Through the Lavaux vineyard: from Grandvaux to Lutry
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Departure: Grandvaux station – Arrival: Lutry station
Duration of the walk: a good 2 hours (including 1 hr 30 of 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 road alongside the railway tracks in the direction from which the train came. At the crossroads, continue straight ahead on the Route de la Trossière, which also goes past the tracks. After a few minutes, turn left to cross the tracks over the bridge. Just after the latter, go right on the Pont de Moudon path alongside the tracks. After approximately one hundred paces, level with an explanatory sign, look down at the vines just below.
1 – Two methods of planting vines
To your right, 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 left.
Continue on this path, which will take you alongside the railway tracks for a quarter of an hour or so with a sweeping view over Lake Geneva and part of the Lausanne conurbation. Here are the directions: after 5 minutes, where the paths intersect, go up the three steps (do not go down by going straight on). You will thus take the route nearest to the railway tracks and look down on the hamlet of Aran. The path becomes non-tarmaced, you go into a remote pine forest then cross a little road further on. If you continue to follow the railway tracks, further down the path you come to two little huts in the middle of the vines.
2 – Two welcoming huts
A “capite” is a little hut situated right in the middle of the vines, which was used to store tools in the days when moving around the vineyard was more difficult than it is today. Nowadays, the majority of these huts are used for other purposes, like here, for example, where they play a more welcoming role. The first belongs to the Vignerons de Villette, who show the fruits of their labour here, the second to a local winemaker. If you feel like it, this hut has a wonderful surprise that will make your eyes light up. Take advantage of the superb views here and have a breather on one of the benches provided.
From the first hut, go back on to the path alongside the railway tracks. On your right is a row of grape varieties producing red wine. The other row on your left has varieties producing white wine. In total, this vineyard grows around twenty registered varieties of grape, with plaques giving their names.
3 – Two grape varieties typical of Lavaux
The traditional grape in Lavaux is the Chasselas. It covers around three-quarters of the vineyard. Originating from the Lake Geneva region, the Chasselas produces a full-bodied white wine, slightly sparkling and with a hint of sharpness. One of its features is the relative neutrality of its bouquet in comparison to other grapes. Wine producers make a virtue of this characteristic, as this variety allows them to best express the subtle nuances of the terroir. The two most common red grape varieties in Lavaux are Pinot Noir and Gamay. Let us also mention another red grape currently grown by around ten winemakers: the Plant Robert. This variety is classed as a cru (a variety of Gamay), which almost disappeared during the 1960s. It owes its salvation to a wine grower from Cully who continued to cultivate it during that period. Today, it is one of the numerous specialities of Lavaux, on a par with a variety of blends (Diolinoir, Garanoir…).
Continue to follow the railway tracks alongside the white grapevines. After approximately fifty paces, where the paths intersect, go up to the left. This path overlooks the tracks as it follows them, and is a charming trail dotted with sayings. At the end of the path, take the little road down to the left. This brings you to the Chemin du Daley. Just after a bend to the right, go down to the left to go past a winemaker’s house. You then take a steep pedestrian path that dips down to the lake.
4 – Winemakers’ houses blend in with the landscape
The awarding of UNESCO World Heritage status to the vineyard in 2007 is due to several factors, particularly the countless terraces overlooking Lake Geneva. The fact that the buildings blend in well with the landscape also counts for something, The vineyard building that you can see further down, the Château de Montagny-sur-Villette, is the best example of this, with its traditional render and roof of plain tiles, their colour faded over time. This observation does not apply to the same extent to the Château de Montagny-sur-Lutry, which is on the right. The same harmony between buildings and vineyard can be found in the villages; being UNESCO-listed should ensure the preservation of this heritage over the course of time.
At the bottom of this delightful trail, continue going straight down on the wide vineyard path. This is the Chemin de la Quicharde; you will come to a little road at the end, which you take to the right. After 2 minutes, go straight on at the crossroads in the direction of the Château de Montagny-sur-Lutry. Just before this building, on your right, a row of rose trees borders the vines.
5 – Rose trees not just there for show
These rose trees, situated around the edge of a parcel, are a lovely enhancement in the summer months. Beyond these aesthetic considerations, however, the rose is a plant that has another function in the middle of a vineyard. Fragile and far more sensitive to parasite infestation than the vine, it serves as an early warning system for vine disease, such as odium (a fungus that produces spots on the leaves and shoots). The rose can, therefore, be seen a bit like a guard for the vines. Many centuries ago, before vines were attacked by such diseases, the rose had yet another function in the Bordelais, in the era when ponies were used to work in the vineyards. A row of rose bushes bristling with thorns signalled to the animals that they had to turn round at the end of a row of vines before starting on the next one.
Go around this impressive residence to the right and continue straight ahead on the level path. You will have two glimpses of a monorail system to the left of this path.
6 – A monorail to conquer the slope
This cog monorail allows easy access to the parcels of vines on the slopes, especially at harvest time. In Dézaley, the steepest part of Lavaux between the villages of Epesses and Rivaz, you can also find some funicular and suspension railways which fulfil the same function. The monorail has a twofold advantage over the other two means of transportation, as it is the only one able to go round bends; what’s more, hardly any vines need to be ripped out to make way for its installation. Some wine producers also use helicopters to transport harvests, treat the vines and carry organic materials.
This level path will take you across a narrow stream further on, then to a wider path, which you will go down by going straight on. Lower down, after crossing another watercourse, continue going downhill. At the next junction, at the end of the Chemin de Chante-Merle, go up to the right, which will take you across part of the wine-growing hamlet of Châtelard. There are high stone walls on the right.
7 – Ancient stone walls
The Lavaux vineyard, which extends over a little more than 800 hectares, has nearly 450 kilometres of walls in total! 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, is laid horizontally along the top of the wall. This prevents rainwater from penetrating, thus ensuring the wall lasts longer.
After going uphill for 2 minutes, turn left into the Chemin de Ste-Hélène. When it reaches a hut, this path gives way to the Châtelard path. You will cross a watercourse further on. This stream marks the boundary between the appellation of Villette and Lutry.
8 - A vineyard with several appellations
Lavaux has six appellations on its territory, which are, from east to west: Vevey-Montreux, Chardonne, Saint-Saphorin, Epesses, Villette and Lutry. To this are added two appellations classified as cru: Dézaley (between Epesses and Rivaz) and Calamin (beneath the village of Epesses). Discerning palates are able to recognise each appellation of, for example, the Chasselas wines. This is because, just a few kilometres apart, the composition of the soil differs slightly and imparts subtle nuances that can be found in the wines. Each appellation is thus the expression of a terroir and its individual characteristics.
After crossing the stream, continue on this path. At the top of the steps, the Châtelard path you are on goes up to the right. After approximately one hundred paces, go left on the more level path. At the end of this vineyard path, you will arrive in the village of Savuit. Opposite the school with a fine clock tower, look at the roof of house number 42.
9 – 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.
Cross the village of Savuit by going left. If you look up, you will see other domes. More or less at the end of this village, you pass beneath a metal cable spanning the street.
10 – The Roman scales of Savuit
These weighing scales, the last of their kind in Switzerland, date back to the 17th century. They were made by a Bernese craftsman who was inspired by a technique used back in Roman times. Originally, these scales were in the market town of Lutry and were then moved to Savuit, where they have been used since the 1960s to weigh the hay and grape harvests. The weights that you can see behind the grille were put on the scales and represent one tenth of the load weighed; the maximum load was several tonnes. About 30 minutes were needed to carry out a weighing operation, accurate to the nearest 500 grams!
Continue along the street. After approximately thirty paces, go left down the Chemin de Praz and past a fountain. Just after number 15, go down to the right on the path through the vines. You now have a beautiful panoramic view. This stunning path takes you in the direction of Bertholod Tower, which you will see further down. At the next junction, turn right then immediately left to reach this tower.
11 – Bertholod Tower
Originally built by the bishop of Lausanne, since the 16th century this tower has belonged to the commune of Payerne (situated in the north of the canton of Vaud), which also owns the surrounding vineyard. The red and white shutters are also evocative of the two colours of this town’s coat of arms. Outside the villages with their tightly packed houses, there are some large buildings in the middle of the vines, such as this one. Most of these generally belong to towns or cantons which employ so-called “vignerons-tâcherons” (self-employed winemakers who do piecework on behalf of a vineyard owner).
On a level with this tower, take the small, level road to the right, then go left further down to return to Lutry station. It is possible to visit the charming medieval market town of Lutry, which is situated 5 minutes walk away on the banks of Lake Geneva. From there, the centre of Lausanne can be reached by bus number 9.
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).