Through the Lavaux vineyard: from Grandvaux to Cully
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Departure: Grandvaux station – Arrival: Cully station
Duration of the walk: 2hrs 30 (of which just 2 hours is walking)
Incline: generally downhill
You are advised to do this walk preferably in the morning during the hot days of summer.
When you leave the train (departing from Lausanne), take the subway under the tracks. At the top of the stairs, continue straight on along the platform. After fifty or so paces, take the flight of steps down to the left. You will soon cross a road (be careful, visibility is reduced, use the mirror) and continue going straight down the Rite-à-Joyeux.
1 – A vineyard with 10,000 terraces
In the distance you can see the most steeply sloping section of this vineyard plunging down towards Lake Geneva. This is the site of the famous Dézaley grands crus. Here you will see countless terraces, one after the other following the contour lines in perfect harmony. This sloping section can hold up to forty terraces from the edge of the lake to the top of the vineyard. It’s easy to see how this vineyard comprises almost 10,000 terraces.
At the bottom of the Rite-à-Joyeux, go left. After 5 minutes, head right to go along a road (which is on your left). After 100 metres, you will reach this road; cross it on the pedestrian crossing and follow it in a downhill direction (be careful, there is no pavement!). 100 metres further on, turn left at a bend in the road on to the Chemin de la Mouniaz.
2 – Wine growers who were also farmers
Meadows and woods can be seen above the vineyard. For many centuries the wine grower was also a farmer. A few generations ago, he would own cattle and land on the heights. He would bring the manure down for his vineyard and would also use wood from the forest to make what were known as “échalas” (stakes to support the vines). For a long time, therefore, the main pathways for moving around the vineyard were situated on the slope, but this is no longer the case today.
After a few minutes, you will see the village of Riex in the foreground below, then that of Epesses in the background. Above the village of Riex is a large isolated building in the middle of the vines.
3 – The Domaine de l’Hôpital
Outside the villages with their tightly packed houses there are some large buildings in the middle of the vines. Most of these generally belong to towns or cantons which employ “vignerons-tâcherons” (self-employed winemakers who do piecework on behalf of a vineyard owner). The Domaine de l’Hôpital [hospital grounds], for instance, belongs to Fribourg’s Bourgeois Hospital, which explains its name. This city, like the canton of Fribourg, owns vines in Lavaux, a throwback to the time when monks from Fribourg’s monasteries were called upon to clear these hillsides.
Continue on this path and, a few minutes later, you will come to a stream flowing through a scenic line of trees. Leave the wide path to take a few steps in the direction of the stream. You will see a concrete gully with steps at the side.
4 – Water control
The distinct topography of this vineyard means that recourse has to be made to different systems to prevent erosion when it rains hard; this is the best possible way of keeping the land and the walls in place. This concrete gully is one of the systems currently in use to reduce erosion. It allows the surface water to be collected and drained into the channel of water situated along the edge of the vines. This type of arrangement is often used in combination with other methods to control surface water.
Follow the stream downhill on the wide vineyard path. At the bottom of the Chemin de la Mouniaz, go left at the roundabout to go into the village of Riex. 100 metres further on, just after a large fountain, go down to the right on the Rue des Sous-Riex. Just after the first bend on the left, look at the roof of the house below, and go to number 5.
5 – An architectural feature of Lavaux: the dome
The houses in wine-producing villages are narrow and joined together, built in such a way as to leave the maximum possible space for the vines. Before central heating became the norm, the attics of houses were used to store wood and tendrils (vine shoots cut back in winter), which were used for fuel. They had a simple rope and pulley system to take the wood up from the street. If you look at the opening in the roof, you will see what remains of this system, which is a support bracket to which the pulley was fixed. This architectural feature, which is typical of Lavaux, can be found in many village houses and is called a dome.
As you continue downhill, you will leave the village of Riex on a pleasant path lined on the right-hand side by beautiful walls of thickly clustered vines.
6 – Ancient stone walls
The Lavaux vineyard, which extends over a little more than 800 hectares, has nearly 450 kilometres of walls altogether! These walls allow less steeply sloping terraces to be built for the vines, and are made of stones most commonly found on the spot (residual landslide, for example). A lime mortar is used for pointing. A row of flat stones – usually large ones, even though the ones here are rather small – is laid horizontally along the top of the wall. This prevents rainwater from penetrating, thus ensuring the wall lasts longer.
At the junction at the bottom of this road, go left on the wide vineyard path (follow “Epesses” on the yellow signposts). You are now at the bottom of this vineyard with Dézaley opposite you. After 200 metres, go straight up on the Blonnaisses path. Some minutes later, just after you have gone between two huts (called “capites”, these were originally places where wine growers would store their tools), look at the vines on either side of the path.
7 – Two methods of planting vines
On your left, you will see a parcel pruned “en gobelet”. This is a traditional method of cultivation in this vineyard, whereby each grapevine is tied to an “échalas”, or stake, (a support formerly made of wood, but now made from metal). This type of pruning has now been widely replaced by the more practical “guyot” training system, whereby different vines are linked by several metal wires often running parallel to the contour lines. You can see this type of pruning to your right.
Continue on this path. A little further on, where the paths intersect, go straight up the flight of steps by following the yellow arrow (do not go down to the right). At the top of this charming little path (Ruelle Borgne), you will arrive at a crossroads. Go straight on, along the pretty Creyvavers path. You will cross a stream and reach the village of Epesses after a few minutes.
8 - The tracasset world championship
Every two years the village of Epesses organises an unusual race known as the tracasset world championship. This competition is held as a reminder that tracassets, typical Vaudois vehicles, were frequently used in this vineyard, especially between 1950 and 1975. This narrow three-wheeled vehicle had a steering wheel and a rear deck, and was specially designed to move materials in the sloping sections. Generally speaking, there is still little mechanisation in the Lavaux vineyard because of the slope.
At the end of the Creyvavers path, go straight on into the centre of the village, which has a fountain. Go down to the right just after this fountain, then follow this path, which immediately bends round to the left. At the top of this path, the Béguine, which finishes with a flight of steps, turn right on to the esplanade and continue along the road. After a little more than 100 metres, go down to the right on the vineyard path. On your left you will see a tower right in the middle of the vines further up.
9 – Marsens Tower and the three suns
Here you are on the approaches to lovely Marsens Tower, in a steep section where the number of terraces is impressive. Built by the bishop of Lausanne around the 12th century, this tower seems to have served as a shelter for the monks who cleared the land in the past.
Thanks to Lake Geneva and the many walls, they say that there are three suns in Lavaux: the one shining in the sky, the one reflected in the lake and, during the evening and night, the one coming from the heat accumulated within the walls during hot summer days.
At the next junction you are going to turn right on to the wide vineyard path. Before that, however, you can go to Dézaley and back (which will add half an hour to your walk) to see two estates belonging to the City of Lausanne. The first estate is visible in the distance from this junction, halfway up the slope.
10 – Two Lausanne estates
Just like the Domaine de l’Hôpital above Riex, these two estates are the property of a city, that of Lausanne. In the 12th century, it was Cistercian monks who cleared this hilly area in Dézaley. The first, the Clos des Moines, has belonged to the city of Lausanne since the beginning of the 19th century, whilst the second, the Clos des Abbayes, has been its property since the 16th century. The latter estate has a chapel that dates back over 500 years. With 36 hectares of vines spread over five estates (three of them in Lavaux), the City of Lausanne is Switzerland’s biggest public vineyard owner.
As you walk along this wide vineyard path, you will see in the distance the market town of Cully beside the lake, the end of your walk. The path you are on is the Chemin du Calamin; at the end go down to the left on a level with a hamlet of pretty terraced houses. Lower down, this path, the Vieux-Moulin, follows a devilishly named stream, the “rio de l’Enfer" [river of hell]. The wild surroundings of this watercourse are of course home to a few species of reptiles.
11 – Abundant reptilian fauna
Reptiles are very well represented in Lavaux. Four species of lizard can be found here (including the large and too rare green lizard, in the east of the vineyard), as well as five species of grass snake, the slow worm and the asp. In autumn, starlings often stop off in the region during their migration from the north to the south. Although these flocks of birds are usually an impressive sight, they will pick at the grapes on their way through. The wine growers pray with fervour for their annual visit to come after the harvest, which is most often the case.
At the foot of the steps, just before the main road, take some more steps down to the left to pass under this road. Just before the railway tracks and Epesses station, take some steps down to the left (following the yellow signs for “Cully Port”) to go under the tracks. You will soon be back by the lake, which you follow in the direction of Cully (lake on your left). After 5 minutes, you will arrive at a grassy area. Continue straight on here along the straight path (do not go left on the paved path that goes along the side of the lake, as it is a cul de sac). Return to Cully along the lake shore by following the yellow signs and, more specifically, by going through a campsite. Don’t forget to turn round to admire the splendid view over Dézaley. Near the landing stage, just after a two hundred year old sycamore tree planted in 1798, you will come to an obelisk.
12 – The obelisk of Major Davel
This monument was built in honour of a local hero, Major Davel. Believing that he was called by God, this patriot and Vaudois soldier wanted to liberate his land from the rule of the Bernese in 1723. In order to do so, he left Cully with 600 unarmed soldiers and entered Lausanne to demand independence for the Vaud from the authorities in Lausanne at that time, doing so in the absence of the Bernese bailiffs. Denounced in Berne by these same Lausanne authorities, he was executed in Vidy on the shores of Lake Geneva on 24 April 1723. The Vaudois revolution, which took place in 1798, surely owes him something. A character inextricably linked with the Vaudois identity, today Major Davel is recognised as a hero of freedom and virtue.
From this obelisk, leave the lake by taking the Rue Davel, which is a straight road. Cross on the pedestrian crossing and go straight on up the next road after the Rue Davel. After 50 metres, go left at the junction and down the Rue du Temple. At the end of this street, turn right in order to go under the railway track and reach Cully station by going up to the left.
Walk by Pierre Corajoud,
author of the guide «Flâneries lausannoises» (Strolls through Lausanne ) and the book «Lausanne en méandres» (The Twists and Turns of Lausanne).