam sessions at all hours in the gardens. The
following year, the event was extended to five days. It kept on developing, and grew more and more successful. In the history of the Festival there were some setbacks.
The Casino caught fire during a 1971 Frank Zappa concert. This required a temporary move to the Montreux Palace pavilion until it settled at the Montreux Convention Center several year later.
In 1993 the Montreux convention center, now known as Montreux Music and
Convention Center, became the new site of the Festival offering programming in two venues: the Auditorium Stravinski, and the New Q’s. The latter “little” hall exposed the public to less well-known artists and more unusual genres. Claude Nobs’ “American Brother” Quincy Jones co-produced the event from 1991 to 1993. 1991 is also remembered as having featuring the historic first concert by Miles Davis.
In 2013, 5,000 hours of recordings from the Festival were archived in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. It’s a real testament to the development of live music over half a century, and that’s why it’s the first audiovisual library to receive world heritage status.
Whether you are able to attend the Montreux Jazz Festival or not, consider staying in the elegance of the Fairmont Montreux Palace where you can admire historic antiquities, enjoy its athletic facilities including an outdoor pool, indoor lap pool or the Willow Stream Spa.
The Palace offers a choice of food and bar venues including the upscale MP’S Bar & Grill, and places to catch tunes at the Montreux Jazz Café or Funky Claude’s Bar. During summer months outdoor dining of offered at the Terrasse du Petit Palais.
Venturing outside the property there are plenty of options for Lake Geneva boating, a stroll through the village, a journey to nearby Mont Blanc, or a visit the recently opened (April, 2016) interactive Charlie Chaplin’s World in nearby Corsier-sur-Vevey.