I’D HEARD of Lausanne, of course, but didn’t know much about it and certainly had no idea that it would make such a fabulous weekend city-break.
For starters, there’s its glorious location, rising up from shimmering Lake Geneva with its mediaeval charm and Belle Epoque splendour very much intact, interspersed with flashes of imaginative modernity. It’s got to be one of Switzerland’s best kept secrets.
Opened in 1909, the Grand Chateau-style Royal Savoy Hotel & Spa, where I stayed, reflects the Lausanner character, historic on the outside but boasting contemporary chic amid past refinements within, from the Cigar Lounge to the Spa du Royal.
My room was an unexpectedly pleasing mix of shades of grey set against dark woods and marble, all illuminated by the light streaming through the French windows. These opened out on to a wrought iron balcony offering a splendid lake view.
Suite at Royal Savoy Hotel & Spa
For an even grander panorama, I headed up to the rooftop SkyLounge, where one can gaze out over to France on the other side of the lake with the dramatic outline of the Alps looming fully into view, then walk round to the other side and see the city unfolding before you.
After sipping on a cocktail as the sun sank on the horizon, I headed down to the Brasserie du Royal for a suitably gourmet meal. Incidentally, Lausanne is home to one of the world’s top hospitality schools, raising the bar of what constitutes exemplary service in the city and beyond, and it shows.
SkyLounge at Royal Savoy Hotel & Spa
The following day, I joined a city tour, catching the metro just a few minutes’ walk away. No need to worry about fares – the Lausanne Transport Card is given to all hotel visitors here.
In less than no time we were walking the cobbled streets of La Cité, where many of the major landmarks are located, among them the magnificent 13th century cathedral. Lausanne is built on hills, so if you want to dispense with the well-connected public transport system, there’s no better way to keep fit.
The place is small by city standards with more of the feel of a large provincial town, its laidback ambiance characterised by quaint cafes and hidden byways, plus surprises like trendy dining spot Sardine. Indeed, it is unusual to be dodging crowds and you can stop and stare in the way that tourists do without the locals tut-tutting behind you.
Later we visited Plateforme 10 adjacent to the railway station to take in Lausanne’s latest contribution to the arts created out of a repurposed railway shed in the manner of London’s Roundhouse. Opened in 2019, this dazzling minimalist space is a merger of three of the city’s museums, focussing on fine arts, contemporary design and photography.
You could spend all day here in what is gearing up to be a neighbourhood in its own right, with shops and restaurants along its esplanade. We had a fine lunch at Le Nabi before venturing inside to view the collections.
For something completely different, there’s the Olympic Museum, a 10-minute walk away from the Royal Savoy. As host of the International Olympic Committee, Lausanne is the “Capitale Olympique” – another surprise.
Everyone’s heard of Swiss chocolate but not many know that the country has a thriving wine industry. Some of the 200 or so local vineyards are managed by the Lausanne municipality so I jumped at the opportunity to take part in a tasting at the Town Hall, sampling wines mainly produced from the small white chasselas grape. Ranging from crisp and dry to fruity and heavy, these were a pleasant revelation.
They originated from small wineries in Lavaux, a short train ride from Lausanne and now designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in acknowledgement of the ancient viticulture that has sculpted the landscape.
This was clearly a must-visit. It was nudging October but the weather was sublime as we climbed down the steep terraced slopes above Lake Geneva where grapes hung heavy on the vine ready for harvesting.
At the picturesque village of Cully, we met Mélanie Weber, one of the few women vignerons. Her estate has been in the family since 1879 and she is dedicated to preserving traditional methods all along the production line.
We caught her at a busy moment but she had time to explain the wine making process that takes place in the back room and basement of her little house, full of easy smiles and laughter before dashing away and leaving hubby to guide us round the wines she makes with so much passion.
We returned to Lausanne by boat, mesmerised by the improbable blue of the lake and breath-taking view of the cloud skimmed mountains. As I walked away from the shore backed to the hotel, I looked on enviously as swimmers took their afternoon dip, promising to pack my swimsuit next time I came.
by Angela Cobbinah
Starting price for an Executive room with city view, including breakfast & spa access:
Single occupancy: CHF 480, double occupancy: CHF 510
Return flights from London to Geneva from £108 pp with SWISS. Lausanne is 45 minutes from Geneva airport by direct train.
Figures from Switzerland Tourism