In Lausanne they say that the girls (and presumably the boys – I didn’t have the chance to check) have the best legs in the whole of Switzerland, writes Nigel Robinson.
You’ll understand why after you’ve spent a day hiking up its narrow streets. From a lowest elevation of 378 metres down on the shores of breathtaking Lake Geneva to its highest at 2646 in the charming old town, the city is built on several levels and hills.
That makes an afternoon’s ramble on the tourist trail not only worth it but a much better workout than a couple of hours on the treadmill down the gym. Quite appropriate, in fact, for a city which calls itself the Olympic Capital by virtue of it being the headquarters of the International Olympics Committee.
Lausanne is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and there’s a much more relaxed and easy attitude to life here compared to the frenetic likes of German-speaking Zurich. It’s also home to a large student population who lend the place a chic and funky vibe, and its charm and location have made it a prime location for international music festivals throughout the year.
At the top of Lausanne stands the cité and old town, a medieval maze of steep and winding cobbled streets, in which it’s easy and recommended to get lost. It’s worth it for the quirky and charmingly tumbledown shops and bars you’ll stumble upon just when you’re not looking.
This area is dominated by the Gothic grandeur of Notre Dame, the oldest cathedral in Switzerland (Place de la Cathédrale). It has some unique features worth taking a look at, including a rose window made up of 105 panels telling the history of the medieval world, and an impressive organ with 7,000 pipes and weighing 20 tonnes. It’s frequently the venue for classical concerts and is also the last remaining cathedral in Europe to employ a night-watchman: every hour on the hour from 10pm to 2am he calls out the time from his tower. Handy for when you’re stumbling out from one of the nearby bars and not sure whether the last train’s gone or not.
From the cathedral’s high vantage point you can look down over the tiled rooftops of the old town and out to Lake Geneva – or Lake Léman as it’s properly known, because why should Geneva get all the credit? – and beyond that to France and the spa town of Évian-les-Bains (yes, where the water comes from).
A steep descent down the 13th-century Escaliers du Marché (or Market Stairs), stopping at Le Barbare (Escaliers du Marché 27) for the best hot chocolate in town, brings you to Place du Palud, the bustling heart of Lausanne where during the summer months students and locals hang out around the coffee shops and the central fountain, with its statue representing justice.
Close by is the 17th-centry town hall, where in 1992 David Bowie married Iman in a ceremony so discreet that it was only picked up by a German newspaper 15 days later. (Bowie liked the area so much that he owned a château just outside Lausanne up until 2000.)
Every Wednesday and Saturday morning the country market sets up shop in the Place de la Palud, and sprawls out into the neighbouring pedestrian streets. Very much a locals’ market, the stalls are packed high mainly with regional produce, but also bric-à-brac, clothes and second-hand goods. This is the place to stock up on fine Swiss delicacies; cheese-lovers in particular will think they’ve died and gone to foodie heaven. If you still can’t find what you want, then pay a visit to La Ferme Vaudoise (Place de la Palud 5, lafermevaudoise.ch) and its staggering choice of regional cuisine.
Heading downhill from the old town takes you to the Flon quarter, the trendiest part of Lausanne (flon.ch/en). The city’s former warehouse quarter, it’s reasonably busy during the day, packed full of bars, art galleries and exhibitions and hipster shops (including a surprising number of good urban shoe shops with excruciatingly corny names such as Pumpes Funebres and Pomp It Up).
Flon really comes into its own at night when bars, restaurants and clubs stay open to the early hours and are always packed. It’s here you’ll find the MAD club, an institution in Lausanne since, well, no one can quite remember when. Spread over five floors and four dance spaces, it’s very LGBT+-friendly every night of the week, but on Sundays hosts dedicated gay party Gameboy. Look out for the huge condom on the side of the building and the AIDS awareness graffiti on its walls.
A half-hour’s stroll – or five minutes on the reliable Métro 2 underground – takes you to Ouchy, a former fishing village on the shores of Lake Geneva. Seemingly the whole of Lausanne
comes here on Sundays to chill out and relax or just go jogging with their dogs. It’s the perfect place for people-watching at one of the many waterside cafés, and on a bright sunny day offers a stunning view over the water to France and the Savoy Alps.
Lausanne is the home of the International Olympic Committee, and five minutes outside the Ouchy-Olympique Métro station, the Olympic Museum sits in its own picturesque terraced Olympic Park (olympic.org/museum) and celebrates the history of the Games, including this summer in Rio, with state-of-the-art and interactive audiovisual technology. Even if you’re not into the Olympics, a visit is worth it for the famous all-you-can-eat Sunday brunches in the TOM café on the top floor.
Close by to the Olympic Museum is the Musée de l’Elysée (18, avenue de l’Elysée, elysee.ch/en), a museum situated in an 18th-centruy mansion house and dedicated to photography.
Ouchy is the perfect place for a tour of the Lake on a paddle steamer, or even to take a day trip to France. A forty-minute boat trip will take you to the Lavaux vineyard terraces, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and producer of some of Europe’s finest wines. Prince even wrote a song about it. The wines of Switzerland aren’t widely known mainly because they’re one secret the Swiss want to keep to themselves. And all that training climbing the hills of Lausanne will come in handy here – a three-hours’ hike will take you past some of the finest vineyards in the world with plenty of opportunity to sample the local vintages.
WAY TO GO
Swiss Air flies regularly from most UK airports to Geneva. From Geneva it’s just a 45-minute train ride to Lausanne station in the centre of the city.
LAUSANNE TRANSPORT CARD
A must-have, the Lausanne Transport Card is available from your hotel and gives you free travel across all of the area’s transport systems, plus discounts to museums and galleries.
Tourist info: Lausanne-tourisme/ch/en
The LGBT+ scene here might not be as much in-your-face as other European cities, mainly because Lausanne doesn’t really care who you’re holding hands with or taking home tonight, but it’s still probably the biggest Swiss scene outside of Zurich. In fact, people regularly make the journey from Geneva at weekends to experience Lausanne’s homo hotspots.
GAMEBOY AT MAD
Manic madness at one of Switzerland’s biggest and most famous clubs. Definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Every Sunday. Route de Genève 23, gameboy-gayparty.ch
Welcoming LGBT+ lounge bar, with a downstairs clubbing and exhibition space, and regular ladies’ (and friends’) nights.
Avenue de Tivoli 5
PIN UP BAR
New lesbian bar in the city centre which is proving a great success.
Rue Marterey 31, pinupbar.tumblr.com
Karaoke bar in the trendy Flon district.
Rue de la Grotte 3, lesaxo.com
Largest sauna club in Switzerland with themed nights and something for everyone.
Avenue Tivoli 7-9, pinkbeach.ch
WHERE TO EAT
BRASSERIE DE MONTBENON
Buzzy brasserie in elegant surroundings and with a great view of the Lake. Especially popular in the summer when the terrace is open. Great wine list (splash out on the local Calamin grand cru white) and possibly the best-looking waiting staff in the whole of Lausanne.
Allée Ernest-Ansermet 3, brasseriedemontbenon.ch
CAFE DE GRANCY
A Lausanne institution, drawing in a varied but mainly twenty/ thirtysomething crowd. Especially popular for brunch, where you can relive 60s Brit TV and try the “Emma Peel”, the “John Steed”, the “Danny Wilde” or the “Brett Sinclair” dishes.
Avenue du Rond-Point 1, cafedegrancy.ch
CAFÉ DU GRUETLI
There’s been a restaurant in this 13th-century building in the shadow of the cathedral since 1849 and it attracts a loyal crowd who come here for the Swiss specialities especially its game dishes in the autumn.
Rue de la Mercerie 4, cafedugruetli.ch
WHERE TO STAY
With parts of it dating from the 12th century, this four-star hotel is nestled on the shores of Lake Geneva with great views of the harbour and the Alps.
Place du Port, chateuadouchy.ch