ONE PERFECT DAY
Garry Marchant samples the rich culture and hearty food of Switzerland’s Lausanne
ANDERING the cobblestone streets of Lausanne, one of Switzerland’s smallest but most attractive cities, I marvel at its accomplishments. The world’s first hotel school was founded here in 1893 and the Lausanne Hotel Management School still trains the managers who run many of the world’s top inns. The Olympics capital since 1994, this is also the world’s amateur sports administrative capital. And Lausanne is an educational, intellectual and cultural centre of French-speaking Switzerland. All of this in a city of 127,000 residents.
The capital of the canton of Vaud, and Switzerland’s fifth largest city, Lausanne is relaxed, lively and less formal than many Swiss cities, perhaps because it is also a college town. It’s a man-made gem of ancient, wellpreserved buildings in a jewel-like setting of lake and mountains. The forests, fields and vineyards are so close to the city it seems almost rural.
On the north shores of scenic Lake Geneva, close to the Jura and Alps mountain ranges, Lausanne was built on three hills around two rivers (now filled in). Three footbridges connect parts of the hilly city; this is a community to explore on foot, although it means a lot of walking up and down.
This lakeside city’s climate is temperate, even in winter, when it seldom snows. But plenty of snow for downhill and cross-country skiing is found in the nearby Vaudois Alpine area. Lausanne has a special charm in winter, with its giant Christmas trees glowing with decorative bulbs, illuminated historic buildings, traditional festive lights and decorations and its ice-skating rinks. The Christmas market is like a little village, with dozens of stalls displaying a variety of arts and crafts, festive items, tasty home-made treats and, of course, mulled wine.
Through the years Lausanne has charmed many intellectuals, such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Byron, Dickens and Hugo. In more recent years, writers such as Ireland’s James Joyce, Belgium’s Simenon and China’s Han Suyin, as well as designer Coco Chanel and actress Audrey Hepburn, lived here.
Best shopping: Steep rue de Bourg, Lausanne’s main pedestrian street running up from Place St Francois, is a row of designer shops and boutiques such as Cartier, Hermes and Louis Vuitton, as well as jewellers, department stores and specialty shops. On Saturday morning, rue de Bourg and other pedestrian streets in the old town are transformed into a farmers market. But there is more to this street than just fleeting fashion.
Best literary smoke shop: Although a hard-core nonsmoker, I amalso a moderate Inspector Maigret fan, so a plaque outside the door of Besson tobacco shop on rue de Bourg catches my attention. Maigret creator Simenon, who lived the last part of his life just outside Lausanne, bought his pipes and tobacco here in the town’s oldest smoke shop. Today, a strong, sweet smell of pipe tobacco permeates the air of the shop, a relic of earlier times.
A display of pipes on one wall include a calabash pipe as seen in movie versions of Sherlock Holmes and one that Simenon gave to the owner’s father in 1987. Rue de Bourg 22.
Best artisanal food: La Ferme Vaudoise on Place de la Palud is a deluxe grocery store selling fine artisanal delicacies. A great variety of cheeses, including those for fondue, local wines, herbes de Vaulion from the Jura, almond and spice cakes, biscuits and sweets tempt shoppers. Various beef, pork and lamb sausages and dry sausage with wine hang from one wall. Less appealing, to me, are the horse salamis and the Gendarmes de Cheval, or sticks of horse sausage, so named because they are straight like soldiers standing at attention. Some small, round sausages look suspiciously as if they are encased in sheep’s stomachs. Bouchons Vaudois, sweets that resemble wine corks, are more appetising. Place de la Palud 5; www.lafermevaudoise.ch.
Back on rue de Bourg, the patroness of the Lackerli Huus shop, selling Basel-type sweets, offers me tasty morsels of biscuit, then a caramel. A house specialty, a cookie made with all natural ingredients such as lemon, orange, cinnamon, ginger and honey, is especially delicious.
Best stairway to heaven: The Escaliers du Marche are covered wooden steps that lead up from the Place de la Palud to the Notre Dame Cathedral esplanade. Rows of elegantly restored buildings, some dating back to the 16th century, line the stairway on each side. But the steps weren’t originally meant to be a passageway from commerce to salvation; they were built in the 13th century to connect the town markets in the Place de la Palud and the Place du Cret.
Best cathedral: Switzerland’s most impressive gothic-style cathedral, the 13th-century Notre Dame, stands atop a hill in Lausanne’s medieval centre and is awesome in size and architecture. Built of blocks of molasse, a soft local stone, the cathedral is worn and weathered. I arrive just as someone is playing the massive, new 7000-pipe organ, like a mad Captain Nemo from the sounds echoing around the vast interior.
A huge, hi-tech glass door in a metal frame, with metal threads running through the glass to prevent sun damage, protects and supports the crumbling entranceway. Several statues surrounding the portal have traces of original paint from the Middle Ages: the pink and blue of angels’ wings, flesh colouring on the saints’ faces, a green robe.
Best descent to trendiness: A lift from the middle of the Flon footbridge descends to the Flon, once a warehouse district where renovated buildings house a bookshop, art galleries, studios, shops, a seven-screen Europlex Cinema and especially stylish clubs and restaurants. Worth trying for inveterate travellers, in part for the name, is the Nomad wine bar and restaurant. In this very trendy area, many of the new, ultra-modern-style buildings are boring, square blocks but others are enlivened with bizarre paintings and graffiti. Especially interesting is the Flon Building, like a giant, inflated marshmallow. At night, the buildings
Chilled out: Lausanne’s temperate climate means when snow does fall, the result is spectacularly different
Local flavour: The venerable Cafe de Grutli serves traditional Swiss fare
Sausage supermarket: La Ferme Vaudoise are ‘‘ enlightened’’, as one local tells me, with the light changing hue as it illuminates the buildings. Place de l’Europe 9; www.restaurantnomade.ch.
Best local cuisine: The 150-year-old Cafe du Grutli on the Place de la Palud serves regional wines and traditional Swiss specialties to mostly local diners. This venerable cafe, with tiled floors, dark wood walls, cafe curtains and wooden tables and chairs, really buzzes this late Friday evening.
We have no reservation but the amiable waiter squeezes us in among his regular customers. The smell of melted cheese fills the air as diners dip bread into their fondue pots. Pipet vaudois (made from potatoes and leeks cooked with wine) with saucisse au chou (smoked liver and cabbage sausages) is a winter specialty of the Vaudois region. It is, to be charitable, an acquired taste, so we opt for the fondue, which proves excellent. Rue de la Mercerie 4; www.cafedugruetli.ch.
Best waterside dining: Down the hill, but more upmarket, the Chateau d’Ouchy’s restaurant, in a covered winter terrace overlooking Lake Geneva, provides a scenic setting and gourmet dining, ideal for savouring a local cold-weather specialty, while gazing across at the snow-covered French Alps rising above the lake. The menu offers starters such as straccetti in truffle and smoked ham cream sauce or pan-fried foie gras with figs and spinach with parmesan cheese. Main courses include daube de boeuf, a tender and hearty stew that’s perfect for winter dining. www.chateaudouchy.com.
Best experience on ice: In this winter sports capital, you can strap on the blades and skim around the ice on four artificial skating rinks. The Pontaise rink, near the Olympic Stadium, and the Montchoisi, between Ouchy and the train station, are open-air, while the Malley Ice Centre has an indoor and an outdoor rink.
In the fashionable district in the centre of town, the rink on the Esplanade du Flon is the smallest but the most appealing to visitors. Admission is free and skates can be hired for a reasonable price; the rink is lit, a local radio station provides background music and a kiosk sells hot drinks and snacks. A hit with families during the day, adults and couples in the evening, it stays frozen from about mid-October until mid-March.
Best sports museum: Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern International Olympic Committee in Paris in 1894, but chose Lausanne as the permanent headquarters in 1915. Today it is the IOC headquarters, and home of the extensive Olympic Museum, set in a manicured park facing Lake Geneva.
The museum, which grew out of a collection of Olympic memorabilia dating back to 1915, opened in 1993. Exhibits span a range of more than 2200 years of amateur sports, from the ancient Greek games to the modern Olympics. More than 87,000 objects are displayed in a modern building equipped with multimedia equipment showing popular video clips from past winter and summer Games. A must for sports fans. Open 9am to 6pm, Tuesdays to Sundays; www.museum.olympic.org. www.lausanne-tourisme.ch www.myswitzerland.com