Garry Marchant sam­ples the rich cul­ture and hearty food of Switzer­land’s Lau­sanne

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

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.lafer­mevau­

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.restau­rant­no­

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;­

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.chateau­

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.lau­ www.myswitzer­

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