Just outside of Geneva, in Gland, there are two rather curious houses named Villa Verte and Villa Rose. The photo below is Villa Verte; do you notice anything strange about it?
How about Villa Rose, below – does anything look out of the ordinary to you?
If those curtains look painted, you’re on the right track. Both of these structures are technically houses, but they’re not for people. They house something entirely different: weaponry.
Photo credit: Swissinfo.ch
During World War II, the Swiss built a line of defense near Geneva called the Promenthouse Line, known to the locals as the Toblerone Line. No matter the name, it was a line of concrete blocks meant to slow the advance of tanks and enemy troops; people thought the blocks resembled the shape of the Toblerone chocolate bar, and the name stuck.
The Toblerone Line wasn’t just made up of big anti-tank chunks of concrete. The Swiss built fortresses along the line, too – twelve in all – and out of those twelve, two were designed to look like houses. Named for their respective shades of exterior paint, Villa Rose and Villa Verte are two of 100+ so-called “false chalets” scattered all over Switzerland. Their innocuous exteriors would have fooled any invading troops.
Completed in 1940, the houses were part of Switzerland’s World War II strategy: neutrality, backed by elaborate plans to defend itself in the event of attack.
The houses boast 2.5-meter (7-foot) thick walls and a bevy of military equipment, all behind perfectly manicured chalet-style exteriors, down to the sturdy shutters and trompe-l’œil window treatments. No part of each villa was left unfortified – even the toilet had a hole in the wall through which hand grenades could be thrown.
The villas were positioned to defend both the main road from Geneva to Lausanne and the Promenthouse-Sérine river valley against an attack from the west – what was eventually occupied France. This article provides a good deal of historical context for the Toblerone Line, including why the line was established north of Geneva and how the Swiss were willing to sacrifice the country’s second-largest city to defend the rest of its western border.
This diagram, displayed outside Villa Rose, shows the range of each fortress (the green line denotes the toblerones; the yellow, what was at the time the main Geneva-Lausanne roadway):
Villa Rose is also the best-preserved and most accessible false chalet in the country. Whereas Villa Verte is in the middle of a field surrounded by grazing cows, Villa Rose is situated next to a major road, and it was opened to the public in 2006 as part of Switzerland’s European Heritage Days celebration.
From Villa Rose, you can see Villa Verte across the roadway and beyond the corn fields. It’s the structure on the left, blending in with homes and barns in its immediate vicinity.
The Toblerone Line stretches for 10 kilometers, between Bassins in the Jura mountains and Nyon on Lake Geneva’s shore, but the lower part between Gland and Prangins is the most well-marked and accessible segment of the trail – steps and bridges have been installed for hikers, and the path is well maintained. Gland is a 20-minute train ride from Geneva, making the villas and the toblerones an easy side trip for anyone interested in Switzerland’s wartime past, a good hike, or both.
Find out more about the Toblerone Line and the hiking path here.
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