Lake Leman lies by Chillon’s walls:
A thousand feet in depth below
Its massy waters meet and flow…
-Lord Byron, from “The Prisoner of Chillon” (1816)
Switzerland’s Lake Geneva (a.k.a. “Lac Leman”) is an impressive body of water. It seems more like a landlocked sea than a lake. If you’re looking down on it from the surrounding hills, you’ll get a hollow feeling in your gut—the kind that comes when the landscape opens up from city to sea. Tall buildings and ring roads give way to a smooth palette of grays and blues. Parking lots disappear. Vineyard rows stand out in the evening sun, and a white sail looks gold on the water.
Last week, I wandered off from a chateau overlooking Lake Geneva in Dully, Switzerland. I was there to celebrate a friend’s artwork, but I wanted to take in the view. I knew of the British Romantic fascination with the area, and was glad to enjoy it myself. Lord Byron, for example, spent some time on Lake Geneva’s banks. He is said to have challenged his guests at Lake Geneva—including Percy and Mary Shelley—to write the scariest story. In response to the dare, Mary Shelley supposedly wrote Frankenstein, her super-successful first novel. She was nineteen at the time. I don’t know whether or not that literary legend is true, but after spending some time looking out over Lake Geneva, I can understand its inspiration.