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Lac Léman (Lake Geneva)
One of Western Europe's largest lakes, Lac Léman (also called Lake Geneva) is shared by Switzerland and France. Swiss cantons Geneva and Vaud border it on the west, north, and east; canton Valais and France (Haute-Savoie) are to the south.
The lake is comprised of two parts: from Geneva to Yvoire (France) and Nyon (Vaud) is the "Petit Lac," which then opens out into the "Grand Lac."
The Musée du Léman in Nyon, Vaud, is devoted entirely to the lake, and has aquariums featuring lake fish. On land, from May through September the shorelines of cities and larger towns on the lake's Swiss side—Geneva, Nyon, Rolle, Morges, Lausanne, Vevey, and Montreux—take on a Riviera feel, their promenades, leisure harbors and port cafés teeming with life. During the cold months, when CGN boats don't even service smaller stops, port life everywhere quiets down, and off-season bleakness sets in.
When to Go
The best time to visit Lac Léman is May through October. These are the months when your chances of getting sunny weather to cruise, swim, sunbathe, water-ski, and to see distant snowy Alpine peaks clear as a bell, are highest. It's also when the CGN and other boat companies run full schedules, so you'll have the biggest selection of stops and themed cruises to choose from.
Ways to Explore
Harbors and Beaches
You'll find small, usually free, grass and pebble beaches along the lakeshore. Some leisure harbors offer boat rentals (including paddleboats) and water sports. There are port cafés all along the lake—a summertime must is an after-dark lakeside dinner. Some eateries pride themselves on serving only Léman perch—the fish may otherwise come from lakes farther afield so if this is important to you, ask.
Clear-day mountain views from the lake are breathtaking. Out of Geneva, Swiss Boat runs Petit Lac themed tours like "Parks and Famous Residences." You can cruise the Petit Lac or whole lake with CGN (the latter option takes a day). These are commuter boats, so you can also hop on in Montreux and cruise to Lausanne, or Geneva and go to Morges, whatever combo takes your fancy. Look into lunch and dinner cruises leaving from both Lausanne and Geneva: some gastronomic highflyers may be doing the catering. And don't forget France. Go to Yvoire to enjoy its Garden of the Five Senses or to Evian (of mineral water fame).
If you wish to bike around the whole lake, count on a week to complete the loop. You can't cycle all the way; stretches by train or boat are inevitable. Most people prefer to do just a stretch. To begin planning, go to www.veloland.ch. Check out sections six and seven of the Rhône Route from Montreux to Geneva via Morges (60 mi); if leaving from Geneva, you'll be traveling the sections in reverse. Veloland gives you all the necessary info (in English), including where to rent bikes and recommended places to spend the night.
Best Photo Ops
Photographically speaking, Lac Léman offers four big-ticket lens magnets. The first is quite simply the shoreline, as seen from an approaching boat: piers and promenades festooned with flags and strings of lights, geraniums tumbling out of window boxes, small boats, and swans and ducks bobbing on sparkling wavelets. Geneva's Rade, after dark, is a whole festival of twinkling lights. The second: those distant mountain peaks or the up-close-and-personal Chablais cliffs rising out of the south flank of the Grand Lac. The third is without a doubt the Château de Chillon, a medieval castle on the lake near Montreux, but spurring as many and maybe even more oohs and aahs is the fourth magnet nearby, a UNESCO World Heritage site: the terraced Lavaux vineyards, stepped steeply downwards to the gleaming blue water of the lake.
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