Not all city breaks are created equal. Some come with that golden combination of sun, history, culture, wine, fondue and a lake sure to quicken your heartbeat. Switzerland’s Lausanne is a city with heart. Known as the Olympic Capital (for this is the event’s epicentre), it sits majestically upon Lake Geneva. And my word is it elegant – after all, this was the city Coco Chanel called home for a decade. Found across the water from the French town of Évian-les-Bains (the soon-to-be star of our France issue), this is where you venture to encounter the Europe of yesteryear.
My weekend escape began in Café de Grancy, a homely neighbourhood restaurant with a shabby-chic vibe, plenty of natural sunlight and a killer menu full of classic dishes done very, very well – my personal recommendation being the salmon carpaccio. My sweet tooth not quite sated by their generous dessert cheese plate alone, I wandered over to fair-trade friendly Chocolaterie Durig where, as part of an intimate workshop, I created a giant chocolate squirrel (displaying all the artistic prowess of a drunk five year old), sampling as many truffles as I could while still appearing civilised. Should you find yourself in the city, do not leave without devouring a Durig passionfruit caramel or their Mexican blend, made from spices, almonds and Madagascan vanilla. Though, as the Swiss did invent milk chocolate, perhaps you should tackle a block of that too.
Lausanne is a city for foodies that’s conveniently surrounded by an abundance of local producers. So, whatever your culinary preference, you’re sure to find something delectable – be it served up from a food cart, as part of a festival or at a three-starred Michelin restaurant. That said, when it came to my evening meal I kept things traditional with a soul-lifting fondue from Café du Grülti, promenading locals providing all the entertainment needed. Should you have a fondness for waterfronts and exercise, factor in a Sunday brunch at Jetée de la Compagnie. While this trendy venue holds events throughout the week – and is where locals head for a post work summer drink – on Sundays fitness classes take over the surrounding boardwalk before participants feast of the their simple set menu.
There is no shortage of luxurious hideaways perfect for the resting of weary heads, although I fell a little in love with the newly-refurbished Hôtel Royal-Savoy. Built in the chateaux style – with plenty of Art Nouveau overtones – it was once part of the European Grand Tour and is very much etched into the history of Lausanne. Now, thanks to the renovation, modern flourishes abound. There is a shisha-serving cigar lounge, outdoor terrace and rooftop bar – aptly named the Sky Lounge – gallery-esque lobby, sun-kissed swimming pool and a spa that is almost like a Russian doll for there is inviting treatment space upon inviting treatment space. And while the hotel rooms may be the epitome of modern decadence, original stonework and stained glass remain.
An eight minute train ride from central Lausanne are the UNESCO Lavaux Vineyard Terraces – and while I must confess that I wasn’t aware of Switzerland’s wine lineage pre-visit, you can now count me a convert. The flavours are crisp and clean, more New World than you’d typically associate with this corner of Europe, and here the soil is so varied that should you sample wine produced 100 metres apart, the characteristics will be entirely different. Originally built by monks in the 12th century, the terrace design allows the grapes to be heated in three ways – from the light reflected off the water, the sun itself and the heat from the terrace walls – the process known as the triple sun effect. I admired the watery vista and cascading vines from the cellar door of the Domaine Croix-Duplex vineyard. For an equally spectacular vantage point, take to Lake Generva aboard CGN‘s gourmet cruise at sunset.
But Lausanne is not all history and tradition. The nightlife and bar scene doesn’t disappoint (for this head to Quartier du Flon, made up of converted warehouses) and the year is filled with festivals. Lausanne Estivale may be the best example of this – a 10 week extravaganza made up of 400 free events. While there is always something on throughout summer, many museums are free on the first Sunday of every month year round. Should such cultural institutions appeal, be sure to visit Musée de l’Elysée, dedicated entirely to photography, and the impressive Olympic Museum, a site that is more moving than you may expect.
Or just act like a local at the markets that operate outside the Town Hall every Wednesday and Saturday. A hive of activity and filled with enticing produce (you can get treats throughout the week from Globus or La Ferme Vaudoise should your visit miss market day), it’s almost as buzzing as the Lake Geneva waterfront.
Built on three hills – each of which bears a religious structure – architecturally Lausanne is a juxtaposition of styles. It began life as a fishing village, grew into a Roman settlement and then emerged as an agricultural centre. To get a sense of this history join a guided city tour (mine was with Hilary Bales), designed to reveal the beauty of the city and its most iconic structure – the 13th Century Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne. One of the third largest cathedrals in Europe and found on the Camino de Santiago, here you’ll spy, among stained glass and the ravages of time, one of the world’s most impressive organs. Designed to look like an angel with outstretched wings, the 40 tonne instrument, which took ten years to build and install, is used for select services and the concerts held here every Friday.
A city break can be a glorious thing – a chance to dine, dance and encounter some of the world’s most beguiling destinations. Should you desire such an escape, Lausanne will never disappoint.