Wine Fortress of the Vaud
The vineyards of the Vaud in southern Switzerland cling to the steep hillside from the eastern end of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) along the narrow valley of the Rhone River where the steep rocky cliffs of the Alps seem to shoot up from the flat earth right into the sky. The picturesque village of Aigle (pronounced Egg-la and meaning Eagle) is about a 20 minute train ride from Montreux or Martigny (30 minutes by bus) along the Simplon rail line from Geneva to Brig, set right in the midst of this historic wine region. The Savoys who once ruled this land built a number of castles to guard the verdant valleys from the Bernese to the north (see Castle Chillon Montreux and Chateau Morges).
The Castle of Aigle was first built at the end of the 12th Century by the d’Allio family. It ultimately fell to the Bernese in 1475 and was burned to its foundations. The rulers from the north rebuilt the castle as a residence for their governors in a beautifully classic curtain wall and corner turret castle design which remains an impressive example of 15th Century medieval fortified chateau. The Bernese were chased from the Vaud in the revolution of 1798 and from 1805 all the way until 1972 the castle was used by the town of Aigle as its court and jail. In 1976 the prisoners were replaced with wine barrels.
The Vaudois Wine Museum and the Wine Label Museum (Musée de la Vigne du Vin and de l’Etiquette), though sometimes described as two separate museums are both located together in the castle. The lower areas of the castle, one time storerooms and stable encompass the press house and wine cellar where posed figures work at the lever and screw grape presses, presenting a lasting picture of the centuries old wine making process. Oak wine barrels and massive timbered press works occupy other spaces. The upper floors of the castle combine a look at the living quarters of a well preserved castle with the wine theme continued in its chambers. Wine bottles, the history of drinking measures and winemaking are framed by painted beamed ceilings and the coats of arms of the Bernese governors.
In the armory of the Castle Aigle the arms of the past have been replaced by the wine label museum. Nearly 1,000 different labels from the beginning of the 1800s to the 1960s are displayed, from the first hand written labels to early printed lables from wine names, bith famous and obscure, reflecting the diversity of decorative art and style in the identifying of wines. The museum features a collection of Mouton-Rothschild labels showing the evolution of one of Switzerland’s most famous wines. A walk around the outer walls of the castle allows a magnificent view of the sea of vineyards that surround the Chateau d’Aigle on terraced hills.
Visiting Castle Aigle
Admission to the Vaud Wine Museum at the Castle of Aigle for a few extra Francs includes a wine tasting and a souvenir wine glass. Across from the castle gate is the Tithe House constructed by the Count of Savoy as a court and later used as a barn, in which one can have a meal on the terrace overlooking the vineyards in the restaurant of the Pinte du Paradise. The Chateau d’Aigle is a 15 minute walk from the train station through the center of town on a route marked by signs. In the summer months of July and August a tourist train runs through the vineyards to the castle gate. Electric trams run from the station or town center through the hills, but don’t stop directly at the castle. Stop in the tourism center in the middle town for directions.
On the stroll near the castle you pass the Terrace du Chateau restaurant and the local wine shop of the Oenotheque du Chateau d'Aigle, where you can taste and purchase wines from the 15 vineyard caves (Vignerons) of Aigle. You also pass the small impressive Romanesque medieval church. The Museum of Wine at Chateau d’Aigle is open every day 11am to 6pm from April to October, closed on Mondays except in July and August. The Pinte du Paradis restaurant stays open until 11pm Tuesday to Saturday and the wine shops nearby stay open all year. © Bargain Travel Europe
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