Cheese, chocolate, army knives, and obsessively accurate timekeeping – there, that’s all the tired old stereotypes about Switzerland out of the way. Now let’s get to a Swiss city that few are familiar with. It’s where Coco Chanel stayed regularly and is buried today. It’s where shapely legs reign supreme, possibly owing to the difference in elevation of 500 meters. It’s where not one, but five UNESCO-listed attractions lie in the vicinity. And it’s where gourmands, nature lovers, wellness seekers, history buffs, and art enthusiasts feel equally at home.
Nature, history, and gastronomy collide at Royal Savoy Hôtel & Spa, an Art Nouveau landmark accented with Neo-Baroque elements. It first opened in 1909, hosting royalty and aristocracy, is still considered one of Lausanne’s leading hotels today, having reopened in 2015 after an extensive renovation. But it’s not just its architectural heritage that makes Royal Savoy a Savoir Flair favorite. Located in the vibrant Ouchy district – quite literally a stone’s throw from the Délices metro station and Lake Geneva – it personifies the real estate adage of “location, location, location”.
Of the 196 rooms and suites, 101 are situated in the historic building, while the remaining 95 are in the recently built ‘Garden Wing’. Highlights here include Le Spa du Royal, which is worth visiting for its pool alone (hint: give in to your curiosity and press the various buttons you encounter) and Brasserie du Royal, where three-starred Signature Chef Marc Haeberlin serves a modern take on traditional French brasserie cuisine. No space at Royal Savoy, however, can compete with the trendy SkyLounge on the seventh-floor terrace of the historic wing.
The panoramic views over the city, Lake Geneva, and the Alps make it the definitive spot to catch the sunset, complemented perfectly by cooking techniques borrowed from all four corners of the globe. For a more casual affair, pick a spot in the vast gardens and settle down with a picnic basket prepared by the hotel. It’s also in these gardens, amongst its ancient trees and immaculate landscaping, where another very unique feature awaits: three beehives containing the hotel’s permanent residents – they produce the delicious nectar that is served at the property.
What few people realize about Lausanne before arriving is that it’s the seat of the International Olympic Committee, so a visit to Le Musée Olympique is practically obligatory – even if you don’t know your peloton from your pentathlon. Here, you can relive some of the greatest moments in Olympics history, discover the creative flair of previous host cities, explore exhibits that silently speak volumes of the dedication employed by world-renowned athletes, and see sculptures depicting the fusion of art with sports in the sprawling park outside.
The latter is situated alongside the lake, so be sure to take a leisurely stroll along the pedestrian-friendly path that hugs the coastline from Saint-Sulpice to Lutry almost without interruption. Considering Lausanne is a port town, crossing Lake Geneva aboard one of the eight paddle wheel steamboats in the one-of-a-kind ‘Belle Epoque’ fleet operated by CGN comes highly recommended. La Suisse – commissioned in 1910 and fully renovated in 2009 – has often been described as the most beautiful steamboat in the world, so start here for a truly romantic experience.
On dry land, the city’s historic center is best explored on foot. Cité Hill is crowned by Lausanne Cathedral, which was constructed between 1170 and 1275. It is Switzerland’s most majestic gothic monument, so pause to admire the 13th century choir stalls, elaborate stained glass windows, and massive organs. From here, take the entirely wooden Escaliers du Marché staircase down to Place de la Palud, where a clock delights children and adults alike by displaying a ballet of animated figures every hour on the hour. And if you’re willing to venture further afield, make your way to the Sauvabelin Tower, which is built of solid wood and offers 360º views of the oak forest that surrounds it – and beyond – in exchange for climbing the 151 steps of its double-spiral staircase.
With its roster of Michelin-starred restaurants, Lake Geneva Region is considered a fine dining hub in Switzerland, but that hardly means you’ll be restricted to eating “tiny portions of pretentious food” – as Phoebe Buffay would describe it. If you’re looking to caffeinate in a setting more unique than a typical café, head to the tiny but atmospheric Marutcha. Not only does this tea room boast a seemingly endless array of tea, but it also offers origami and Japanese language lessons.
For lunch, Brasserie de Montbenon gets our vote for its relaxed ambience, hearty dishes, and – most importantly – desserts that prove why Switzerland is synonymous with chocolate. The restaurant is located in Esplanade de Montbenon, which boasts one of the city’s most beautiful openings on the lake, so lounge on the sweeping lawns if you need a post-lunch breather. Come dinner, opt for Café Beau-Rivage at the legendary Beau-Rivage Palace, where just about every celebrity has been a guest.
Dubbed a culinary institution, this elegant eatery features a seasonal menu alongside specials (such as steak tartare or fillet of perch meunière) that are served all year round. A word to the wise: this luxury brasserie is best known for its focus on seafood, so order fera, char, and pike – all species that come straight from the nearby Lake Geneva – if possible. Vegetarians, meanwhile, are also well taken care of in Lausanne. Enter: Bad Hunter, where the menu is as green as the decorative foliage that cascades from the ceiling.
Bustling al fresco markets are a big part of Europe’s appeal, and Lausanne is no exception. The streets of the city center fill biweekly – Wednesdays and Saturdays – with stands selling everything from fresh produce and flowers to trinkets, antiques, and local delicacies (translation: enough cheese to make your heart sing). Place de la Palud and Rue de Bourg are great places to start. And if you’re looking to take home foodstuff like jams, spreads, pastries, and locally produced oils as gifts, make a pit stop at La Ferme Vaudoise and stock up.
You can’t possibly leave Switzerland without spending some of your hard-earned cash on chocolate. Blondel, a chocolatier that has been operating since 1850, wins rave reviews, as does Wuthrich. We recommend trying the signature ‘Giscard’ – a praline covered in liquid caramel and ganache and topped with an almond tuile – at the latter. And if you would rather be where the cool kids of Lausanne are, make a beeline for Quartier du Flon, where major brands reside alongside local designers. There are also plenty of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, cinemas, and exhibition spaces in this always energetic district.
Off the Record
If there’s one place in Lausanne capable of evoking a visceral reaction, it’s Collection de l’Art Brut, where over 70,000 works of outsider art by people who live “on the margins of society” (think: loners, prisoners, eccentrics, and residents of psychiatric hospitals) are on display. Look closely at the exhibits, and you’ll see everything ranging from anguish to rebelliousness and child-like oblivion to one’s circumstances. This unique cultural institution is as heartbreaking as it is fascinating, and an absolute must-visit in the city.
UNESCO-listed vineyard terraces in Lavaux, naturally occurring thermal baths in Lavey-les-Bains, countless hiking trails in the Jura Mountains, and revolving restaurant Le Kuklos that completes a turn every hour and a half for unbeatable views of the Alps – it’s all easily accessible from Lausanne. Having said that, a day trip to the Montreux-Vevey region remains most popular for its versatility. A couple of musts for this particular itinerary: Alimentarium (the world’s first museum centered around nutrition), Chaplin’s World (an emotionally charged museum dedicated to Charlie Chaplin), and the nearby 12th century fortress Chillon Castle.
And then there’s the rather coolly named Glacier 3000 in Les Diablerets, a favorite amongst outdoorsy types – be it summer or winter. For starters, the panoramic cable car ride to get there is spectacular in itself. And once you reach the 3,000-meter altitude, you’ll enjoy indescribable views of 24 snow-capped mountains towering at 4,000 meters. Of the many attractions here, ‘Peak Walk by Tissot’ – the first and only suspension bridge to connect two mountain peaks – remains the most popular. Even better? This gateway to the most iconic mountains of Switzerland is only an hour away from Lausanne.
For more information on tourism in the canton of Vaud, click here.