As my wife is a genuine flower aficionada, I have become a little more interested in this subject as a result of our marriage. 😉 Last year on our way to Gruyères in early June, I had caught sight of a lady dressed in the traditional costume of Vaud at Chernex, which I mistakenly associated with Fête des Narcisses, a festival which used to take place in Montreux in June until 1957 and which, I surmised, might have been resurrected.
As a result, the idea of going back to this region in early June reminded at the back of mind, but the spell of really bad weather we had from the middle of April until only a few days ago (towards the end of May, there were some heavy snowfalls — to the extent that, had the weather not turned to rain on 1-2 June, some ski lifts might even had been operated again only for that weekend — story here, but only in French) discouraged me from even contemplating the idea.
[Screenshot of live webcam at Sonloup, courtesy GoldenPass]
However, late last week the very warm weather that had been forecast for Monday 17 June convinced us that this would be our last opportunity to be able to see some narcissuses or narcissi [/nɑːˈsɪs.əs/ nɑːr-/, plural narcissi, narcissuses or narcissus] this year. As I had not seen any of these flowers for many, many years, I was thus keen to go to the area above Montreux for this very purpose, namely to the small village of Les Avants, as this was the only place for which I had found a webcam which seemed to be showing that there were still narcissuses around — the tourist office of Montreux-Vevey seemed a little too optimistic I suspected as to the locations where they claimed narcissuses would be visible at at 17 June, click narcisses-narzissen-narcissi-17.06.13 to open up a pdf with a map of the area with the locations.
People having been coming (especially foreigners visiting Montreux) to Les Avants in the months of May and June to admire the display of narcissi in bloom in the fields above that village for over a hundred years, the flower has even a dedicated path, called in French le chemin des Narcisses. This is why the tourist office of Montreux (the small village of Les Avants is part of the commune of Montreux) and the company that runs the highly scenic MOB (Montreux-Oberland Bernois) train [see my wife’s entry on one of our journeys for some pictures, at Taking the Goldenpass Panoramic train …] have kindly put up several displays for visitors who come to Les Avants, the first of which is right outside of the very small railway station.
As we arrived at Les Avants after 4 pm, I felt that we did not have the time to check the spot near Sonloup (top of the funicular) and that it would be better try our luck in the fields above Les Avants as there were supposed to be several spots along the path leading to a small mountain above Montreux, called Le Cubly. Probably less than half a kilometre along route des Avants, we saw a blue sign indicating the path to follow (called sentier d’Azot).
Unfortunately, we had to walk well over half an hour in terrain that was very muddy on several stretches (remember, the weather has been very bad this spring) before we would be able to see some narcissuses. Of course, they were no longer in bloom … and not many were left.
However, we were glad to have seen some and we took plenty of photographs. We were hoping to come across other spots with narcissuses, but this proved not to be the case: we got to see only a single narcissus after that field. Should you be interested, we acted in full compliance with the guidelines displayed on the website of the tourist information centre of Montreux-Vevey and picked only a single narcissus:
- Do not pick narcissi in private fields
- Do not pick narcissi with their leaves and if the ground is muddy (this may damage their bulbs)
- In public fields, picking narcissi is limited to one handful per person
We carried along walking and enjoyed the beautiful countryside. We came across several farms. One had a painting depicting ‘transhumance’ (when the cows are brought to alpine grazing land in summer) that caught my eye …
… because the scenery depicted matched very closely the view that could be seen from this very place.
We carried on walking uphill until we reached a lookout point on the top of the small mountain of Le Cubly. Some 1,157m above sea level, the area (called ‘Saleuscex’) used to have a watchtower in the middle ages, from where the legend goes the Saracens and the Huns could be spotted. It certainly made sense to have such a building standing here because the area provides a sweeping view over both the end part of the valley of the Rhone and Lac Léman (lake Geneva).
Interestingly, according to the display I saw on Le Cubly a kilometre or so before we reached Saleuscex (many thanks to Henri Michel and to Pierre Bataillard for their precious work), the mountains above Montreux and the geographical configuration of the region are conducive to the collection of water. Yet this did not really come as a surprise as the mountains opposite, i.e. in France, have several springs (including the famous Evian water).
What I did not know, however, was that the town of Montreux used to have a spring and its water was commercialised until 1984 (see picture on the left taken from the display shown above). Eager to taste it, I convinced my wife that we would go and find the fountain once we would be in Montreux again (where we had to change trains) instead of heading immediately back home. Not only did we get to drink some of this water, but I filled up the empty bottle (no less than one litre and a half) I had in my rucksack after we had managed to locate the fountains (called ‘source du village de Vernex’).
However, apart from the narcissi which we did not get to see in full bloom and in large numbers, our trip was the source of another disappointment as far as I was concerned: I did not manage to catch a shot of the old lady who waves at each GoldenPass version of the MOB (Montreux-Oberland Bernois) train that passes in the bend at Sonzier. I have been wanting to do so for some time, but I tend not to be fortunate with my timing … so this time I only got to catch three quarters of her waving at the train (see picture on the left, which was took on our way up, the other two were on the return journey). I suppose this means that I shall have to go back to the Pays d’Enhaut (the highlands, i.e. the communes above Montreux that are still part of the canton of Vaud — Château d’Oex, Rougemont and Rossinière) again this summer. PS should you enlarge the above montage, you will see that her house has the following motto engraved on her balcony: ‘Fleurissons là où dieu nous a semés‘ [Let us flower/flourish there where god sowed us] … what a nice principle to stand by, do you think not?
As I love the region, I would really not mind going back there again!
- ‘Still under their spell’ (23rd May 2015)
- This time, thousands and thousands of narcissi at Les Pléaides (next trip)
- Wife’s account of the same excursion (lots of nice photos – she has a better eye)
- Section on narcissi on the website of the tourist office of Montreux-Vevey (itineraries, background information, etc)
- Association pour la sauvegarde et la promotion des narcisses de la Riviera (an association who purpose is to preserve the follower for future generations, the most complete source of information for these flowers in this region; unfortunately only in French)
- Some pictures of narcissi on the official website of Les Avants (in French)
- Some documents on the now defunct Fête des Narcisses (in French)
A couple of hours after having published this post, I came across an article published (in French) on some hikes to do in the area and in which a mountain guide/botanist whose name is Bertrand Gentizon claims that in the nearby region of Villard-sur-Chamby there is now as much as 90% fewer narcissuses than there were in the 1960s primarily because the trampling of cattle is preventing the flowers to grow back! [‘en grande partie à cause des mutations de l’agriculture. Le piétinement du bétail empêche la fleur de repousser’], Migros Magazine No.24, 11 June 2012; Mr Gentizon also headed a scientific study on the subject [Modélisation de l’habitat potentiel de Narcissus radiiflorus (Amaryllidaceae) sur la commune de Montreux (VD), Lausanne: Institut d’Ecologie, Botanique systématique et géobotanique, 2001], so I guess he can be trusted 😉
[Last updated 26 June, 9:27pm, addition of ‘This time, thousands and thousands of narcissi …]