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The night before my husband and I left for Montreux, Switzerland, I tossed a few bathing suits, some casual clothes, and three books into a suitcase. My husband picked a trio of suits, silk ties, and starched shirts, and a pair of cuff links. While we both had tickets to the Swiss Riviera, we were going on two very different trips. He would spend his days at a conference, schmoozing, eating rubber chicken, and working. I planned to labor over my tan — exhausting in its own right. Traveling to large conferences as the “spouse of” is hardly ideal — especially for those who recoil at the thought of their own table for one. In lieu of long, romantic walks, there are notes left for one another on the bedside table. But some conference destinations are so attractive that any fear of loneliness is shoved aside when one hears phrases like “five-star hotel” and “expense account.” Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, between the foothills of the Alps, Montreux may be as well-known for attracting celebrities as for providing stunning sunset views. In 1978, Queen recorded an album there. Its lead singer, Freddie Mercury, purchased a lakeside apartment, where he spent his final months. Deep Purple fans note that a fire during a 1971 Frank Zappa concert there inspired the band, which was holed up in a hotel nearby, to write “Smoke on the Water.” Music continues to be vital to the community, which hosts a variety of events, including annual summer jazz festivals, luring acts like René Olstead and Alicia Keys. It’s also a major convention destination, hosting groups ranging from European ophthalmologists to security experts. My husband’s conference, an auto industry junket, took us to the Le Montreux Palace Hotel, a 236-room Belle Époque wonder that dates to 1906 and was home to Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov at the end of his life. Its crystal chandeliers, stained-glass windows, and gleaming wood floors exude a classic European elegance, which made me a bit self-conscious when I looked down at my dirty sneakers. Each of the hotel’s upper floors features works by a different painter; to get to our room at the end of the third floor’s long hallway, I passed a series of René Magritte oil reproductions. Forget about the shoe-box European hotel room. Rooms at the Montreux Palace are spacious and comfortable, with high ceilings, understated fabrics, and highly polished traditional furniture. Most have balconies. Those in the front offer spectacular views of the lake and the Alps. Ours was on the side of the hotel, and thus looked out at buildings. Had we been paying, I would have asked for another room. The marble bathroom, with two sinks and an abundance of Aveda toiletries, was elegant, though it also can be a bit dark. An extra bonus: our shower boasted a giant showerhead, which simulated tropical downpours — great for soaking. All of this comes at a price, of course. We couldn’t beat our “free for us” expense account rate, but those who will pay their own way will find rates starting at about 360 Swiss francs off-season. One of my goals for this trip was to unwind. The hotel’s Amrita Wellness spa, I decided, would be an integral part in my achievement. Within a half-hour of checking in, I had made an appointment for a facial. Amrita is across the Grand Rue, accessible to guests via an underground walkway. The spa’s facilities, including indoor and outdoor pools, fitness center, saunas, and locker rooms are free for guests of the hotel. After receiving my standard-issue fluffy robe, flip-flops, towel, and locker, I spent two hours in the fitness room. Any two-hour stretch of exercise seems luxurious, but the added bonus of being able to sweat inside an air-conditioned room while enjoying the views of Lake Geneva was especially self-indulgent. Afterward, I rinsed and changed into my bathing suit to more fully appreciate the hotel’s pool. Even though the pool and surrounding deck and lawn border the paved path around the lake, I never noticed prying eyes from casual or even curious walkers, thanks to some well-placed foliage. In fact, the only people who did seem to be watching us were suit-clad conference-goers, who would frequently escape the main meeting room to check cell phones. It’s the extra touches that make visiting a spa worth the price of a — gulp — five-course dinner. Before my facial, I was asked to wait in a light-filled, earth-toned anteroom, where I relaxed beside a babbling fountain. The facial was unremarkable, given the price of 140 Swiss francs (about $113). The aesthetician told me that the complete one-hour massage (130 Swiss francs, or about $105) and chamomile body treatments (110 Swiss francs or about $89 for a half-hour), are more popular. Feeling thoroughly de-stressed, I decided to confront my evening activities. Eating alone is not my favorite way to spend a night. I’ll admit, the skills I developed as an only child makes solo dinners more palatable. Even so, I still put it off as long as possible. This particular June evening, I decided, was perfect for exploring. Montreux isn’t large — it could fit inside Northwest D.C. — so while its main attractions could be “done” in a day or two, it is a great place to stop and relax while enjoying Switzerland or other parts of Central Europe. The Grand Rue, its main drag, has been overrun with tacky souvenir shops, jewelry stores, and nondescript cafes. And given that prices in Switzerland are always high (a T-shirt from the Jazz Festival was a whopping 29 Swiss francs) and the dollar’s sluggish performance, serious shopping lacked appeal. Still, Montreux’s “Old Town” is quite charming. A 20-minute walk took me to the top of the old village, filled with 18th century homes, complete with colorful trim in reds and blues, antique-window panes, and window boxes bursting with blooms. Dinner was inevitable. By 8:45, I was famished and less discriminating than usual. After winding my way downhill, I decided on the Restaurant au Parc, which offers outdoor seating facing the lake and the park in front of it. The headwaiter cocked his head with a look of pity as he showed me to a small table in front of the entrance. I had left my book in my room, a blunder for someone supposedly used to keeping herself entertained. My second-choice activity, people watching, was impaired by two giant tour buses that stood between me and my perfect park view. The restaurant, which offered basic Italian cuisine and pizza, also featured “filet de perche,” something a neighbor of mine said was one of Lake Geneva’s special treats. Though the fish was certainly fresh, I was a bit underwhelmed. Still, convinced that my restaurant food was undoubtedly better than whatever conference cuisine my husband was subjected to, I strolled back to the hotel satisfied. My husband was learning about the fine points of European Union regulation when I set out on my most interesting sightseeing excursion: Château de Chillon. The medieval castle is about 2.5 miles from the center of Montreux. And while the region’s public No. 1 bus will gladly take travelers from the center of town to the castle’s moat — yes, moat — the most spectacular way to get there is by foot. The winding lakeside path, which takes about 45 minutes to walk, provides stunning views of the lake and adjoining mountains. In addition, it is host to vegetation, pruned by gardeners who live up to Switzerland’s reputation for maintaining pristine public spaces. In late June, that meant blooming magnolia trees, palm trees, geraniums, brilliant impatiens, and a variety of colorful caladiums. As I got closer to the castle, I found myself stopping every few minutes to snap photos. Perched lakeside in front of the mountains, the castle is a lesson in fairy-tale composition. The oldest part of the castle dates back to the first millennium, but its current form is based on construction from the 13th century. Once a Roman outpost, confirmed by coins found during an excavation on the property, the castle is a good spot for those with literary interests, having inspired Mary Shelley, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, and Alexandre Dumas. The most famous verses attributed to the locale come courtesy of Lord Byron, whose poem, “The Prisoner of Chillon,” romanticizes the trials of Francois Bonivard, who was imprisoned in the dungeon here during the 1530s over a political squabble with the Duke of Savoy. (Byron attributed the imprisonment to religious differences.) That very dungeon, where Byron carved his name into stone, as well as most of the rest of the castle, is open to visitors for 7 Swiss francs (about $5.65). It’s an entertaining way to spend an hour or so — winding up and down castle stairways, lingering in courtyards, and visiting both public and private rooms (including bathrooms that consist of holes in wooden benches that lead straight down to the lake). The fortification’s towers provide interesting vantage points by which to see the grounds and lake below. Chillon even boasts its own vineyard — just steps from the castle — and sells bottles of Clos de Chillon in the gift shop for 18.50 Swiss francs. Before heading back to my well-worn lounge chair at the Montreux Palace’s pool deck, I visited the bronze statue of Freddie Mercury, which was dedicated in 1996. Mercury had praised Montreux for giving him anonymity and a sense of peace. After spending two days on my own beside the still waters of Lake Geneva, I can appreciate the sentiment. INFORMATION Raffles Le Montreux Palace Grande Rue 100 CH-1820 Montreux Switzerland 41-21-962-1212 www.montreux-palace.com Château de Chillon Avenue de Chillon 21 CH-1820 Vevtaux Switzerland 41-21-966-89-10 www.chillon.ch Anne Marie Borrego is a freelance writer living in Frankfurt, Germany.

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