Nestled on the banks of Lake Geneva, in the French-speaking region of Vaud, the medieval city of Lausanne is famed for its 12th-century Gothic cathedral, its 19th century Palais de Rumine, and its cutting-edge gastronomy. An all-year playground, this ancient city has a little something for everyone.
Arrive in Zurich on your direct Swiss International flight. The airline’s business class features fully lie-flat seats with ample storage space while service and cuisine onboard feature distinctive touches of Switzerland, with special menus created for the airline by some of the country’s leading culinary talents. Be sure to check out our in-depth review here.
You can fly on to Lausanne with Swiss but to make the most of the region’s stunning landscapes, make your way to the Zürich Hauptbahnhof train station, from where Swiss Travel Systems offer comfortable trains to Lausanne that take just three hours. Book a Swiss Travel Pass to be able to explore the whole country in style on one of Europe’s best rail networks from CHF179 (US$ 190). Check out our top Swiss train journeys here.
Arrive at the Mövenpick Hotel Lausanne, located right on the Lake Geneva waterfront. A four-star hotel with captivating rooms, crisp, Old World service, and great restaurants, the Mövenpick Hotel Lausanne is the perfect base from which to explore the lakefront villages and the innovative culinary scene of this popular holiday retreat. The hotel offers a variety of categories across its 337 non-smoking rooms and suites, but our favorites are the contemporary Premium Rooms, which are housed in a second, newer wing and offer modern amenities and great water views from their deep-set balconies. Leave time for lingering breakfasts at Le Jardin, with its alfresco seating and stunning lake vistas.
Make for the lakefront and Le Lacustre, a restaurant located at the ferry pier. During the summer months The Terrace is a very popular spot for sun-kissed lunches and twilight drinks and during the winter, feast at the newer Grill Room, home to the signature potence flambee beef, which is flambéed directly at your table.
Time to explore the city’s ancient heart; take the Lausanne Metro from nearby the hotel – it’s dead easy, it only goes one way, up! Disembark at Lausanne Gare at the heart of the city’s medieval old town. Work off your meal with a walk up the cobbled streets to the Lausanne Cathedral. Considered the most beautiful cathedral in Switzerland, this iconic Gothic church was built in 1175 though like many famous buildings in Europe, remains technically unfinished. Dedicated to the statue of the Golden Virgin, which drew pilgrims from across Europe during the Middle Ages, the church is probably best known for its continuation of the Nightwatch tradition, during which guards posted to prevent fires would call to each other from the top of the cathedral’s towers.
Back on the waterfront, it’s only steps to the pier where you can take one of Lake Geneva’s famous and historic paddle steamers. Swiss ferry company CGN operates five Belle Époque paddle steamboats, many of which are over 10 years old. These beautifully-preserved vessels, with their elegant white trim work and large open decks, are the best way to explore the many lakeside villages, including Saint-Saphorin, Montreau, famed for its annual jazz festival, and Vevey, where travelers can access the captivating Lavaux vineyards, a Unesco-listed site that consists of steeply terraced vineyards reaching between Lausanne and Montreux. During the summer months, you can tour the vineyards (downhill fortunately, you’ll see why), first planted by Cistercian monks in the 12th century.
Explore the Lake’s most famous castle, Chateau de Chillon. An easy day trip from Geneva and Lausanne, as well as the ski fields of the Valais Alps in the Rhone Valley and the Chablais Alps in France, the lakeside castle is stunning in both summer and winter, when it’s dusted with fresh snow. Once a vital fortification for controlling the trade on the lake, the castle was built in the 12th century by the rulers of Savoy and is said to have inspired Lord Byron’s poem The Prisoner of Chillon. Audio tours are a great way to explore the cells, storage halls, and battlements.
Return to Lausanne by paddle steamer, perhaps with a glass of local Chasselas from the vineyards nearby. You can sample your way through the local drops at Midi 20, one of the city’s best houses of oenophilia. Named for its position on a side street between the town and its train station, this chic little space boasts an extensive wine list that’s heavy on local favorites, from Fendant and Sylvane to Ermitage, and Malvoisie – you can even taste before you choose. Match your tipples with elegant French-inspired snacks.
Make your way up through the city to one of Lausanne’s most popular new dining spots, Brasserie de Montbenon, located on Montbenon Park. Opened at the end of 2014, the restaurant is brilliant in summer, when the garden bandstand terrace is the place to see and be seen (the views of the lake are to die for), as well as in winter, when the cozy main dining room, housed in a former Cinémathèque dating from 198 complete with domed ceiling, stained glass windows and a semi-open kitchen, is warm and inviting. The restaurant served contemporary Swiss-French fare drawing on the sensational local produce. Highlights of the distinctly modern menu include delicate crayfish terrine, hearty filet de boeuf, and creamy fish pie laced with salmon and truffle.
Lausanne is no party town but if you’re looking for a nightcap try Les Boucaniers, a smaller venue centered on Place Benjamin Constant that features a small terrace, chic interiors, and a range of artisan beers. Alternatively, the Tchin-Tchin bar at the Mövenpick Hotel Lausanne, with its outdoor seating, is a lakeside favorite.
For the ultimate brunch, make your way back up to the historic city center and visit Blackbird, a local coffee haven that sources its own beans from around the world. Share in the journey of the beans, which are brought from small producers and roasted in-house, as you chat with the talented baristas and wait for bites from the ‘breakfast club’ menu, which includes croissants and tartines, frittatas, and even Mediterranean chorizo stew.
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