Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2010-11-15
Idyllic countryside just 20 minutes from its town centre, a UNESCO World Heritage classed vineyard, a lakeside bicycle path to Vevey, charming restaurants and exceptional Gruyere cheese. The quality of life in Lausanne and its surrounding area is exceptional!
An Exceptional Town in the heart of Europe
If I wanted to tempt you to visit the capital of the Swiss canton of Vaud, just a few hours by high speed train from Paris, I could obviously deliver the usual tourist spiel: Lausanne – the historic crossroads between the North Sea and the Mediterranean. An Olympic site and headquarters of the IOC since 1915. “Open to the world” (the town’s official slogan), renowned for its cultural life (the famous Chamber Orchestra and the Ballet founded by Béjart), sporting events, academic institutions, private clinics, research centres, a state-of-the-art metro system, hotels and even gastronomic restaurants.
This is all true. However, none of this illustrates the town’s profound charm or that it has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Perched on a mountainside just above Lake Geneva, on sunny days Lausanne seems to hold out its hand to Evian situated on the opposite shore at the foot of the Savoy Alps. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Maurice Bejart, Byron, Charlie Chaplin and Georges Simenon, just some of the artists who came to enjoy the luminous tranquility of this town that ignites the imagination. Less international than Geneva, Lausanne feels more deeply rooted in its local heritage and history which, according to Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of Hublot, is "an asset in an era of accelerated globalization". For him there can be no future without building on the past.
A medieval inn in the heart of the forest
The first thing to do when you arrive in Lausanne is get out! If you’re hungry and you have a car then, without doubt, the best thing to do is head for Mont-sur-Lausanne. Here, twenty minutes out of town, you’ll find a wonderful place - L’Auberge du Chalet des enfants. Situated in a beautiful clearing, this 14th century inn was completely restored in 2005 by the Lausanne municipality which now owns the property. The people of Lausanne will often lunch here at the weekend, before or after an excursion in the nearby forest with its well marked footpaths. It’s a magical and unusual place, particularly if you eat outdoors in the company of the wild deer. On the menu you’ll find local produce from the canton: a ‘soupe des brigands’ with yellow peas and bacon, Vaud saucisson, Mangalitsa pork, smoked fera from the lake, sautéed fresh mushrooms, matured gruyere, Chasselas wine from Vaud canton. Simple yet delicious fare!
A Mountain Metro
Lausanne is such a steep town that it’s almost impossible to make the ascent on foot. Coming down isn’t a problem, particularly from Sauvabelin forest situated on top of the hill, but the climb is too much! As a result, Lausanne has developed the m2, a futuristic metro system capable of mountain gradients of up to 12%. This automatic metro system on wheels resembles a funicular and connects the port of Ouchy to the Croisettes terminus in 20 minutes (14 stations). 18 million people use it every year, freeing up the city from the pressures of traffic. Get off at Bessieres, the only overground station with lifts, to reach the old town surrounding the cathedral,.
Flon: Lausanne’s hip new area
Lausanne is very proud of its new district built on the site of old warehouses near the Bel-Air Tower (Switzerland’s first “skyscraper” built in 1932). A river (the Flon) once flowed here and a railway used to transport goods from the lake. Now, you’ll find MAD, Switzerland’s most famous nightclub and PUR a fashionable restaurant renowned for its “fusion” cuisine. This lively and festive area may not be your favourite part of Lausanne but it has a real allure with its fine view of the Jura, its contemporary wooden sculptures made of larch wood and Miroiterie, one of the city’s most modern and emblematic buildings with its facade of shaped cushions. Everything here is a surprise, including toilets with transparent windows that become opaque as soon as you enter!
In the footsteps of Georges Simenon
In Place Saint-François, a lift near the Metro station gives access to a terrace overlooking Flon. It’s here that you realise Lausanne was built on three hills (la Cité, Saint-Laurent and Bourg) connected by three bridges, of which the oldest and most spectacular dates back to 1823. The view also includes the neo-Gothic home of the Mercier family who funded the building of the first Metro (in 1877) and who, even today, are owners of the Flon district. The Metro station with its planted roof is a symbol of the town’s commitment to ecological causes.
Head to the pedestrian zone surrounding place Saint-François and walk up rue du Bourg to reach the historical heart of Lausanne. The writer Simenon came to buy his tobacco here and loved to stroll here every day. There are some of the city’s most beautiful boutiques here such as Tourbillon (for luxury watches) and Blondel (for traditional chocolates). The Galerie St-François is a vestige of Art Nouveau. At pont de Bessières (1908), a terrace offers one of the best views of intramural Lausanne.
A Human Clock and Hot Chocolate!
Some of the strangest things are to be found in Lausanne’s Gothic cathedral, a monument in itself. It has Switzerland’s largest musical instrument: a beautiful organ 11metres long and 8 metres high equipped with three keyboards and 7,000 pipes that can be played remotely (even from the other side of the world) via an electronic MIDI system. It’s an aesthetic and acoustic masterpiece created by the American organ builder CB Fisk, from New England.
The Cathedral’s belfry has a mysterious character – a crier who announces the time every hour on the hour from 10pm to 2am. Renato Hausler is the watchman who continues this 600 year old tradition and his powerful voice can be heard throughout much of the town. Take a night stroll in the area to hear him; it’s worth the effort. His role also to raise the alert in case of fire).
Descending the stairs of the 13th century Market that link the Cathedral to Place de la Palud,where a farmer’s market takes place on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings, you’ll come across a curious establishment – Le Barbare. Here they serve the most wonderful hot chocolate in Lausanne, so thick the teaspoon stands up in the cup!
The Magic of the Lake – why we love Lausanne.
The Ouchy district is the old fishing hamlet of Lausanne. The view over the lake, Evian and the Alps is spectacular. Strolling along the harbour, you pass in front of Beau-Rivage Palace, the site of Anne-Sophie Pic’s new restaurant, and you can also see moored here La Vaudoise, the country’s oldest flat-bottomed boat with latin sails and always in service for outings on the lake.
When visiting the port of Ouchy, pay a visit to Serge Guidoux, one of Lausanne’s last fishermen. A real character and a supplier to the town’s main restaurants, Guidoux sells his daily catch (arctic char, trout, whitefish, perch, pike and crayfish) every morning from Wednesday to Saturday.
20km of cycle track in a dream setting
From Lausanne to Vevey-Montreux, an absolutely magnificent cycle track crosses the terraced vineyards of Lavaux, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007 (see article). This hilly route, suitable for competent cyclists, overlooks the lake and passes through the main winegrowing villages of Lavaux such as Lutry, Villette, Grandvaux, Cully, Saint-Saphorin, Chardonne and Corsier-sur-Vevey, where Chaplin used to live. The terraced vines in this sublime place have been cultivated since the 12th century and the grape harvests here are a genuine sporting exploit due to the steepness of the slopes. If the weather is good you then look up and you may be fortunate enough to spot BertrandPiccard’s Solar Impulse, a plane designed to fly around the world, propelled uniquely by solar energy.
Gilbert Golay and the Quintessential Swiss Gruyere
29km north of Lausanne, Gilbert Golay produces one of the best Gruyeres in the country. Golay is a supplier to Chef Philippe Rochat in Crissier, who is a fan of his mild, young and creamy cheeses. Golay only uses fresh morning milk from the canton’s different farms and the production is 100% artisanal with the raw milk gently stirred, without the addition of any industrial enzymes, before being heated in 800 litre copper cauldrons. The duration of the cellar maturing process varies according to the quality of the milk and their richness in fats (the richest milks are obtained in August). Golay doesn’t generally look to produce very mature gruyeres so they don’t tend to be matured for more than a year. Despite coming from the plains rather than the high mountain pastures, the cheeses have a fascinatingly creamy texture and pronounced nutty tastes. Every 35kg round of cheese is brushed and salted daily and possesses a particular flavour according to the milk’s local provenance. This is a place to remember.
Dining in Lausanne
Au Chat Noir is one of those restaurants that gourmands inform each other of by word of mouth and I’m personally indebted to Philippe Rochat for this tip. This old classified 19th century bistro is part of Lausanne’s cultural heritage and Its market cuisine is created by a talented Frenchman from the Perigord region, Stéphane Chouzenoux, whilst his Spanish wife Monica takes care of service. All the dishes, served brasserie style or in the form of tapas, are of an exquisite standard. Examples include courgette flowers stuffed with ceps, guinea fowl pressé with mushrooms and foie gras and mille-feuille with spiced avocat. The Veal Rib Chop with ginger and lemongrass is a delight and I would also recommend the sautéed clams with Paimpol beans. This is fragrant, delicate and flavoursome cooking which fashionable Parisian bistros would do well to follow! For dessert, the raspberry and pistachio gratin was a pure pleasure. As for the wine, ask Monica to let you sample le Plant Robert, a delicious and rare red wine from Lavaux, with spicy and peppery notes, produced from a forgotten grape variety.
45 Swiss Francs for Lunch and 70 Swiss Francs a la carte.
Getting to Lausanne
Tourism in Lausanne
Where to Eat
Auberge du chalet des enfants
1052 Le Mont-sur-Lausanne
Tel: 021 784 44 80
Open 7 days a week, local cuisine for lunch and dinner
Gilbert Golay’s Gruyere Cheese
Fromagerie, 1375 Penthéréaz
Tel: 021 881 34 20
Restaurant Au Chat Noir
Rue Beau-Séjour 27
Tel: 021 312 95 85
Closed Saturdays and Sundays
Where to Stay.
Place du Port 2 1006 Lausanne
Tel: +41 21 331 32 32
A former 12th century episcopal château now transformed into a charming four star hotel. Rooms offer views over the lake. It has a bar, restaurant outdoor pool and spa. 270 Swiss Francs (£165) for a room.