I like unusual things and the tiny natural island around 500 metres from the lake shore at Villeneuve, on Lac Léman, certainly fits that bill. Oddly, I’d never noticed it before, but I made a bee-line for the view on a return journey from Martigny last weekend.
Many such oddities in Switzerland pass unmarked, and so it was with a little surprise that I found that the island has not only a name but also a history. Amazing, considering that it’s only a few dozen square metres in size.
The origins of the boundary wall on the island are unclear, but it definitely dates back to the end of the eighteenth century. The island used to be home to poplar trees but they were replaced in 1851 with plane trees and chestnut trees. Only the plane tree remains and has grown to quite a size, big enough to be used as a roost for some of the cormorants which live on the lake.
None less than Lord Byron wrote about the island in 1816, as part of his narrative poem “The Prisoner of Chillon”.
“And then there was a little isle, Which in my very face did smile, The only one in view; A small green isle, it seemed no more, Scarce broader than my dungeon floor, But in it there were three tall trees, And o’er it blew the mountain breeze, And by it there were waters flowing, And on it there were young flowers growing, Of gentle breath and hue.”
There have also been several legends associated with the little island through the years, including one in which Queen Victoria was gifted the island and another which follows a common theme of a drowned lover.