Jean-Claude Biver’s Lake Geneva

After rejuvenating both Blancpain and Omega, the chairman and former CEO of Hublot revolutionised Swiss luxury watches with the Big Bang model in 2005

Jean-Claude Biver
Jean-Claude Biver | Image: Anoush & Aimee

As often as possible, I try to spend the weekend with my wife, Sandra, and youngest son, Pierre, at my home in Montreux, on the shores of Lake Geneva. Everybody in this region is a sailor. I grew up in Lutry, where I still keep my boat, Tourbillon II, and learned to sail as a teenager. My first boat was a Moth – a single-hander, very light, fast and evolutif. Later I bought an X-Yacht 36S and raced in many regattas on the lake. This one, my fifth boat, is an Alphena One – it’s fast, made of carbon, with Kevlar sails and modern features, but the beauty is that it can be sailed with just one or two people. So it’s perfect for me and Pierre, who is just 12 and loves to sail with me.

On Saturday morning, Pierre and I drive to Lutry armed with a picnic made by Sandra – some bread, roast chicken, hard-boiled eggs, gruyère cheese that I make on my farm, and local wine. Depending on the wind, we choose our course: either eastwards through the Lavaux wine region, or a longer trip across the lake to the French side. From the water, the Lavaux is spectacular – hundreds of terraced, walled vineyards rising steeply from the lake, with the mountains behind. There are many little caveaux where you can stop and try a glass of Chasselas, the white wine that I like.

We pass Vevey, a charming town with a big square where in the summer there is a folkloric market, with people playing alpenhorns. Then we head on to St Gingolph, near the border with France, before turning back. If there’s a nice east wind, it will take only an hour and a half.

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I love the quiet on board. Gliding noiselessly on the water, looking at my country – the mountains, meadows, villages, forests – I have the sensation that time has stopped. The land always looks more attractive from the water, which is why the best part of sailing is arriving.

In the evening, I like to take Sandra to a restaurant. There are many places serving excellent local food, including the Au Cep d’Or in Vevey, and Café du Port in Rolle, but my favourite is Café de La Poste in Cully, which has a wonderful terrace just 5m from the lake. We sit outside, eating delicious fresh-fried filets de perche, gazing across the water at snow-covered mountains – it’s incredible. For dessert, I like meringues à la crème, perhaps with some griottes (black cherries) in kirsch. We are right near the famous Montreux jazz festival, where in the past I’ve seen BB King, Santana and Arethra Franklin, or sometimes we go to see the Béjart ballet at the Opéra de Lausanne, which is where I met Sandra.

On Sunday, we sail for Yvoire, crossing the lake in a southwesterly direction. Lake Geneva is 14km wide, and the winds are normally light, but sometimes we get sudden bad weather. You can see it coming because the middle of the lake goes black. When I was 19, I got caught in a terrible storm, with winds of Force 10 or 11. My Moth capsized and I was swimming in enormous waves with thunderbolts all around me. I even took off my Omega Speedmaster because I thought it would attract the lightning! I thought I would die, but luckily after an hour I was rescued. Other times, it’s the opposite – you get to the middle of the lake and the wind drops completely. So you need to be skilled to sail across Lake Geneva.

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Safely in France, we stop first at Thonon-les-Bains – a fantastic market is there. Then we sail on to Yvoire, a beautiful medieval town with an old church and wooden boathouses. We have dinner at the Restaurant du Port, which has all the flair of France. You can sleep on my boat, but it’s not that comfortable. I know that Sandra would prefer a motor-yacht, but I am a sailing man. Sailing is both challenging and relaxing; it’s part of our national mentality. It restores my equilibrium, in mind and body, and opens my eyes to the joy of life. Every time, I come home with renewed strength and inspiration.

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