A Pocket Guide to Montreux Jazz Festival

Thu, 18 July 2019

The Montreux Jazz Festival was originally held at the Montreux Casino and ran for three days. Back when it began in the late 1960s, the festival had an exclusively jazz remit – think Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin, singing and scatting the night away. In the mid-1970s things opened up a bit (thanks, in part, to the increased involvement of Quincy Jones) and a mishmash of musical genres were welcomed to the stage. In 1978 the festival brought Freddie Mercury to town. While here he recorded the album “Jazz” with Queen and wound up liking the place so much he bought a flat (with a view of Lake Geneva) and a recording studio, Mountain Studios.

Fast forward to 2019 and you can expect to see the musical stylings of Elton John, Sting, Lizzo, Bon Iver and Janelle Monáe, programmed together at the Montreux Jazz Festival. With Quincy Jones still MCing most of the festival’s proceedings, audiences can witness one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century (and a titan of a music producer too) in the flesh on the main stage. That said, main acts performing at the Auditorium Stravinski tend to sell out fast. Our advice: base your visit around one or two headliners and go from there. If your “go” needs a little direction, our pocket guide is at hand to help.


Fairmont Le Montreux Palace

By the shore of Lake Geneva and at the foot of the Alps, this Belle Époque hotel scores 10/10 for location. The largest hotel in the Swiss Riviera region, it has canary-yellow awnings that are instantly recognisable (and Insta-worthy). The aforementioned Mr Mercury bedded down in the hotel’s premium suites on more than one occasion – though since then (as recently as 2011, in fact) rooms have been given a lift. Must-dos before check out include: sampling the American-breakfast buffet at La Palmeraie and a pit stop at the Willow Stream Spa.


Le Montreux

For a dinner of Swiss fare and wines from the surrounding region, book a table on board Beau-Rivage Palace’s Le Montreux steam boat. From June to September, Le Montreux turns into a floating restaurant, departing from Lausanne-Ouchy pier. If dinner clashes with your concert plans, opt for Le Montreux’s Lake and Cake package which operates Monday through to Saturday, departing at 2.20pm. Hop off to explore the fortified Château de Chillon, perched on its own island, then return to enjoy your fill of homemade pastries before docking in Lausanne. Only on the RIviera…

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  • Chemin de Beau-Rivage 21


Funky Claude's

Open until 3am during the Montreux Jazz Festival, Funky Claude’s has a proximity to the lakeside which is nothing short of enticing. Named after the festival’s founder, Claude Nobs, it’s an unsurprisingly great live-music venue, with a bar that serves simple food and strong drinks. Interiors are understated, with battered, olive-hued banquettes and old wooden tables. Essentially, everything is secondary to the music.


Montreux Jazz Festival

Festival activities gravitate along the lake. The festival is a manageable size but it’s helpful to note the key areas to hit up ahead of time. The Auditorium Stravinski hosts main acts (though Elton John was so popular he had to go off campus to Stade de la Saussaz). For intimate sessions you’ll want to head to Montreux Jazz Club and if you fancy yourself as a bit of a talent scout make a beeline for the Montreux Jazz Lab to sample the musical outputs of up-and-comers. Still, our favourite performance space has to be Music in the Park with its tent-like halogen light and open-air stage.

Clinique La Prairie

Known for its “rejuvenation therapy” – which claims to boost your immune system – Swiss maverick Clinique La Prairie combines a state-of-the-art medical spa with a holistic approach. Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, the clinic offers detox programmes, sleep management and more. Opt for wellbeing consultations, daily workouts and plenty of pampering. You’ll likely rub shoulders with a number of the festival’s headliners while you’re there.


Transport Links

Geneva Airport is an hour and a half by car from Montreux. The train from Geneva’s city centre will take you to Montreux station in around an hour. For a ritzier train experience, festival-goers can board the Orient Express from Gare de Lyon in Paris. The route is available to Platinum Members of Accor Live Limitless and by personal invite (you can also charter the train for groups between 20-120 people). Onboard, the Orient Express’s 20s interiors (designed by designer René Prou) beguile with Lalique fixtures, lacquered woods and graphic, art-deco style carpets. Enjoy breakfast in the Flèche d’Or passenger cart and follow with an afternoon tipple in the bar cart, Le Train Bleu (a source of inspiration for Coco Chanel).

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