In association with Switzerland Tourism
At the Brasserie de Montbenon, over a plate of perch fresh from the lake, washed down with a glass of Chasselas from a nearby vineyard, Yan Luong is telling me what makes Lausanne such a special place for food. The abundance of good local produce is part of it, but another significant factor is the variety of nationalities in this cosmopolitan little city. With a Vietnamese father and an Indonesian mother, Yan personifies this rich cultural mix.
Yan was born in Geneva and lives here in Lausanne, where he mounts one-off events in pop-up restaurants. It all started as part of a series of culinary events called Lausanne à Table, which promotes local food and local food producers. In one of these events, locals are encouraged to cook for foodies in their own homes. Yan laid on a Pan-Asian banquet, and dozens of people dropped in. Now he’s staging Sunday brunches in venues around town. They sell out every time.
For first-time visitors, food is a great way in — but there’s loads more to discover in this lively city above Lake Geneva. Britons have been coming here ever since Byron put Lausanne on the map — he wrote his celebrated poem, ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’, in Lausanne’s Hôtel Angleterre & Résidence. Dickens spent six months here (there’s a street named after him) and Charlie Chaplin lived at the Beau-Rivage Palace, Lausanne’s most luxurious hotel.
The Hôtel Angleterre & Résidence and the Beau-Rivage Palace are both in Ouchy, on the waterfront, linked to the city centre by Switzerland’s only metro system. From Ouchy you can catch a ferry to Evian, on the French side of the lake. The Château d’Ouchy is another fine hotel down on the lakeside. Its excellent restaurant is extremely popular, with residents and non-residents alike. The best part of town for nightlife is the Quartier du Flon — formerly an industrial district, now a cluster of groovy bars, beneath the arches of the viaduct.
The city has a wide range of museums to suit every taste. Lausanne is the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee, and the Olympic Museum provides a vivid survey of the organisation’s sporting history. The museum is in a peaceful garden, with gorgeous views of Lake Geneva. Its bright and breezy café is the perfect place for a light lunch.
Lausanne’s art and design museums are currently relocating to a new site called Platforme 10, beside Lausanne’s central station. The Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts (aka MCBA) reopens there this autumn. The photography and design museums will follow in 2021. Once it’s up and running, Platforme 10 will be an arts centre to rival anything in Switzerland and make Lausanne a major cultural capital.
In the meantime, be sure to visit the Collection de l’Art Brut, the extraordinary museum of ‘outsider art’ established by French artist Jean Dubuffet. These artworks were all made by people outside the art establishment — loners, drifters, inmates in institutions — and although they’re frequently disturbing they’re always fascinating, and often bizarrely beautiful.
Beyond the food and culture, though, it’s the lifestyle that makes Lausanne so invigorating. A big student population gives the city a youthful brio. A daily influx of commuters from nearby Evian adds to its international air. More relaxed than Geneva, it’s a creative destination rather than a place for doing deals and making money. People aren’t as punctual here as they are in other Swiss cities. It’s OK to be a bit late. Locals call it ‘le quart d’heure Vaudois’.
But above all, it’s the setting, with its amazing vistas, which makes Lausanne such a treat. Victor Hugo put it best, ‘from the terrace of the cathedral, I saw the lake above the rooftops, the mountain above the lake, the clouds above the mountains and the stars above the clouds. It was like a staircase where my thoughts climbed up step by step and broadened at each new height.’
From all my visits, one memory stands out. My wife and I had just arrived, on a glorious summer’s evening. It was our first time here. We didn’t know where to go, so we walked up to the cathedral. A wedding had just taken place, and the congregation was spilling out into the cathedral square. The bride and groom climbed into an open-topped car and drove away, downhill, towards the lake. Their guests raced after them, hooting their horns as they went. Long after they’d disappeared we could still hear their horns, ringing out across the city. It’s a scene I always think about, each time I return. For me, it seems to sum up what Lausanne is all about.