Visting Lausanne, Switzerland – An Eternal Swiss Love Affair
Love is a very funny thing. It can’t be planned, it can’t be orchestrated. It always seems to formulate in the people and places you would least expect and once it stems its beautiful head, there is no fighting it. We can’t help where we fall in love, and who would really want to?
For me, it was love at first sight on arrival in Lausanne. As a travel writer, I have travelled the world twice over and have spent time in many of the world’s most vibrant cities, from Paris to Seoul to Sydney and Hong Kong, but nothing beats the feeling of arriving in a new place and having your heartstrings tugged in directions you didn’t know possible.
How did a city I had previously never heard of, and a place many of you might not even know exists, suddenly win a place in my heart? Here’s the story of lovely Lausanne and why it definitely deserves a place on your Switzerland bucket list, and maybe even a place in your heart.
Known as The Olympic Capital, Lausanne is most famous for being home to the International Olympic Committee blog with 55 other international sports associations and the best Olympic Museum in the world. This is where the modern day Olympics, The Olympic Games as we know them, were founded.
In 1915, the modern founder of the Olympic Games Pierre de Coubertin (who much of the Olympic Museum is dedicated to), decided that Lausanne was the perfect location to host the international Olympic committee thanks to its peaceful location on the shores of Lake Geneva. 100 years later the city was given the official title of The Olympic Capital, to celebrate the centenary of the creation of the IOC.
By far one of the highlights of our weekend in Lausanne, I was blown away by The Olympic Museum. The quality of the exhibits, the interactive nature and the fact that it gave visitors the chance to view and even hold Olympic torches from all the past Olympic Games was incredible. It’s a dream land for any sports enthusiasts, with the chance to see famous memorabilia, try your hand at some Olympic sports and learn more about the greatest sporting events in history. There was also something very special abut wandering around this museum just days after the RIO 2016 Olympics had ended and days before the Paralympics were due to begin.
In order to better understand Lausanne and to see what makes it so special, we need to go a little bit further back in time. Because it is Lausanne’s history, and its ability to preserve historic landmarks while somehow integrating modern bars, shops and a vibrant night life that makes this Swiss city so unique.
On our first day in Lausanne we were guided around the city by a fantastic English-speaking guide who had been living in Switzerland for close in 17 years. I could clearly see from the moment I met her that the cities magical powers had captured her heart a long time ago and there would no chance of her ever returning to England now! We started our tour of the city at Lausanne Cathedral, a stunning building that dates back to 1275 and is said to be “one of the most beautiful gothic art monuments in Europe”. So monumental is this cathedral in the spiritual capital of French-speaking Switzerland that it attracts over 400,000 visitors a year. That is the equivalent of the entire populations of Iceland and Greenland combined visiting this Cathedral each and every year!
Want in on a little secret? This cathedral actually started out as catholic cathedral and only became protestant in 1536. This resulting in the covering up of some of the cathedrals most colourful decorations and taken down. It is also one of the only cathedrals in the world that was originally consecrated twice – once by Pope Gregory X and then by the current Roman Emperor Rudolf of Habsburg who happened to be in town at the time!
As mind boggling as this might be to comprehend, Lausanne has maintained a lookout (yes, an actual real life man!!) in the Cathedral bell tower every night of the year since 1405. The lookout announces the time to the entire city between the hours of 10pm and 2am 365 days a year. Originally placed there to warn residents about fires in the city, it is now simply an ancient tradition they wish to continue. If you’re feeling lonely, you can even pay the lookout a visit – I’m sure he would appreciate a cup of hot whiskey on those long winter nights! it’s also been the same man, Renato Hustler, since 2002.
The home of milk chocolate
No trip to Switzerland would be complete without tasting some of the countries award-winning chocolatey delights. And what better place to indulge in a city famed as been the home to chocolate? While chocolate making in Switzerland dates way back to the 17th Century, it was in the town of Vevey outside of Lausanne in 1867 that Daniel Peter first invented milk chocolate and the Nestle brand was born.
You may ask why Swiss chocolate is so famous when the world’d cocoa beans most certainly are not grown in Switzerland? Well it is in fact a mixture of two things. The first, an most important, is the milk that goes into the chocolate making process in Switzerland. It comes from the happiest cows in the world, cows that roam the fertile mountains freely and cows you can guarantee produce the testiest ilk in the world! The second secret ingredient is the master chocolatiers to be found all over the country, with their chocolate-making secrets passed from Father to Son and going back generation after generation. Chocolate-making is not just a job, or a livelihood or even a skill, it is a life passion, a tradition and an ancient trade that will never be forgotten.
The streets are pretty much lined with cute cafes serving mouth-watering hot chocolates (especially the street leading down from the cathedral) and delicious chocolate treats but I particularly loved the cobblestone chocolates from Confiserie Chez Tony, or as they are known locally “Pavés de la Rue de Bourg”. Located in the old town, this small little Chocolaterie serves up delicious chocolates filled with a variety of very strong alcoholic liqueurs – a match made in heaven!
A unique position on Lake Geneva
One cannot talk about Lausanne without mentioning it’s perfect location on the shoes of Lake Geneva. Locals even insist on calling the lake “Lake Leman” as they feel Geneva tries to steal the limelight (and the name of the lake) when there are way more than just one city or town on this huge lake that forms a border between Switzerland and France. Lausanne’s prime spot on the lake is not just aesthetically pleasing, it is the reason the city as we know it is here today and the reason many of the things that make this area special exist.
The city was built on a hill overlooking the lake to make it easier to defend after the fall of the Roman Empire. The nearby world-famous Lavaux Vineyards, which are protected by UNESCO, are also historically located on the shore of Lake Geneva following the arrival of grapes down through the mountains and across the lake from nearby Italy up to 1,000 year ago. It’s unique vine terraces along with many of the other small towns and villages that dot the shores of Lake Geneva close to Lausanne that add to the appeal of the city.
We actually spent a magical morning touring these nearby towns and villages, including Lavaux and Montreux, on a 100-year old streamliner which chugged its was around the lake.The views, as you will see in the photos below, were spectacular and we even got a glimpse of our first Swiss Castle, Chateau Chillon, and a tiny island gifted to the Queen of England by the people of Switzerland!
Incredible local cuisine
If you love cheese (or cheese jokes, as my friends know only too well – What type of cheese surround a castle?? Moatzarellaaaaaaa!) as much as I do, Switzerland will be your heaven on earth. We had our first introduction to fondue in Pinte Bisson, the oldest restaurant in Lausanne. My travel buddy Ian ate so much cheese in one sitting I honestly thought he might die of over-consumption. Not only did he skip breakfast the next morning, he also skipped lunch and was hardly able to face the nice dinner we had planned!
First came the meat dishes, all sourced locally and then came that heavenly saucepan of deliciously melted cheese. When dessert I arrived we groaned….and ate in anyway as it was way too delicious not to give to a try. From the incredible buffet at Tom Cafe at The Olympic Museum to one of the best steak dinners I’ve ever had at Brasserie de Montbenon, it’s safe to say that you will leave Lausanne with a lot more than a smile on your face!
A vibrant centre
Like I mentioned at the start of this article, one of the things that really sets Lausanne apart from other cities is the way in which it has blended old and new. This can clearly be seen in Le Flon district, which used to be a pretty rough area full of warehouses. It has now been converted into the most vibrant and happening districts of the city, full of bars, restaurants and plenty of fun events and music festivals throughout the summer months. They have very successfully maintained the warehouse district architecture and there is a rule here that any new shops or buildings must blend in with the older architecture or have a “warehouse feel” in order to get the green light.
This is also the area where you will find amazing bars and nightclubs such as MAD, cool street art and graffiti, and impromptu basketball matches, live music sessions and break dancing. We could not believe how alive the city was when we were there at the end of August – it felt like everyone under the age of 25 was out and about, laughing, smiling and enjoying their city.
World class hotels
The Swiss have always famously been known for having a big appetite for luxury. Thus it should really come as dos surprise that Lausanne is home to some of the leading hotels of the world. There are so many world-class hotels in this small city, that I believe out guide sort of just gave up pointing them out in the end. We learned about the famous Coco Chanel Suite in Lausanne Palace Hotel, a hotel the young designer lived in while visiting Lausanne on many occasions and now frequented by the rich and famous. We were pinned in the direction of Hotel Angleterre where Charlie Chaplin and Lord Byron both once stayed or to the road outside where US Secretary of State used to go for his runs while in town on business.
We checked into the gorgeous Hotel Carlton, a four star boutique hotel located within minutes walk of both the old town and Lake Geneva. The view from my balcony up on the 5th floor was to die for. I kind of felt like a celebrity, transported back to the Lausanne Coco Chanel knew and loved as I sat on the terrace with a nice white wine taking in the stunning view and beautiful buildings around me.
I think if you do decide to spend a weekend in Lausanne, throw your budget out the window. This is a place to get pampered, to feel special and maybe even fall in love.
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Lausanne was our first stop on an incredible 8-dayGrand Train Tour of Switzerland. You can also read up on all the other incredible places we visitinghere. Special thanks to Tourism Lausanne for hosting Ian and I while in Lausanne. We never would have discovered how much this city has to offer without their guidance!
I've been living in Lausanne 12 years now, and I am still in love with this city, it is always very nice to see that other people like "my" city as much as I do.
Juste a detail though, the best fondue in town is in the Pinte Besson (with an e).
Thanks for your article!
Travel on the Brain
Tuesday 11th of October 2016
Hi Janet, loved this post as it has a lot of background info and did not just include the typical top 10 and 'everything is so awesome' info. I never really thought about visiting Lausanne but you really made me curious about it - especially because of the chocolate!!^^