Festivals Flourish in Montreux, Vevey

Gourse is a New York City free-lance writer.

Ordinarily, Montreux and Vevey on the shore of Lake Geneva are as slow-paced as they are quaint.

Montreux is a somnolent, 20-minute train ride from Lausanne, Vevey about half that distance. Many days, both towns are wrapped in a ghostly haze, the clouds swaddling the French and Swiss Alps, which meet at the lake.

But in summer, when the sun shines, Montreux and Vevey, with their many light-colored 19th-Century houses, have the sparkling, romantic patina of Mediterranean resorts. The streets come alive with tourists heading for three well-known festivals: the Montreux Jazz Festival, which will be 21 years old in its 1987 season (July 3-18); the 43rd annual International Music Festival Vevey-Montreux (Aug. 27-Oct. 3), and the relatively new International Comedy Film Festival of Vevey (July 17-23), established in 1980 in the town that Charlie Chaplin and his family called home.

A statue of the Little Tramp stands on Vevey's lakeside Promenade, where festival viewers take their ease between shows.

Everything Looks Clean

Even during Montreux's July jazz festival, which attracts thousands of people, everything in this hillside town looks clean and runs smoothly, from the public elevators to the ubiquitous watches that keep precise time in the shops on Le Grand Rue, the city's main street.

Shopkeepers sweep their sidewalks daily. Not the least of Montreux's charms, the aggressive European sparrows live up to their reputation by walking around on the tables at patio restaurants while you dine.

You can stay in the aptly named Montreux Palace, a vast landmark with period furniture. Glass elevators take you to the main lobby on the second floor.

It's so quiet by day that you might think nobody stays there. Humbert Humbert's creator, Vladimir Nabokov, lived there for the last decade of his life, after he became rich from "Lolita."

Single rooms range from 170 to 250 Swiss francs ($128 U.S. to $185 U.S.), doubles from 250 to380 francs. Suites range from 550 francs to 2,500 a night. Top price is for the Dome suite.

You can enjoy Montreux simply for its idyllic beauty, with pretty gardens and sweet-smelling air. Couples amble arm-in-arm along the Promenade. You can wile away your days by walking, picnicking, snoozing, sunbathing and watching other tourists, some in Indian saris or Middle Eastern djellabas. You can water-ski or take short cruises on Lake Geneva.

At least a dozen outdoor kiosks sell inviting snacks along the Promenade. There are ices of all sizes and colors, including a six-scoop, rainbow-colored Bombe. Also, you can buy grilled sausages, roast ham and the irresistible raclette, a melted cheese concoction served with pearl onions, boiled potatoes and piquant cornichons (pickles).

The Promenade's kiosks are clustered around a band shell, where the city provides free entertainment every night. The mainstay is rock music, but sometimes tap-dancers, clowns and magicians perform there, too.

T-Shirts on Sale

Montreux's jazz festival gives the town focus for 2 1/2 weeks every July. Stores sell T-shirts with the festival's logos. Some have been designed by American graffiti artist Keith Haring.

Restaurant place mats advertise the concert schedule. And the lakeside Casino, on the Rue de Theater, parallel to the Grand Rue, resounds with music every day from noon to 2 a.m.

For some people, the afternoon concerts are the most fun because they're held outdoors near the Casino pool. An outdoor restaurant overlooks the bandstand. Many of the groups are American rock and rock-jazz fusion bands, carefully chosen from American schools and invited to the festival. You can sit across the street in a sun-drenched outdoor cafe and enjoy the music.

Night concerts inside the Casino's huge theater feature internationally known musicians. Tickets, which cost from 35 to 45 francs, usually sell out before the festival, so it's best to reserve them in advance.

Watch Every Event

If you can't get a ticket at the last minute at the Casino, you can still watch every night's main event in your hotel room. Swiss TV kindly shows the festival late at night.

Some jazz fans make a point of going to the Casino's little film theater with commodious seats everyday at 6 p.m. to see films of previous years' concerts. It's a good way to see fine, even historic performances.

Sarah Vaughan is on film. As her voice soars, she perspires under the hot Casino lights and tells the audience graphically how hot it is.

Major Holley, a singing bassist steeped in classical music, was filmed as he brought down the house for the vivacious performance of his own tune, "Pardon Me, Ludwig."

Ultra-quaint Vevey, with cobblestone streets, stays tranquil in July. Last summer, two Swiss kids got a head start on becoming Swiss businessmen on Vevey's Promenade, renting a collection of miniature cars with rubber bumpers for one franc per ride.

The business kids had their firm's papers assembled neatly on a card table. They made the only stir in Vevey's streets on a July afternoon.

By mid-August the tourists have arrived, and the miniature cars' renters had to deal with pedestrian traffic.

Shows in Various Theaters

The film festival sponsors several shows in various theaters throughout the day and night. For a reasonably priced, one-day ticket, you can go theater-hopping and see every show. The festival makes awards to new films, and also shows comedies and romantic classics such as "Wuthering Heights."

Most of the classical music festival concerts are in Vevey, at the Casino and the picturesque Little Theater. Some concerts are held in Montreux's Pavilion and Centre de Congres, two modern buildings facing the Montreux Palace.

For 1987, the festival organizers have invited Lorin Maazel to conduct the National Orchestra of France, along with Evgeni Svetlanov and Moscow's Philharmonic Orchestra. Soloists in past years have included violinist Young Uck Kim, pianist Emanuel Ax and French trumpeter Maurice Andre.

Montreux has the area's most luxurious hotel, but Vevey has one of the best Swiss restaurants, Le Mazot, at 7 Rue de Conseil. It's on a tiny cobblestone street winding its way toward the Promenade, within easy walking distance of the train, the theater and the Casino.

Among other things, Le Mazot offers horse meat (cheval) on its menu. There's entrecote de cheval , in a house sauce. Or you can have filet de cheval , either with green peppers or with garlic, pepper and mustard. The Swiss can shock you, too, with lard cru et formage --raw bacon, a favorite national dish and Le Mazot specialty.

Fondu moitie-moitie, with two cheeses, is part of the great fondue tradition. And the Swiss are fond of dried meats, omelettes and cheese dishes with ham. Le Mazot has space for only 40 people, so make reservations for lunch and dinner. The restaurant is closed for lunch on Sunday, and all day Wednesday.

Montreux's La Locanda, 44 Ruelle de Trait, a block from the Casino, serves Italian food at reasonable prices for lunch and dinner. You can dine on the outdoor terrace, at candle-lit tables indoors, or at the bar.

For information about hotels, restaurants and events, contact the Montreux Tourist Office, P.O. Box 97, CH-1820 Montreux, Switzerland. You can get jazz festival tickets in advance from this office. Also, the International Music Festival Vevey-Montreux sells advance tickets by mail. Write to the festival office at 14 Rue des Alpes, P.O. Box 124, CH-1820, Montreux, Switzerland.

The International Comedy Film Festival is held at 5 Place de la Gare, CH-1800 Vevey, Switzerland. Next door (same address), Vevey's tourist office has French- , German- and English-speaking staffers who can direct you to Vevey's highlights, including guest houses and best restaurants.

More information on Switzerland is available fromthe Swiss National Tourist Office, 250 Stockton St., San Francisco 94108; (415) 362-2260.

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