If you could afford to live anywhere in the world, where would you settle?
After the blazing success of Lolita in America and the sale of its movie rights to James Harris and Stanley Kubrick, Vladimir Nabokov and his wife Véra ended up in Switzerland, joining the community of celebrities at the Montreux Palace Hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva. Signing a lease in the summer of 1961, they took up residence there that October during the last months of Nabokov’s work on Pale Fire. The hotel remained Nabokov’s home for the rest of his life.
I traveled to Montreux in April 2011, spending one night at the Palace Hotel before moving to a less extravagant location a few blocks down the street. Before my arrival, I had asked for a tour of the place and historical information–the staff somehow thought I was doing a travel piece. (Accidental discovery/pro-tip: toss out enough questions in advance, and you might find yourself given a much nicer room than you paid for.)
Here’s a 180-degree view of the Montreux Palace and its surroundings, taken on shaky-cam from the front lawn, which sits between the hotel and the lake. Nabokov started out living on the third floor of the right-hand wing of the hotel, called Le Cynge (“the Swan”), where he could hear actor Peter Ustinov’s footsteps overhead as he worked. After a year the Nabokovs moved up to the top floor, which has a truly spectacular view–and no overhead neighbors.
You can see the Alps rising behind the hotel, and as the video pans around, the lake and the mountains again, home to the butterflies Nabokov loved to chase and collect.