Montreux has been around for centuries, but really got going in the 19th century, when it was favoured by the British and Russian nobility for winter retreats. A Mediterranean-like microclimate allows palms and flowers to flourish; a lakefront and alpine views are other drawcards. Wonderful Chillon Castle is Switzerland's most visited attraction and the three-week July Montreux Jazz Festival (montreuxjazz.com) is one of Europe's best music jamborees. The town's lakefront setting, backed by vineyards and mountains, is gorgeous.
A flamboyant statue of Freddie Mercury, bang slap on the waterfront in his trademark strutting pose, is a reminder that Queen recorded several albums in Montreux. Queen Studio Experience (mercuryphoenixtrust.com) is a small but fascinating memorabilia collection tucked inside the otherwise dreary casino. If you're of an age to remember Charlie Chaplin, new museum Chaplin's World (chaplinsworld.com), just outside town on the actor's estate, is impressive. A lake excursion on an elegant, old-world paddle steamer (cgn.ch) is a delight.
With its big tourist turnover and high prices, a picnic lunch in a waterfront park might be Montreux's best bet, especially on Friday mornings when the covered market is crammed with goodies. Wander into the scarcely-visited, but rather nice, old town and you'll find rustic Restaurant du Pont (restaurant-montreux.com) which does good Swiss brasserie-style food. For classics such as fondue, raclette and rosti head to Caveau des Vignerons (caveau-des-vignerons-montreux.ch), where you can also sample local white wines.
The world's most beautiful promenade leads three kilometres around the lakeshore from Montreux to the very visit-worthy Chillon Castle (chillon.ch), sitting on a lake rock like the epitome of medieval romance, backed by the jagged Dents du Midi mountains. Along the way you'll pass grand old palace-hotels, waterside villas and a gorgeous procession of flowerbeds crammed with marigold and petunias. The air smells of lake water, starched tablecloths and Perrier with a twist of lemon.
The Lavaux wine region (lavaux-unesco.ch) that extends along Lake Geneva between Montreux and Lausanne provides some of Europe's most condensed beauty. Its steep vine terraces offer gob-smacking views across the lake to the French Alps, and its villages are geranium-draped. Follow the Route de Vignerons (lake-geneva- region.ch) by car or, even better, take to well-marked walking paths that include short Parcours Viticoles ("vineyard trails") or the 32-kilometre Grande Traversée.
Centrally located Eurotel Montreux (eurotel-montreux.ch) inhabits a wince-inducing concrete tower on the waterfront that has forgone any attempt at Swiss prettiness. But never mind: guestrooms here have splendid lake views, the restaurant dishes up good nosh, and service is efficient and friendly. If you have the budget of a Russian oligarch, Hotel Eden Palace (edenpalace.ch) is the sort of Victorian-era pile that provides Switzerland with its impressive hotel reputation.
Don't rule out a winter visit. Montreux has one of Switzerland's best Christmas markets (montreuxnoel.com) along its lakefront, and a spectacular train ride up the Rochers-de-Naye reveals a vast panorama of snow-slumped Alps and the child-pleasing House of Santa Claus.
The writer travelled courtesy of Cathay Pacific Airways, Rail Europe and Switzerland.