Freddie Mercury didn’t pass away in Montreux, Switzerland – he did that in 1991 in Kensington, in the U.K., surrounded by his loving family – but he did spend an abundance of time here during his final years, when battling illness and seeking solitude and peace.
Freddie’s band, Queen, had been visiting Montreux for years. In 1979 the band bought Mountain Studios in Montreux, where they recorded 7 albums, including their final album, Made in Heaven, which features the city’s very own statue of Freddie Mercury on its cover.
The impact and resonance that Freddie had on the city is remembered once a year on Freddie Mercury Memorial Day (the first weekend in September).
The question is, why Montreux?
Founding of Montreux
Montreux began life as an insignificant Roman villa, situated on the shores of Lake Geneva, in the foothills of the Alps, back in the 2nd Century CE.
Not a great deal of note happened in the ensuing centuries, but by the 12th Century CE the region had become a centre for viticulture. It continues to fulfil this role today.
Those who have heard of Swiss wine will know that the Swiss believe their wine so superior to the rest of the world’s efforts that they refuse to export it, and instead keep it all for themselves.
For those that haven’t heard of Swiss wine, it’s because the Swiss believe their wine is so superior to the rest of the world’s efforts that they refuse to export it, and instead keep it all for themselves.
As you drive into Montreux you bear witness to the long legacy of viticulture in the region: terraced vineyards dominate the lower slopes of the mountains, extending right up to the lake.
Then you arrive in Montreux itself.
It’s quite a small town, with a population of just 25,000.
And there isn’t all that much to see in the town itself; it’s really just a bunch of swanky hotels and an awesome statue of Freddie Mercury.
And then there’s the lake.
And the views of the distant, snow-capped Alps.
Château de Chillon
Just outside of town is a charmingly-compact castle sitting right on the lake’s edge.
Château de Chillon dates back to the 1st Century CE.
It’s first use was a Roman watch house, a guard station on the transport route between France and Italy.
Château de Chillon has a been a tourist attraction for centuries.
The nobleman poet, Lord Byron, visited the castle in the early 19th Century. He used it as the setting for his poem, the Prisoner of Chillon, and even went so far as to carve his name into one of the pillars in the dungeon (this act of vandalism is now preserved beneath perspex).
Le Montreux Palace Hotel
Byron wasn’t the only famous artist to spend an extended period of time in Montreux.
Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian author who wrote Lolita, moved into Le Montreux Palace Hotel in 1961 and remained there till his death in 1977 (a statue of the novelist has since been erected in front of the hotel – seen in the photo below).
Other notable artists to have taken residence in Montreux include Tchaikovsky, Noel Coward, Stravinsky, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Dame Joan Sutherland.
And then there was Queen, of course, and Freddie Mercury.
Why did all these famous artists choose to live in Montreux?
Isn’t it obvious?
Practical information and how to reach Montreux:
You can get a train here from Geneva (1.5 – 2 hours), Lausanne (30 min), or Zurich (3 hours). More transport info here.