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Surviving the Montreux jazz festival (on a budget)

June 30, 2018

glass of rose wine and lake geneva

The endless swathe of water gleamed gold as the sun dipped into the horizon, slender rays reflected bright spots on the brassy instruments of the jazz band, while my glass of wine sparkled with a rosy glow. This was a ‘pinch me’ moment. Montreux is an elegant town on the edge of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) most famous for its annual jazz festival every summer and I was there for three days of it.

The prospect of going to Montreux for a few days of the legendary Jazz Festival was thrilling, but at the back of my mind there was also a degree of trepidation.  The latter was because I had visited a few years ago for a single day and knew it to be very expensive.

I needn’t have worried though, although Switzerland will never be a bargain destination, with a few tips you can keep costs manageable while soaking up the incredible atmosphere in an exquisite location. Here’s a bit about my experience and a few tips, if you’re going, that may help you to enjoy the festival (whether on a budget or not).

view of lake geneva from a window

The view from my Airbnb in Chernax

Where to stay

Airbnb was an obvious choice as there’s a really good choice of accommodation via this well-known site especially if you book early. I opted for a place in nearby Chernax, a pretty village four stops up a very scenic branch line (with immaculate trains). The view from the sitting room and little garden terrace over Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) was absolutely stunning. Public transport is excellent in the surrounding area so you can opt to stay a little way outside the main town and get a little local train in, which makes it more affordable. Every morning I strolled through the picturesque lanes crammed with geranium pots  to the station housing a charming coffee shop. At night I joined the throng of revellers in Montreaux – listen carefully because platforms can change – and chugged back up the line.

The other advantage of being away from the main drag is the late night music and revels won’t disturb if you’ve retired early.

If you do fork out for a hotel or private apartment then you qualify for a Montreaux-Vevey Riviera Card free of charge. This gives you free travel on the whole Mobilis Montreux Riviera public transport network, 50% off on the ‘Wonderful Alpine Scenery’ (CGN) boat cruise and alpine transport, plus 50% reduction on tickets in many museums and theme parks. I used this after the festival on my trip up the mountain to Rochers de Naye.

Band on stage at the Montreux jazz festival

The Big Band Dachau

Free jazz

On the edge of a grass circle with picnic tables and a bar under a circle of fairy lights, the ‘Music in the Park’ stage hosts acts starting from mid-afternoon until late. The performers make up for any lack of fame by enthusiasm and energy, buoyed on by a warm audience of all ages. We went to see an all female jazz ensemble who had come from Australia twice and a previous band danced in a row to show their appreciation. The final act on the last night was a big band and the atmosphere was electric.

The Montreux Jazz Festival is in two parts; the paid for acts in the Stravinski Auditorium, the jazz club and jazz lab, and the free fringe in an area outside.  The line up of performers at the Stravinski Auditorium are world-famous but not always jazz performers (2018 programme includes Iggy Pop, the Vaccines, Billy Idol, Queens of the Stone Age and Deep Purple). The ticket prices are steep and per performance, not per entry ticket like other festivals. If you decide to come for the atmosphere as much as the music then ‘Music in the Park’ is perfect. There are over 70 performances here over the duration of the festival.

There are other free venues along the lakeside too, with a variety of different musical genres from club to salsa, which start at various times through the evening with some going on late into the night, probably aimed at a younger audience, but in Montreux anything goes.

Packing a picnic

The corridor of tempting food stalls is part of the Jazz festival experience but it can all add up. The little tables along the water’s edge can be used by anyone or you can wander, as we did, a little further along the path to the ‘beach’ (a small stretch of shingle and a big grass area). My sister-in-law and I visited the nearby Coop supermarket and a boulangerie for provisions. We went in for a dip in Lac Leman too.  If you’ve booked self-catering such as Airbnb (see above) you can even prep ahead. If you do fall for the stalls I recommend the pizza – thin, crisp and cooked to order.

Montreux water fountains

One of the things I love about Switzerland are the water fountains. Not just beautiful to look at, they dispense a continual flow of crystal clear, refreshing drinking water. They are along the edge of the lake at regular intervals including one right next to the festival area. We packed refillable bottles but you can easily drink straight from the source.

Buying wine

Alcohol prices are on the high side at the bar in the free section. It’s fine to BYO for the outdoor venues though. There’s a good selection at the Coop – just remember to take something to drink your wine out of. The local Swiss wine is fabulous and Montreux is adjacent to the beautiful Vaud Vineyard area where walled terraces which monks used to tend, cover the hills down to the edge of the lake. You can book a tour, download an app for a self-guided stroll, or go for a tasting in Lutry.

Remember the refund

If you do buy from the outside bar you’ll be charged a deposit for glasses and glass bottles (e.g. wine) so make sure you return them for a full refund.

sunset over lake geneva with people and fairy lights Spectacular sunset over Lac Leman during the Montreux jazz festival

Other tips

In between the entertainment, the walk along Lac Leman is absolutely stunning. Turn left to Chillon Castle and right to the beach (see above). The pathway is lined with sculptures, the lake full of interest: birdlife, watersports, little boats, elegant paddle steamers, and, of course, a mesmerising view.

On a more practical level, be assured that all the staff seem to speak really good English, take a waterproof jacket as the weather can change very quickly, and pack some tissues for the loos as they seem to run out very quickly.

Jazz band on stage

Final band in the park – Fat Cat

sunset over lake geneva

Worth going for the sunsets as well as the jazz

Pin for later

Useful links: Montreux Jazz Festival  Montreux Riviera  Lake Geneva Region Tourism (Vaud)  My Switzerland – Vaud The Sweethearts The Big Band Dachau Fat Cat

The Montreux Jazz Festival was one of four festivals I went to in 2017 and one of the best.

Tell me your favourite festivals and why (in the comments) so I can add to my festival wish list.

  1. June 30, 2018 8:13 pm

    Loved Montreux, we were there last year, but not for the jazz festival. I wondered what it might have been like, so thanks for giving me a glimpse of what it was all about. I did blog about Montreux and the wine region in Switzerland. This year we went to the New Orleans Jazz fest. There’s just so much to see and do in the city which we had frequented many times, but the jazz fest was the cherry on the cake. Just blogged about that too 🙂

  2. June 30, 2018 10:01 pm

    Love Jazz! But with a line-up like this one: ‘2018 programme includes Iggy Pop, the Vaccines, Billy Idol, Queens of the Stone Age and Deep Purple’ who needs jazz? In any case, great tips for us music lovers on a budget, thank you!

  3. July 1, 2018 1:28 pm

    I love jazz and it looks like an amazing place! I love the view from your Airbnb!

  4. July 1, 2018 7:08 pm

    Gosh, it’s years since I’ve been to Montreux and I’ve enjoyed living vicariously! When I did go it was for a big conference and so everything was expensed. But I remember wincing at the cost of a coffee…things clearly haven’t changed. I’d love to visit the Jazz festival. Of course my favourite has been this year’s chocolate festival in Grenada – which I heartily recommend!!!

  5. July 1, 2018 8:01 pm

    I’ve never been Switzerland although I’ve yearned to go there since I was a child and saw the first episode of a cartoon with a little orphan girl from the Alps. The tips will definitely help anyone with a budget 🙂

  6. July 2, 2018 10:11 am

    This is great festival. Live band all the music is good. Thanks for sharing

  7. Nicky Spear permalink
    July 2, 2018 2:44 pm

    Please can you take me off your mailing list

  8. kstienemeier permalink
    July 2, 2018 3:51 pm

    Great suggestions Sally for this amazing and traditional event!

  9. July 2, 2018 4:30 pm

    I have never been to Montreaux or to the jazz festival, but both sound incredible! Thank you for this very useful guide to visiting on a budget. 🙂

  10. July 10, 2018 4:00 pm

    Love your photos of sunset over Lac Leman, they are great. Sounds like you had a great time.

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