Star-stud­ded Swiss Cities of Lau­sanne and Mon­treux Feat­tru­arveesl

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It’s hard to imag­ine what a noted Bri­tish poet, a fa­mous film ac­tor, a cel­e­brated French fash­ion de­signer and the lead vo­cal­ist of the rock band Queen could pos­si­bly have in common. Yet each of them – Lord By­ron, Char­lie Chap­lin, Coco Chanel and Fred­die Mercury – all resided, at one point in their lives, in and around the French-speak­ing re­gion of Lau­sanne and Mon­treux, Switzer­land. Af­ter vis­it­ing this vi­brant and al­lur­ing lo­cale, I un­der­stand why these celebs and so many oth­ers have cho­sen to call it home.

Lau­sanne’s al­lure is wide­spread, from its glo­ri­ous lo­ca­tion on Lake Geneva and its Mediter­ranean am­biance to its rich his­tory and flour­ish­ing arts scene. The city’s prom­i­nent Cathe­dral of Notre-dame, a 13th cen­tury Gothic ed­i­fice with four stately tow­ers and no less than 105 stained glass win­dows, dom­i­nates the land­scape and es­tab­lishes the town’s me­dieval roots. Build­ings dat­ing to the Mid­dle Ages line the cob­ble­stone streets within the pic­turesque city cen­ter. More than just a pretty face, how­ever, Lau­sanne is a des­ti­na­tion of learn­ing, com­merce and cul­ture that at­tracts uni­ver­sity students, busi­ness ti­tans and vis­i­tors from around the globe.

Most tourists are sur­prised to dis­cover that the main head­quar­ters of the Fed­eral Supreme Court has been sit­u­ated in this town since 1874 and that it has also been home to the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee since 1915. The ac­claimed, state-of-the-art Olympics Mu­seum, one of Lau­sanne’s

main at­trac­tions, is based here as well. Plan to spend time ex­plor­ing this won­der­ful, in­ter­ac­tive mu­seum, which tells the Olympic Story over time, from an­tiq­uity to to the present day, while pay­ing trib­ute to the men and women who cel­e­brate and epit­o­mize the Olympic ideal. One floor is de­voted to the ori­gins of the an­cient Olympic Games, their re­vival by Pierre de Cou­bertin and their spread through­out the world. Other gal­leries fo­cus on the Games and delve into the great­est feats and sto­ries of the ath­letes who par­tic­i­pated in the com­pe­ti­tions. Ad­di­tion­ally, there are dis­plays that ex­plore the daily lives of ath­letes be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the Games. Out­side the mu­seum, over­look­ing scenic Lake Geneva, is the Olympic Park, which fea­tures works of con­tem­po­rary artists and sports ac­tiv­ity ar­eas.

Art afi­ciona­dos will re­joice in the city’s of­fer­ings, es­pe­cially the Her­mitage Foun­da­tion, a gem of a mu­seum housed in a pre­served 19th cen­tury villa that holds ex­hi­bi­tions of paint­ings and sculp­tures cre­ated from 1850 to 1920, with a spe­cial fo­cus on Im­pres­sion­ism and French art. An­other unique, must-see cul­tural at­trac­tion in Lau­sanne is the Col­lec­tion de l’art Brut. The im­pe­tus for this mu­seum stemmed from a do­na­tion of works by French artist Jean Dubuf­fet, who be­gan col­lect­ing cre­ations out­side the main­stream in hopes of shed­ding light on art that was free from cul­tural and so­cial con­di­tion­ing. Works on dis­play are by un­trained artists, many who lived dif­fi­cult lives. Some resided in men­tal in­sti­tu­tions or were in­car­cer­ated in prison; oth­ers were so­cial out­casts, lon­ers or just ec­centrics who turned to paint­ing, sculp­ture and other artis­tic me­dia as a means to ex­press them­selves. Though the pieces can be dis­turb­ing at times, they are truly fas­ci­nat­ing, as is the ac­com­pa­ny­ing bi­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion about each of the con­trib­u­tors.

Lau­sanne is also a mag­net for shop­pers who flock to Place de la Palud and Rue de Bourg, pedes­tri­an­friendly ar­eas with over 1,500 bou­tiques and stores, along with col­or­ful open-air mar­ket stalls sell­ing ev­ery­thing from flow­ers to lo­cal pro­duce, fish and wine. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see the Foun­tain of Jus­tice, dis­tin­guished by a statue hold­ing a scale in one hand to weigh the soul and a sword in the other to right the wrongs. It’s just one of 120 his­tor­i­cal and whim­si­cal foun­tains in the town.

When it comes to nightlife, the Flon dis­trict is the place to be. The area was once an in­dus­trial hub and ar­chi­tects were care­ful to pre­serve the orig­i­nal style of the build­ings dur­ing ren­o­va­tion. To­day, it’s a col­lec­tion of avant-garde-like struc­tures that house shops, of­fices, apart­ments and en­ter­tain­ment venues which come alive when the sun sets and the party-go­ers ap­pear.

With Lau­sanne’s Lake Geneva back­drop, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to want to spend some time near or on the water dur­ing your visit. Stroll down the beau­ti­ful lake­side prom­e­nade, or opt for a boat ride to ex­plore neigh­bor­ing Evian, France. Though only thirty min­utes sep­a­rates the two cities, they are worlds apart from one an­other when it comes to cul­ture, peo­ple and am­biance. Find­ing good food is never a prob­lem in Lau­sanne -- or any­where in Switzer­land for that mat­ter. The of­fer­ings are ver­sa­tile, from award­win­ning fine din­ing es­tab­lish­ments with gourmet cui­sine to cozy cafes and trendy bistros that boast in­ven­tive and ex­cit­ing dishes. Sam­pling Swiss choco­lates is an ac­tiv­ity in and of it­self and a pur­suit I took very se­ri­ously, es­pe­cially when I was in­formed by a noted choco­late maker that eat­ing choco­late or im­bib­ing a choco­late bev­er­age should be an in­tensely emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. He em­pha­sized the power of fine choco­late on one’s psy­che, ex­plain­ing that it has the abil­ity to make you dream and to set your mind free. My fa­vorite find was at Le Bar­bare, a tiny café by the cathe­dral in Old Town. The place has achieved cult sta­tus thanks to its orig­i­nal 1950s dé­cor and its sub­lime, swoon-wor­thy hot choco­late, whose aroma en­velops you as you en­ter the door. You’ll want to keep your spoon handy, as this is one cup of co­coa that you ac­tu­ally eat, not drink.

Though sadly you won’t be able to see Char­lie Chap­lin, Coco Chanel, Lord By­ron or Fred­die Mercury around town, you might catch a glimpse of some other celebs if you stop in at the bar at Beau-ri­vage Palace, one of the most prestigious ho­tels in the city. It’s where the stars like to stay, and for Diana Ross, as well as Phil Collins, it has also served as the per­fect wed­ding des­ti­na­tion. Stroll the gar­dens and you’ll come across an un­usual site – a pet ceme­tery – where Coco Chanel’s beloved dog is pur­ported to be buried, along with other pooches of note.

Lau­sanne pro­vides easy ac­cess to the nearby UNESCO World Her­itage Lavaux Vine­yards. Even if wine is not your thing, you’ll want to put this Swiss trea­sure on your list due to its jaw-drop­ping set­ting. Ten thou­sand vine ter­races, a sys­tem cre­ated by Cis­ter­cian monks in the 11th cen­tury, hug the steep slopes that face the Alps above the shim­mer­ing waters of Lake Geneva. This is the birth­place of the Chas­se­las grape va­ri­ety, a wine ap­pre­ci­ated for its pure scents and del­i­cate fruit notes. Other va­ri­etals grown here, such as Pinot Noir, Gamay, Caber­net Franc, Ga­maret and Sau­vi­gnon, are tes­ti­mony to the rich­ness of Lavaux’s ter­roirs which ben­e­fit from a tem­per­ate cli­mate and a Mediter­ranean char­ac­ter to the

re­gion. Pa­trick Fon­jal­laz is one of 250 vine­yard own­ers in the Lavaux re­gion. He is the suc­ces­sor of twelve gen­er­a­tions of wine pro­duc­ers, a wine dy­nasty es­tab­lished in 1552. His win­ery is des­ti­na­tion-wor­thy, not only be­cause of the high qual­ity of the wines, but be­cause of its breath­tak­ing views of the sur­round­ing en­vi­rons.

Con­tin­u­ing south from Lavaux along the lake, you’ll soon come to Mon­treux, Switzer­land’s “fes­ti­val city” and a noted in­ter­na­tional tourist re­sort. As in Lau­sanne, many celebs have been at­tracted to the area due to its beauty, tem­per­ate weather and good qual­ity of life. Among the sights to take in is Chillon Cas­tle, the most-vis­ited his­toric build­ing in Switzer­land. It’s lo­cated on a small is­land in the lake, a mere few feet from the shore, and was once the res­i­dence and profitable toll sta­tion of the Counts of Savoy. For hun­dreds of years, the oc­cu­pants ex­tracted a fee from peo­ple and goods pass­ing between Italy and the rest of Europe. In more mod­ern times, it be­came fa­mous for hav­ing in­spired Lord By­ron’s poem, “The Pris­oner of Chillon,” which was based on the true story of Fran­cois Boni­vard, a po­lit­i­cal pris­oner from Geneva. By­ron is said to have carved his name in one of the col­umns in the dun­geon where Boni­vard was kept for sev­eral years. The cas­tle has had many well-known vis­i­tors over the years, in­clud­ing Henry James, Vic­tor Hugo and Sal­vador Dali.

If you hap­pen to be in Mon­treux dur­ing the first weeks of July, you’ll

be shar­ing the town with the masses who are there for the Mon­treux Jazz Fes­ti­val. The event was the brain­child of Claude Nobs, a young, en­ter­pris­ing Swiss man with a love of mu­sic and a for­ward-think­ing ap­proach to tech­nol­ogy. He or­ga­nized the first fes­ti­val in 1967 and over the years its pop­u­lar­ity has ex­tended across the globe, at­tract­ing mu­si­cians from a wide va­ri­ety of gen­res. Big names such as Pink Floyd, Chicago, San­tana, Ste­vie Won­der, Van Mor­ri­son and Miles Davis have all per­formed in Mon­treux. The head­lin­ers play in the acous­ti­cally so­phis­ti­cated Stravin­sky Au­di­to­rium, while lesser-known acts give their shows in smaller venues around town. The en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm is pal­pa­ble among the fes­ti­val-go­ers, who range from chil­dren to se­niors, many who make this spe­cial event an an­nual tra­di­tion.

Those who come to Mon­treux at other times of the year won’t be dis­ap­pointed, as the city’s first-class ho­tels and spas, mes­mer­iz­ing Alpine views and hip restau­rant and nightlife scene pro­vide en­joy­ment and en­ter­tain­ment. And its lovely palm-fringed, lake­side prom­e­nade helps to give Mon­treux a won­der­fully re­laxed vibe. If you can tear your­self away from this grand Swiss-style Riviera, take the Gold­en­pass Rail­way to Les Rochers-de-naye, the top of the moun­tain that dom­i­nates Mon­treux. You’ll ride a cog­wheel train, which will trans­port you to the sum­mit in less than an hour. At al­most 7,000 feet, the view over­looks Lake Geneva with an impressive panorama across the moun­tains. Atop, there’s an Alpine gar­den with thou­sands of plants and flow­ers from around the world, as well as colonies of mar­mots, more com­monly known as the mas­cot of the Alps, who live in the vast ex­panse of the area. There are also two restau­rants, a con­fer­ence room and sev­eral au­then­tic Mon­go­lian yurts for those in­ter­ested in spend­ing the night in this serene en­vi­ron­ment.

Like the celebs of the past and those of the present, you, too, will be en­ticed by the en­chant­ing Swiss cities of Lau­sanne and Mon­treux. Their charms will cast a spell on you, en­sur­ing that you will re­turn again and again.

If you go

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