The Lavaux vineyards on the Swiss Riviera will take your breath away. Even if you’re an old hand at visiting wine regions in other parts of the world, the sheer immensity of the vineyards spreading in tiered levels around you is a totally unique experience. If you don’t believe me, just ask our friend UNESCO, who named it a World Heritage Site in 2007.
Despite its beauty, the Lavaux area is not as heavily touristed as many wine regions around the world, so a little bit of pre-planning will go a long way.
Lavaux Vineyards Overview
The Lavaux vineyards are in the Vaud region of Switzerland. They are terraced vineyards that run for about 30 km on the north shore of Lake Geneva, between Lausanne and Montreux. The main grape grown here is Chasselas, which makes a refreshing white wine somewhere in between an un-oaked chardonnay and a pinot grigio.
Very little (if any?) Chasselas wine is exported, which makes it extra special to have tastings here as you’re experiencing wine you literally can’t get anywhere else.
In my opinion, the best time to go is in the fall when the weather cools a bit and the vines are laden with grapes! Even if harvest has already happened, the vines still retain a lot of their beautiful green foliage.
Plan Ahead! Reserve in Advance
There are a ton of wineries in this region but they are very small and not all are open to the public. The ones that are keep sporadic hours. Most are nestled right in with the houses among little winding roads with nothing but a handmade sign to announce them. Think of it less like a reservation at a commercial establishment and more like having an appointment with mom and pop.
When I was planning, I made a list of wineries using a google map search. We made reservations for our first stop of the day and figured we’d just pop in to the others as we meandered by them. That was the wrong idea. Almost all of the wineries were closed and in one instance I almost walked in on a family having lunch in their actual house. Whoops!
Lavaux Vineyards Wineries & Caves
Google maps was a great tool for finding some of the wineries but there are a whole slew that don’t show up there. Here is a more comprehensive (but probably not complete) list of the ones in the region near Chexbres, which is where we started our day.
- Domaine Bovy
- Cave Barbey-Francey
- Domaine des Faverges
- Famille Pinget, Cave du Louchy
- Domaine du Burignon
- P-A Jaunin
- Cave du Chateau de Glérolles
- Cave de Champ-de-Clos
- Cave Rezin-Fonjallaz
- Famille Ruchonnet
- E. Siegenthaler et fils
- J.H. Chappuis
- J.P. Chaudet, Cave du Grillon
- Cave P-A Chevalley
- R & V Chevalley
- Domaine Chappuis, Christophe & Vincent
- Les vins du coteau
- Didier Imhof
- Imhof François
- P. Monachon
Where to Start Your Day in the Lavaux Vineyards
I’d recommend starting near Chexbres or somewhere else that is high up. That way your walk is downhill (towards Lake Geneva) and you can enjoy sweeping views of the vineyards as you go. In general, the land slopes uphill from the lake so when looking on a map, it’s safe to assume that places further from the lake are on higher ground.
We started our day at Domain Bovy which is just a couple minutes walk from the Chexbres train station. Their wines were tasty and they had a nice garden with beautiful views of the vineyards and lake where we could sit and enjoy our drinks. The owner speaks very good English which made our tasting informative as well as enjoyable. 🙂
When I booked our tasting, we had the choice of a tasting of wine only or wine with lunch. We chose the wine-only tasting thinking it would be nice to have lunch somewhere else. However, there really wasn’t another place to stop in for food as the area is so rural. If there were restaurants, they certainly weren’t well advertised.
Luckily, our next destination was Lavaux Vinorama, which did offer light appetizers, thankfully. We walked here from Domaine Bovy on a path through vineyards and a little town area. Ostensibly there were several other wineries along the way but they were the aforementioned small signs on buildings that looked pretty residential and after almost crashing someone’s family lunchtime, we didn’t take any more chances on “walk-ins.”
The Vinorama doesn’t produce their own wine but they serve a large selection from the vintners in the area and you can choose from numerous tasting options. There is both outside and inside seating. Inside there is also a small room where you can watch a short movie about the region. The Vinorama’s website advertises several different tours through the vineyards but we didn’t do any of them.
We had a nice tasting here although the view wasn’t as nice as at Domaine Bovy. The Vinorama is close to the water which means the vineyards are actually behind you. Directly in front is a busy road between the Vinorama and the lake. However, we still enjoyed our time. It was nice to be able to taste other wines from the region in one fell swoop although the real star of the show was our unlimited water carafe. The walk here was downhill but very sunny and we were pretty parched by the time we arrived.
Unexpected Things to Expect in the Lavaux Vineyards
If you are planning a day here, beware of the sun! It seems like common sense but bears repeating that when you’re walking through and around the vineyards, there is no shade whatsoever.
I kept reading about “walking in the vineyards” and in case you are also wondering no, you don’t actually walk through any vineyards. (Oh, just me?) There are small paved roads that run in between the different cultivated plots and those are what you walk on.
I also read several suggestions about having a picnic in the vineyards but there are two problems with this: 1) there is no grocery store in sight so you definitely need to pre-pack and bring everything with you 2) there isn’t a place to properly picnic “in the vineyards.” As far as I could tell the vineyards are each wineries’ private land and there is no feasible way you could put out a picnic blanket and not feel like you were trespassing.
There was one small area with picnic tables but it seemed more like a break area for harvest workers rather than a park for visitors. With that said, if we had happened to have a picnic with us, it would have felt perfectly fine to eat it here. But it was sheer luck that we stumbled upon this specific spot. It’s not like there were ample places to just stop, drop, and picnic.
My Final Two Cents and a Big Caveat
Bring a lot of sunscreen and water and maybe a hat or a shade umbrella. Plan to take photos and meander around. Make appointments in advance for all of the wineries you want to visit and if one of them offers a food menu, go for it!
The Lavaux vineyards are stunningly beautiful but they are not set up for tourists so don’t expect Napa Valley, or Mendoza, or even the Texas Wine Trail. 😉 Because of this though, I think visiting is even more special. If you’re looking for a bucolic experience meandering around grapevines with a few glasses of wine to enjoy while you’re there, then you’ll love the Lavaux vineyards.
The Big Caveat: we explored all around the Chexbres area but the Lavaux vineyards stretch way beyond this to the east and west so keep in mind that these notes are for a small slice of the region.
P.S. There was some mention online about biking around here but unless you are an avid cyclist and your goal is actually EXERCISE, then I would not recommend biking. It is too hilly and some of the turns are a bit sharp. In addition, there are various shortcuts via steep staircases that you can’t navigate on a bike. Not to mention that you’d go by all the good views way too fast! To really experience the Lavaux vineyards, plan to go on foot most of the way and for further distances you can always take the train.
Have you been to the Lavaux vineyards? Leave me a comment about your experience! Or if you have questions or other comments, I’d love to hear from you. 🙂
For a more general overview of the Swiss Riviera, check out my post about The Best and Worst Towns of the Swiss Riviera.