I’ve written before about my love for Switzerland and perhaps I have Lausanne to thank for it.
It’s not the most beautiful city in the country, although Switzerland’s zillion other instagrammable towns make that some task. It is perhaps one of the easiest places to live though.
Photo by Nouhailler
Ask a Lausannois about stress and they won’t mention pollution, crime, traffic or politics. If they do rant, it’ll be about washing machine rota infringements, neighbours cutting the lawn on a Sunday or other unruly behaviour.
Lausanne is easy. The metro works, the streets are clean and if you really are stressed, you’re either a single parent or you head up Fifa.
Don’t expect raucous all-nighters or avant garde hipster attitude. Come for lakeside sunsets, a slower pace, old school elegance.
Here are my tips on the city.
Photo by Lucas Maystre
Even if you’re not a fan of sport it’s worth a look in The Olympic Museum. The sugar cube of a building is set in a park overlooking Lake Geneva (Lac Léman in French), with sculptures serving as an ode to the history, culture, design and technology of the Olympics.
Inside it’s a child friendly mix of space age lights, shiny gadgets, sports memorabilia and a 100m track where you can check your time against Usain Bolt (for the record, best attempted before a cheese fondue).
If you’re over in June to August do like the locals and head to the beach. Yes, you heard right… Switzerland is not all snow and ice, and Lausanne offers several lakeside beaches. A dip in its crystal clear lake is the quintessentially Swiss thing to do. You may have to elbow your way for a space (or reserve it with a beach towel… this is Switzerland after all), but it’s well worth it.
Photo by zmi66 – ZMIphoto
If you’ve got a couple of hours to spare, continue the path along Lake Geneva, all the way to Pully beach. The path gets narrower and narrower until you’ll be tiptoeing single line over the shore’s shingle. Chez Pitch is a welcome pitstop in Pully, serving fresh perch from the lake. Just be aware that it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Photo by yvescosentino
If you’ve grown accustomed to Swiss serenity and Lausanne’s pace is getting too much, jump aboard the steamboat for a day out in smaller Vevey or Montreux. The Belle Epoque paddle boats have been renovated and come with brass engines, gold leaf fixtures and fabulous views of the vineyards enroute.
Photo by Henk Bekker
If you’ve got kids who need to let off their own steam, head to Sauvabelin forest. Not so much a forest as a nature park, it comes with a lake, playground and small petting farm, as well as a simple chalet café. A wooden tower offers yet more views of those pristine Alps. It’s a 15 minute drive from the city, or 30 minutes by bus.
Photo by Olivier Bruchez
Photo by kBandara
The markets in and around Lausanne and Vevey are great, with local, fresh and organic produce, including edible flowers and vegetables that actually taste of vegetables. Go on a Wednesday or Saturday for your meats, cheeses, flowers and jams, grab a coffee, munch on a croissant… A fantastic way to spend your morning.
Mickey’s House is a vast space with retro antiques, vintage collectables and industrial furnishings. Perhaps it was the British touches which lured me in – bowler hats, snooker balls and rock vinyls mingle with Chesterfield sofas, contemporary chandeliers and upcycled coffee tables. Or perhaps it was the rugged travel accessories – leather duffel bags, metal trunks. Or perhaps it was the bar… In any case, take a look.
A more feminine touch prevails at The Liberty Shop. The independent store was founded by Gina and her husband Flavio and houses fashion, accessories and gifts hand selected by the couple along their travels. Local designers mingle with lesser known names from Paris, New York and Milan.
Worth mentioning – wander round Lausanne on a Sunday and you’ll be forgiven for thinking flesh eating zombies have hit town. Where is everyone?! Most of Lausanne including shops, cinemas and lots of restaurants are closed. Sunday is a day of rest. If you’re local, you’ll learn to love it. If you’re a tourist, deal with it.
Brunch: Lots of places in Lausanne claim to serve brunch but I feel that a dried up croissant and a slice of yellow plastic labelled cheese don’t qualify. One exception to Lausanne’s breakfast wasteland is the aforementioned Olympic Museum. The top floor terrace cafe comes with great views and serves a tasty, great value brunch on weekends (children under 12 are charged 2 CHF per year of their age… a bargain for my hollow legged toddler).
Unsurprisingly for a Swiss city, Lausanne comes with several luxury hotels, including the Beau-Rivage Palace. The brunch here is fresh, refined and calm – a rare thing for any hotel buffet. Parents can watch their darlings running feral in the ballroom-cum-playroom while they relax over Champagne.
After a stay in Lausanne and eating your own weight in cheese you might like a break from Swiss delicacies. The city is made up of about 40% foreigners so Eat Me, a restaurant serving tapas from around the world is perhaps just as authentic anyway. Normally I shudder at gimmicky menus of global specialities but somehow Eat Me pulls it off. The food and cocktail menus are arranged by world continent and with top notch ingredients, it’s no surprise this fun hang out is always busy.
On a summer’s day, the sunny Coté Jardin at Lausanne Palace & Spa is a refined yet relaxed place for lunch with great service. Be sure to book even on a weekday as it can get busy – top politicians and business leaders have been known to interrupt my lunch plans. Bear in mind that this place, like most in Switzerland, closes its kitchen at 2pm sharp, and you’ll struggle to find much more than a panini in the vicinity.
Dinner. Anne Sophie Pic, Beau-Rivage Palace’s restaurant named after its Michelin star chef mentor enjoys rave reviews for its elegant fine dining and should feature on any expater’s bucket list.
If you’ve got foreign visitors in town, Le Chalet Suisse is another good bet. The generous portions are actually very tasty for such a touristy spot, the (English and German translated) menu is large enough to cater for everyone and most importantly, the decor includes cowbells, Swiss flags and wooden panels. Yodeling optional.
If you’re vegetarian and travelling to Lausanne for the autumnal months be prepared to go hungry (or eat Asian food, as I did). The city converts into a hotbed of carnivorous monsters during game season. One such place they love is a rustic place called Le Vieux.
Opera de Lausanne welcomes big names and supports local emerging talent for classics like Don Giovanni, Hamlet and La Bohème. The building is a juxtaposition between its 19th century grand original and a glittering tinsel like extension to the rear.
Lausanne’s resident ballet company was founded by top choreographer Maurice Béjart. Béjart sought to democratise ballet, with performances fusing the traditional with the contemporary, old with new, East with West (think Wagner with pop, shows in football stadiums, kimonos and tutus). Today the Béjart remains true to his philosophy, with performances at the highest level both technically and artistically, held everywhere from the opera house to more unusual locations such as the local ice rink. It’s no small wonder they get through over 2,500 pairs of shoes every year.
If you’re after something a little less high brow, then Les Arches, a bar tucked beneath the city’s bridge is a fun place to people watch.
Don’t be alarmed if you hear shouting on your way out. Lausanne Cathedral’s official look out yells the hour from 10pm until 2am. This peculiar service has run for 365 days a year without interruption since the Middle Ages when it was used to warn against fire, while today it serves to amuse tourists and annoy nearby insomniacs (for example, me).
Photo by zmi66 – ZMIphoto
The Royal Savoy reopened last year and all my friends are raving about it. For sure, when we are next in town I’m going to check it out. Rooms are chic and contemporary, while the building exterior maintains its historic charm. I have it on good word that the 1,500 sqm spa is one of the best in the area and the rooftop Sky Terrace bar is utterly fabulous.
If you prefer proper old school elegance, then the Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel is maybe more up your street. I have very, very fond memories of this place and particularly its outdoor terrace by the port.
Also worth noting – Switzerland is crazily dog friendly and the staff here would always serve my dog a (silver) bowl of water and not even flinch when his muddy paws thrashed about.