Top Ten Prisons to Visit

Chillon Castle, Montreux, Switzerland
Chillon Castle, Montreux, Switzerland
Lord Byron's signature on Chillon Castle's rock walls (Wikipedia)

4. Chillon Castle
This 13th-century castle has had many faces—a medieval fort, a summer residence, a military arsenal, a prison, and now a museum and tourist attraction. The rocky island where the former prison sits is situated on Switzerland's Lake Geneva and surrounded by the towering peaks of the Alps. The lake forms a natural moat with a wooden draw bridge leading the way to the castle's front door—taking the appearance of a walled stronghold from land and an exquisite chateau from water.

The 20-some smaller buildings making up the castle whole are connected through tunnels, vaulted dungeons, and narrow walkways creating an enchanting historic monument, visited by the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, Salvador Dali, and Lord Byron. The castle proved to be inspiration enough for Lord Byron, who wrote a poem about one of the most famous prisoners who survived the dungeon walls, Genevan monk François de Bonivard. Before concluding his tour, Lord Byron stopped to deface a stone pillar with his literary insignia, still visible today.

Visit the castles several communal latrines, complete with medieval commode-wall doodles specializing in the best of toilet humor. To take in the best sights of the Alps, Lake Geneva, and the town of Montreux, head to the top of the castle's keep, only reached by steep wooden stairs—they can become quite crowded during busy hours—though spectacular views are visible from most castle windows if you want to avoid the lemur-like masses shimmying up a series of confined wooden planks.

Pack a lunch, or stop for some Swiss cheese fondue style, and eat shore-side. Purchase a bottle of Clos de Chillon—Chillon Castle's house wine made to support necessary upkeep—available year-round from the welcome desk. The delicately fruity wine has a bit of zest that pairs nicely with fresh fish and cheese.

For a unique vacation, visit in July during the Montreux Jazz Festival, held on the shores of Lake Geneva. Thousands of music-lovers flock to the festival, where they have seen and heard the likes of Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Research some smaller boutique hotels along the lake for a folksier, more inviting stay on the Swiss Riviera.


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