Wine tasting, boat rides, Swiss cuisine, markets and a luxury hotel are on the menu during myweekend in Lausanne on the shores of Lake Geneva
Lausanne, the capital of the French-speaking canton of Vaud boasts an unbeatable location on Lake Geneva with breath-taking views across to Evian and the French Alps France. Only 50 minutes from Geneva airport by train, this historic and cultured city has much to offer visitors.
Leave London in the morning and by midday – thanks British Airways – you’ll be at your hotel. I was staying at the superb 5-star Hôtel Royal Savoy Lausanne, which has just completed an impressive SFr100 million refurbishment. Its location – minutes from Délices metro – means you’re only a couple stops from the lakeside at Ouchy and only a few stops from the medieval Cathedral Quarter.
I’m in time to meet up with friends for lunch at the neighbouring Le Côté Terrasse restaurant (at the Hôtel Carlton Lausanne; carltonlausanne.com) for lunch. It’s a hot day so the shady tree-filled terrace is the perfect accompaniment to the brasserie-style menu of local loup de mer (sea bass) and a chilled bottle of Chasselas – the region’s favourite white wine.
After checking in at the Royal Savoy, I decide to walk off lunch on a two-hour guided tour of Lausanne – from the medieval Cité via trendy Flon with its bars and cafés, down to the lakeside at Ouchy. Lausanne is built on three hills and is very steep in places, so I recommend using the M1 metro line (linking Ouchy to the northern suburbs). The Cité is home to the beautiful Gothic Cathedral and has stunning views from the esplanade across the city to Lake Geneva and the French Alps. Château Saint-Maire and the Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts (MUDAC) are also in this area. Each evening a night watch calls out the hours between 10pm and 2am from the top of the cathedral’s belfry. A lovely 600-year-old tradition but perhaps not the best place to stay if you’re a light sleeper!
Old Lausanne is charming: cobbled winding streets, funky cafes and independent shops make it a fascinating place to window shop, buy souvenirs, grab a coffee and watch the world go by. Stop at Le Barbare for its renowned hot chocolate. This 16th-century row of narrow houses is on the remarkable Escaliers du Marché – a covered medieval walkway linking the upper and lower areas of le Cité.
As well as hot drinks you can grab hot dishes here – sustenance for the walk down towards the Place de la Palud (Hôtel de Ville), Place St François (Eglise St-François) and Place de la Riponne (Palais de Rumine). The 9th-century Place de la Palud is the old merchants’ quarter and there’s a fresh food market here and in the neighbouring streets each Saturday and Wednesday morning.
Walking down into Flon you’ll see the regeneration of Lausanne’s once-industrial district. Former warehouses are now home to funky coffee shops, retail outlets, restaurants, galleries and clubs, including the famous MAD club. Trendy restaurants have taken up home in the arches under the bridge on Rue du Grand-Point and there’s a fascinating mix of architectural styles in Flon with flagship buildings including Les Pépienières and L’Arbre. This bustling mainly pedestrian quarter is a popular hangout day and night with a distinct artistic and creative vibe.
As you meander downhill, you’ll reach the Sous Gare district and the perfect pitstop at Café de Grancy (cafedegrancy.ch) just behind the main railway station. It’s open seven days a week and a popular brunch venue for residents and tourists. Service is friendly and unpretentious and they have a great selection of craft beers and local wines. The nearby Ta Cave bistro (tacave.ch), the first crowdfunded bar in Switzerland, also has a good wine list alongside superb charcuterie and cheese plates.
Ouchy – our final stop on the walk – was once a fishing village and is still the main port for boats to Evian and tours around Lake Geneva. In the late afternoon and early evening it’s a hive of activity: families, singles, students, tourists all enjoying the gorgeous Lake Geneva views, the restaurants and warm and welcoming atmosphere. You can hire a SUP (stand-up paddleboard), go swimming at the Bellerive Plage open-air pool or even jump on a boat to Evian or visit some of Lake Geneva’s castles including Chillon, Rolle and Yvoire.
It’s this sense of calm in the centre of Lausanne that I found most refreshing. People actually stop and chat; one local even asked me directions! Maybe it’s the mountain air, the coolness of the lake and the sheer beauty around me that calms the emotions. Either way I am in love with Lausanne within the first hour of arrival.
Having booked my boat trip for the following day – the ticket office is by the quayside and easy to find – I head back to the Royal Savoy for an apéro on their stunning terrace before catching the metro from Delices up the hill to Riponne and a meal at Pinte Besson (pinte-besson.com). A Lausanne institution, this quirky restaurant has been serving its fabulous steaks, fish and fondues since 1780. The wine list is superb with many local Lavaux varieties to sample.
The following morning I head back up to the streets around Place de la Riponne and pedestrian areas in the centre (Rue de Bourg, Place de la Palud) to explore the markets. You’ll find fruits, veggies, charctuerie, cheese and wines – and the odd souvenir too.
You’re more likely to find gifts in the many indepdent shops in the area, such as the ‘traiteur’ La Ferme Vaudoise (lafermevaudoise.ch) with its local provenance and grocers Chez Ernest (chez-ernest.ch). Two interesting design shops worth a visit are Aegon + Aegon (aegonaegon.com) with its sophisticated homewares and Chic cham (chiccham.com) each perfect for browsing and gift ideas. In the Place de la Palud the Café de l’Hôtel de Ville does great coffee, while Rue de Bourg is Lausanne’s chicest street with high-end fashion labels and superb chocolatiers, including Blondel (chocolatsblondel.ch). Choose from pastilles to pralines and delicious chocolate tastings.
Boats trip on Lake Geneva
No trip to Lausanne is complete without a boat trip on Lake Geneva. Departing from Ouchy, down at the lakeside, I board a vintage paddle steamer for a wonderful 30-minute sail to Cully, my lunch stop and departure point for exploring the outstanding Lavaux vineyards. Now UNESCO Heritage protected, these Roman vineyards literally tumble down into the lake from their majestic heights. Le Bistrot (le-bistrot-cully.ch) in Cully is a perfect place to have lunch before exploring the vineyards. It has a great terrace and quality food my goat’s cheese salad was delicious with beautiful colours. Another lunch/brunch option is the Auberge du Raisin opposite, which is also a hotel.
Vineyards and Wine Tasting
The best way to explore the Lavaux vineyards if you’re short on time is by the fabulous Lavaux Express (lavauxexpress.ch/en). This magical yellow toy train takes visitors on a 1 hour 15 minute drive among the vines, affording stupendous views of the vineyards, Lake Geneva and the French and Swiss Alps. This was the highlight of my visit to Lausanne and is a must.
Hardy souls with more time can do the 2-hour (at least) Lavaux walk starting at the village of Grandvaux and ending at Lutry. Get the train to Grandvaux from Lausanne station. It’s free with your Lausanne Transport Card).
Seeing those ripe succulent grapes made me want the real McCoy, so back in Cully I made for Les Frères Dubois : Cave du Petit Versailles at 1, Chemin De Versailles, a short walk from the lakeside. They have a vast selection of Swiss wines and local Lavaux varieties. Less than 2% of Swiss wine production is exported, so it was a treat to sample Lavaux varieties such as the delightful Château de Glérolles Rosé, a superb Vin Doux Quentus Liquoreux, a refreshing white Grand Crus Calamin and a bold red Grand Crus Dézaley. You can buy online at their website (lfd.ch).
I caught the train back to Lausanne from Cully – feeling somewhat lightheaded – and headed for a wake-up coffee at the Ouchy lakeside MGM Café. Its upstairs terrace has wonderful views of the port, Lake Geneva and the Alps beyond.
Dinner that evening was at the stylish Brasserie de Montbenon (brasseriedemontbenon.ch) situated on the ground floor of the former Montbenon Casino – now a cultural centre and just a 10-minute walk from Place St François or alternatively take the metro to Flon.
This grand 1908 Florentine-style building has an impressive 8-metre ceiling and stunning views of Lake Geneva surrounded by beautiful gardens. The brasserie menu will delight carnivores with plenty of succulent local steak, veal and chicken, plus a nod to vegetarians (check out the mushroom vol au vent and fish risotto). The apple tart was divine. If weather permits, reserve a table on the outside terrace and enjoy the friendly and efficient service.
The Olympic Museum
My flight wasn’t until late afternoon on the Sunday, giving me time for a leisurely breakfast at the Royal Savoy, followed by a walk along the beautiful waterfront to the lakeside Olympic Museum.
Situated in a beautiful sculpture park, the museum – as befits the home town of the IOC – is an homage to all things Olympian over three themed floors. You can see clips from Olympic opening ceremonies on a massive screen, sporting equipment from previous competitors, enjoy interactive games, and see a medal and Olympic torch display. And much much more. This is one of the most spectacular and brilliantly interactive museums I have ever visited.
The museum’s superb Tom Café on Level 2 is a must. Book in advance and enjoy brunch – weekends only – on the terrace with breath-taking views of the lake and the Alps over dishes by Chef Pascal Beaud’huin. From pastries and pancakes to scrambled eggs, bacon and potato gratin – and everything in between – the €39 cover charge is well worth a reservation.
Before catching the train to Geneva Airport, I walked back to the Royal Savoy via the Musée de l’Elysée – an 18th century mansion that houses a superb photography museum. Among its one million images are collections by Ella Maillart and Charlie Chaplin.
So much to see in this beautiful city and so little time – I needed a week at least. Only a short flight from London, Lausanne is the ideal city break. Its compact size makes it easy to find your way around on foot, it has plenty of great shops, bars and restaurants with a relaxed yet sophisticated ambiance that feels safe and welcoming.
Both Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel lived in Lausanne and I’d love to live there too.
Where & How
Where: Lausanne is located on Lake Geneva in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
Getting there: A short 1.5-hour flight from London: British Airways, easyJet and SwissAir all have daily non-stop flights. Trains from Geneva airport to Lausanne are very regular and take from 45 minutes. Book tickets online at swisstravelsystem.com or with SBB sbb.ch/en.
How: To find out more and plan an adventure, phone +41 21 613 7373 or visit lausanne-tourisme.ch.