As cottage owners, and therefore owners of an old-fashioned outhouse, we were fascinated to learn of 700-year-old toilets inside a Swiss castle near Montreux. What design, what wood choices, what the heck …. how did the French/German/Swiss make a toilet last this long when all over Canada, wooden outhouses are sagging at the floorboards?
And so we went to Chateau de Chillon, built on a rocky island on the shores of Lake Geneva (locally known as Lac Leman) over the centuries. The site was held by the French Savoys since the 13th century until 1536, when they skittered away in the night after the Germans shot two rounds at them.
The French, some how forgetting their position’s military advantage (the castle was considered impenetrable), decided they needed to be elsewhere and snuck out through a secret passageway during the night, effectively handing the keys over to the Germans who must have been a little disappointed to have dragged their cannons all that way when they could have simply showed up and shouted up the castle ramparts.
The castle is the melding together of a conglomeration of structures, and it shows as it weaves and bobs around the island. Despite it’s four grand staterooms, it lacks the palatial air of Spanish castles. Nevertheless, it was more fun to troll through because it had the air of a real working fortress, although that unfortunately included a torture chamber, complete with original etchings of biblical figures on the wall, scratched in by the hapless victims imprisoned there.
Pretty sober stuff that struck home as we toured the castle during a smashing thunder and lightning storm, with waves crashing outside against the island.
Rugged, beautiful, cruel.
But definitely worth seeing. Admission is only $12 an adult, a very decent fare. It took us two hours to tour the entire castle, which appeared small, but it curves up and down, to the point that visitors quickly lose their orientation, and the only way to be certain of your location is to keep checking the numbered rooms, all 46 of them, which are handily described in a brochure that comes with admission. According to my pedometer, we walked about 2.5 miles, which doesn’t seem possible, but my pedometer hasn’t lied to me yet.
The toilets, by the way, were indoors, and simple wood planks set into the stone walls. The “refuse” would tumble down a large stone chasm that curved and eventually opened to daylight, by which we can only assume the refuse ended up in the lake.
Indoor plumbing was tricky back then, because the opening into the wall could be used by an attacking army as a way to crawl inside.
Maybe it was the thought of soiled Germans emerging from the latrines that made the French think they would just as soon not fight, which some might say, has become intrinsically entwined in France’s military history.
If you go, a happy little sign outside of the castle says it’s a 45-minute walk to Montreux along the waterfront promenade. It took us 60-minutes in a pouring rain and cutting wind, however, it was invigorating. For one thing, we were the only tourists on the promenade, which meant we didn’t have to do a two-step to navigate through a crowd. Secondly, it’s a lovely walk that starts out through some nondescript
hedges and eventually opens to a wide path flanked with mansions on one side and botanical gardens fronting the water on the other.
You will pass a casino made famous by Deep Purple’s song Smoke on the Water, which refers to the time it burned down in the 1970s when a patron lit it up with a flare gun. You can go in there to eat, but they will want to take your belongings, your coat, and seemingly your identification while you’re inside. Dave and I measured the wisdom of leaving our valuables with the sort of people who run casinos and decided we’d rather brave the storm outside. It was only a 5 or 10 minute walk from there to a McDonalds, which we did not stop at, although we thought of it because it is the only affordable “Swiss” restaurant we have found so far. Instead, we went onto a pleasant lakefront cafe, which I will write about tomorrow.
Click on photos for close-ups!