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Christmas in the Montreux Region of Switzerland

A Noël Market and Holiday Festival with a Visit to Santa's Alpine House

Santa Claus' House in Switzerland.
Entrance to Santa Claus' House on the top of the Rochers-de-Naye Alp in Switzerland. Photo by Sonja Holverson.

Europe is renowned for its Christmas Markets and travelers come from all over the world during this time of year to experience these picturesque events along with the locals. Although it’s true that at certain times the Christmas Markets get crowded with visitors and residents alike, it should be noted that these festive gatherings are not just Tourist Office initiatives to attract tourists. The European long-standing Christmas Markets are created and cherished most by the citizens of the tiniest of villages up to the largest of cities. Regardless of size, the population decorates their public halls and parks with colorful stands selling Christmas treasures and Glühwein with which to toast each other.

Montreux Christmas Market, Switzerland.
Montreux Christmas Market, Switzerland. Photo by MontreuxNoël.

Christmas markets are also a deeply rooted tradition in Switzerland which are organized and frequented by the local populations of many different sizes of towns and villages. They become the annual community meeting place for celebrating the holidays with families and friends as well as the venue for convivial end-of-the-year company parties.

Au Vin Chaud with Bretzels in the Montreux Christmas Market.
Au Vin Chaud, Bretzels and mulled wine. Montreux Christmas Market. Photo by Sonja Holverson.

Unlike in some countries such as the US, the Swiss do not light up their private homes and residences to a great decorative degree. A festive handmade wreath on the door and a few lights in the window or on the balcony are the norms for the exterior. However, in the public areas, they love to transform their hometowns into holiday magic. They gather at the Christmas Markets to share regional cuisine, stock up on local culinary specialties, buy their Holiday gifts from Swiss artisans and let themselves be entertained by a variety of folk and modern music as well as other activities coordinated especially for this occasion.

No lack of temptations at the Montreux Christmas Market.
No lack of temptations at the Montreux Christmas Market. Photo by Sonja Holverson.

In the French-speaking region of Switzerland, called the Suisse Romande, a part of which is located on the Lake of Geneva (Lac Léman), the lakeside town of Montreux has perhaps the most frequented Christmas Market in the area and locals come from all the surrounding regions. Montreux’s Christmas Market, called the Montreux Noël has developed remarkably during the last two decades. It now encompasses most of the Riviera-Pays-d'Enhaut District including the nearby Château de Chillon and the top of the steep Rochers-de-Naye Alp that towers over it.

Grand Market Hall in Montreux.
Montreux Place du Marché, the Grand Market Hall. Photo by MontreuxNoël, Johanna Fangrat.

The focal point of this Holiday celebration in Montreux is in and around the large covered Grand Market Hall at the Place du Marché. It is elaborately decorated including the upper story lofts. All this space houses wooden stands, restaurants, bars, and venues for musicians with Alphorns and singers with lovely voices and other Swiss as well as less Swiss entertainment for all ages.

Montreux Ferris Wheel Christmas.
Montreux Place du Marché Ferris Wheel. Photo by Sonja Holverson.

Next to the Grand Market Hall is the illuminated Ferris Wheel that provides spectacular views. It becomes hypnotically magical to watch as it circles in front of the darkness of the forest and steep mountains behind it. Stretching out along the shoreline promenade in both directions near the Grand Market Hall are about 150 strikingly embellished wooden chalets, some of which have two stories. These are near the more traditional wooden market stands as well as mixed with some pop-up Swiss cuisine restaurants. There are tables around for all to enjoy a bit of vin chaud (Glühwein in French), regional wines, and some local culinary treats. Lumberjack Village is a popular meeting place after work for an apertif serving up wood-stove cooked pizza and fondue along with a local favorite tea from their log cabin.

Jewelry at the Montreux Market.
Jewelry / watches and macaroons next door. Montreux Christmas Market. Photo by Sonja Holverson.

Montreux Noël is now inviting some sister cities to participate in the festivities providing them with a large chalet for their displays. The towns invited are Menton, France; Wiesbaden, Germany; Sátoraljaújhely, Hungary; Chiba, Japan and Xicheng, China.

There are two Christmas parades called “Le Monde Magique du Père Noël” (The Magical World of Santa Claus) along the Grand-Rue over the weekend mid-December and they include amongst others, the guests from the sister cities. Highlighting the parades is of course, Santa Claus in his sleigh lead by his team of reindeer.

In fact, Santa Claus, known here at Père Noël, is THE star of Montreux Noël. In the early evening when it becomes dark Santa Claus in his sleigh pulled by his team of reindeer flies over the tops of the market chalets located along the shoreline greeting everyone along the way. This spectacle is radiantly lit up in the sky against the backdrop of the dark Lac Léman. He then stops mid-air at the Place du Marché to greet the astonished children (and bewildered adults) and tells them that they better be good; a universal theme apparently.

Reactions to the flying Père Noël have been varied but most everyone is impressed with this “over-the-top” (literally) production. Some children regain belief in Santa Claus and magical moments. Adults search for the technological explanations. A first in Switzerland.

Chillon castle near Montreux.
Château de Chillon Féerie Médiévale Holiday celebration near Montreux. Photo by Sonja Holverson.

As mentioned earlier, Montreux Noël does not occur just in Montreux. The Holiday festivities continue along the Lake of Geneva shores to the legendary Château de Chillon which is built on a rocky island just off the shoreline; a location that has been occupied since the Bronze Age. The current structure of the castle is from the 12th century.

Medieval artisan woman with baskets and handicrafts.
Medieval artisans demonstrate the handicrafts of yore. Photo by Sonja Holverson.

On the weekends in December before Christmas, MontreuxNoël transforms the Château de Chillon into a fairy-tale village for a Medieval Holiday Festival for the young and the young at heart. Called the Féerie Médievale, this rare opportunity takes visitors back into another time and place full of fantasy and delight.

Medieval entertainment includes costumed storytellers, dancers, magicians, jugglers, stilt walkers, and comedians. The Les Pieds Gauches dancing group, literally meaning “left feet dancers,” will demonstrate Medieval dance and music as well as inviting the visitors to join in.

Medieval Banquet Halls in Chillon castle.
One of many authentic Medieval Banquet Halls in the Château de Chillon. Photo by MontreuxNoël.

No Medieval Holiday Festival would be complete without authentic cuisine from the Middle Ages. The culinary arts of the era is visible and available to eat such as the roasted meats on spits in the enormous original fireplaces.

There is also a Fairy Marketplace with jewelry, sculptures, costumes and other items for gifts. Of course, Santa Claus has been given an office in order for you to write those last minute Christmas letters.

Train arrives at Santa Claus' House
Le Train du Père Noël (Father Christmas) arriving at his house on the top of the Rochers-de-Naye. Photo by Sonja Holverson.

All aboard Santa’s holiday decorated cog-wheeled train up to Village de Noël at Caux above Montreux. Even the train’s engineer is one of Santa’s red costumed helpers. Here you find Santa’s workshops and reindeer to enjoy while overlooking Lac Léman and the surrounding Alps from the ledge of the mountain village.

Continue on Le Train du Père Noël up to Santa’s House on the top of the Rochers-de-Naye Alp (6’699 ft) up above Caux and Montreux where the festivities just keep going.

View from Santa Claus' House
Santa’s backyard seen from the top of the Rochers-de-Naye. Photo by Sonja Holverson.

Santa’s House is at the end of a tunnel located just in front of the train stop. You go through this magical mountain passageway which is lit up by Christmas lights and has Holiday displays along the way.

Tunnel to Santa's House
Passage through the mountain to reach Santa’s House. Photo by MontreuxNoël.

Displays in tunnel to Santa’s House
Holiday displays in the tunnel to Santa’s House. Photo by Sonja Holverson.

And then suddenly you’re there! Santa’s House filled with magic and ornamental displays. Santa’s Helpers greet you with holiday snacks and gifts and explain to you how to participate in the Treasure Hunt. They also transform you into a little fairy with their magical paint and sparkles before your personal visit with Santa in his office who gives gifts to each child as well as a souvenir photo. There’s apparently not a lot of lap-sitting on Santa in this part of Switzerland. Some children won’t leave their parents and stay with them on the other side of the room. Others will go up and stand alone…but not too close.

Santa Claus at last
Santa Claus at last. Photo by MontreuxNoël.

There are also some special evenings with Santa Claus where you can have dinner with him in his house, receive personalized gifts and spend the night on the top of the Rochers-de-Naye in your private yurte.

Views from Santa's House
Wonderful views from Santa’s regardless of the weather. Photo by Sonja Holverson.

Practical Information for Enjoying Montreux Noël


MontreuxNoël celebrations begin the last week in November and continue until Christmas Eve. There is no entrance fee for the Marché de Noël in Montreux.

Le Père Noël flying over the Montreux Christmas Market is performing at 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. every evening until Christmas Eve. Check MontreuxNoël for any schedule changes.

The route is from near the Montreux Port along the shore terminating at the Place du Marché. The distance is 1’247 feet; a world’s record for a Santa zip line including a living Santa, his sleigh and a team of (rather rigid) reindeer!

The Féerie Médiévale at the Château de Chillon starts the beginning of December on the weekends only, until just before Christmas Eve. Reservations are not required for the medieval restaurant. Although it is not a long walk from Montreux along the lakeside promenade, it can take up to an hour (if you stop for photos) and it may be cold. The best way to reach the Château (Veytaux/Chillon) is by VMCV Bus N° 201 starting near the Montreux Train Station Stairs going towards Villeneuve. The bus route begins in Vevey and runs along the shoreline to Villeneuve roundtrip with ample stops along the way. There is a reasonable entrance fee into the Château de Chillon for all of the activities. The restaurant charges separately. 

Santa’s Train to Le Village de Noël in the village of Caux above Montreux and then to La Maison du Père Noël on top of the Rochers-de-Naye Alp departs from the back tracks of the Montreux Train Station. This is reservation only (during these Holidays) and arrangements must be made with GoldenPass Express. You can stop at Caux Village on the way up or on the way back down to Montreux. Special reservations must be made for the dinner with Santa Claus and the overnight in a Mongolian yourte on Rochers-de-Naye. These cog-wheeled train tickets are sometimes reduced on certain days and overall they are less expensive than the regular season tickets. If you just want to go to the top of the Rochers-de-Naye, this is an affordable time to do it!

The mountain tunnel leading to Santa’s House is a bit long for really young children so take your stroller. Furthermore, if you or your children are a bit claustrophobic, you may want to mention that to the reservationist at GoldenPass or the train engineer (Santa’s helper) who can get you there through secret entries to Santa’s House. 

Montreux Transportation

The best way to travel in and out of Montreux is by train. SwissRails usually offers a discount during the Christmas Market.

Parking is extremely difficult in Montreux although there are some designated parking areas. However, some are out of town with shuttle bus services but they are free.

Free Car Sharing can also be arranged. For details go to MontreuxNoël Transport

There is a local public bus that runs along the Lake Geneva shoreline N° 201 Vevey-Villeneuve. It is paying except for guests at hotels in the region that give complimentary unlimited bus passes.

Accommodations: Author's Picks 

There are many extraordinary and famous hotels from which to choose in Montreux itself, home of the Montreux International Jazz Festival. For a wide variety of accommodations and rates in the Montreux — Vevey area see MontreuxRiviera.

Unless you want to be immersed in the Christmas Market atmosphere during your entire visit, you may want to stay a bit further away along the shores of Lac Léman with easy train and bus service to Montreux.

Author’s suggestions are listed below by distance starting with the closest to Montreux:

Hostellerie Bon Rivage, quiet regional Suisse Romande ambiance and a former 19th century girls school with an extraordinary view of Lac Léman and superb cuisine. Location: Port of La Tour de Peilz near the Château tower (games museum).

Hôtel Trois des Couronnes, old world European elegance and hospitality. Location: on the Lac Léman shoreline in Vevey.

Le Mirador Kempinski with extraordinary views of the entire Lac Léman region. Location: high above Vevey on Mont-Pelerin.

Beau-Rivage Palace, the Grande Dame with hotel and spa on the shoreline at Ouchy of Lausanne. Other accommodations in this larger city (also with a Christmas Market albeit more modest) may be found at Lausanne Tourism. There is a fast train from Lausanne to Montreux.

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