What a lavish breakfast at Hotel Helvetie in Montreaux, Switzerland. We were journeying along the ancient Via Francigena, the path that stretches all the way from Canterbury to Rome. After breakfast we decided to take the local bus four kilometers to Chillon Castle which lay on the lake’s (Leman) edge and came face to face with hundreds of other tourists who had come to visit one of the best preserved medieval castles in Europe.
The castle was impressive, full of rooms containing displays of armour, weaponry, medieval household items and portraits of nobles. Of all the important owners and visitors to Chillon, the only name we recognized was that of Byron, the great English poet.
During his Grand Tour of the continent, Byron visited Chillon and heard of a prisoner who had been kept in the castle’s dungeon for six years during the 16th century. Byron subsequently wrote a poem about him, titled “The Prisoner of Chillon.” François de Bonivard (1496-1571), a Genevese patriot and historian was twice imprisoned by Charles III, Duke of Savoy, for speaking out against the Duke’s tyranny, the second time for six years in Chillon.
Lake Leman lies by Chillon’s walls:
A thousand feet in depth below
Its massy waters meet and flow;
Thus much the fathom-line was sent
From Chillon’s snow-white battlement,
Which round about the wave enthralls:
A double dungeon wall and wave
Have made-and like a living grave
Below the surface of the lake
The dark vault lies wherein we lay:
Bonivard’s prison chamber and manacle post were well illuminated and Byron’s name, which he had carved into a pillar, was framed. Realising that we had spent a good two hours enthralled by Chillon, we left the castle and walked along the lake’s shore to reach Villeneuve, situated near the mouth of the Rhone River. We had many more kilometers to walk that day along the Via Francigena. Some days you just have to take any opportunities that present themselves, (the bus helped time-wise).Ideas anyone?