Tamino Kuny and Alexander Schmid
The Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, stretching for about 30 km along the south-facing northern shores of Lake Geneva from the Chateau de Chillon to the eastern outskirts of Lausanne in the Vaud region, cover the lower slopes of the mountainside between the villages and the lake. Although there is some evidence that vines were grown in the area in Roman times, the present vine terraces can be traced back to the 11th century, when Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries controlled the area. It is an outstanding example of a centuries-long interaction between people and their environment, developed to optimise local resources and profiting from the “triple sun” effect: the rays from the sky, the rays reflected from the lake and the nightly release of heat captured in the vineyards walls during the day.

The protection of these exceptional vineyards dates back to 1977. As a reaction to the creeping urbanization from the growing towns of Lausanne, Vevey and Montreux, several political campaigns were launched upon which the canton Vaud created a constitutional law to conserve the landscape and its historic economy of wine growing. After a long submission procedure, protection by the UNESCO was finally granted in 2007. Now the Lavaux is one of eleven listed cultural properties in Switzerland. The world heritage status also brought about a very strict set of regulations on the development in the area. The heritage site is defined by two zones: a highly protected, and basically frozen, core zone between the lake shore and the break in the slope towards the north, housing most of the vineyards and villages. This central area is shielded by a “buffer zone” comprised of vines, pastures and forest patches.

The pristine terraces of Lavaux are an international tourist destination, attracting many related functions in the surrounding area: prestigious tourism academies and hotel schools for example, are scattered along the northern hillsides of Lake Geneva. With the complete suppression of development in Lavaux, the demand for urban expansion seems to have created an unintentional backside, stretching from Lausanne along the Riviera to Montreux and Vevey.