Lausanne: the new Swiss wine capital
Cradle a glass of crisp white wine and behold Lake Geneva and you're an immediate convert to Swiss wines – it's impossible not to be in these spectacular surroundings.
I stand looking out at a picture postcard scene of the ice blue lake, crowned by snow-capped Alps, adorned with swirls of cloud, quietly contemplating the fascination Lausanne has held for so many of the world’s greats – think Freddy Mercury, Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin and Audrey Hepburn.
When it comes to a short-haul winter weekend away, this medieval alpine destination offers a gently alluring and relaxed ambience and many a scenic backdrop for dalliance and declarations, far from the madding crowd.
I’ve spent the afternoon wine-tasting at the Domaine Croix Duplex. Nearby, a table is scattered with wine glasses hosting the vineyard’s specialities: Les Barberonnes, Calamin, Les Fleurettes, Gamaret.
“Only about 2% of Swiss wines leave the country. Outside Switzerland, we export to Japan and the UK,” says Maude Vogel, who, along with her brother, took over from their parents to continue the tradition of the wine estate that had been founded by their grandfather in 1929. Vogel worked all of her childhood in the family vineyard absorbing knowledge.
“My grandfather started out by learning about wine and supplying neighbours. We now grow 14 different types of grape and 31 products and offer fondue evenings in the summer on the terrace, food and wine pairings and weddings. The different soils and microclimates of the vineyards allow for an interesting variation of flavours in the wines. Every wine is unique. It’s very personal. The upcoming festival is a celebration of the Vaud region’s wine and its makers.”
Lausanne has been named as the latest member of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network and is the new Swiss Wine Capital. For the first time this Millennium, the once in a generation wine festival, the Fête des Vignerons, will take place in the region from 18 July to 11 August 2019, with the most recent taking place in 1999.
I’ve taken a 30-minute train ride to the village of Grandvaux from Lausanne’s main station in the Canton of Vaud and arrived in the heart of Lavaux, high above Lac Léman. Covering 800 hectares, it’s the biggest adjoining vineyard region in Switzerland and its courageously fashioned hillside vines have been protected by Unesco since 2007. A hidden gem in the wine world.
Homes, hotels and chalets dot the green landscape and vineyards cascade downhill towards the shore. I’m only half an hour by boat from Evian and if you fly into Lausanne, you can choose between Geneva International Airport (45 minutes away by train) and Zurich airport (2 hours 30 minutes away by train). It’s a 1 hour 35 minutes flight from London.
Visitors staying in hotels are granted their own personal Lausanne Transport Card (valid for your entire stay) which grants free transport (bus, train, metro) throughout Lausanne and its surroundings, plus impressive discounts on boat trips between Lausanne-Ouchy and Evian-les-Bains and admission to a number of museums.
This fantastic transport offering encourages rosy-cheeked explorers to get out and see the sights in and around the city and soak up the famous Swiss sophistication, awe-inspiring views, quality dining, loved-up lakefront strolls, lungfuls of crisp air and indulge in the pure joy of their chocolate and the efficiency of their trains – which run like a Swiss clock and are known as one of the world’s best rail systems (three minutes late here is seen as a delay and helpful announcements on trains and in stations are in English). This is a place that feels small-scale, as if you’ve stumbled across your own little secret.
But this scenic destination is set to soon step into the spotlight as the host of both the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and the 2020 Youth Olympic Games. Twenty-six years after acquiring the appellation of Olympic Capital, Lausanne will become an Olympic city by hosting the second largest multi-sport winter event after the Olympic Winter Games.
Plus, from mid-November to the end of December, the annual open-air Bô Noël Christmas Market comes to life and offers oodles of festive charm.
The legendary Royal Savoy Hotel & Spa in the vibrant harbour district of Lausanne is handily located for the city’s main points of interest. A recent five-year, CHF100 million (£79 million) refurbishment has revived the Art Nouveau hotel to its former glory, with a contemporary flourish - think chandeliers, giant mirrors, velvet furnishings and plush carpets.
Doors magically open courtesy of the overhead door sensors and the efficient and dashingly suave staff. From the cosy 28m² to the lavish 345m², all rooms and suites come with black-out curtains and electric sound screens on balconies, sumptuous marble bathrooms, heated towels, Bulgari lotions and potions and the finest French linens courtesy of luxury bedding extraordinaire, D.Porthault, will ensure an unbeatable night’s sleep.
Robe and slipper it down to the sublime wellness haven - a magnificent space with heated interconnecting indoor and outdoor pools, steam rooms, saunas, plunge pool, Jacuzzis, a dedicated area for women, private spas, relaxation and treatment rooms and a 24/7 gym – but who needs a gym when there’s lake walks on your doorstep? Most effective of all is the beatific Vichy Shower treatment – this 50 minute ritual consists of a grandiose massage under a shower and focuses on balance, fatigue and muscle recovery.
Spend the morning
Spend a morning walking the lake promenade stretching all the way from Pully and Ouchy port to the residential area of Saint Sulpice and beyond, then take a return boat trip back to the centre.
For culture vultures, wander between the museums (with free entry on Sundays). The fabulously interactive Olympic Museum is 20 minutes on foot along the lakefront from Royal Savoy Hotel. It starts in the 8,000m² park, dotted with sport sculptures and continues on into the vast exhibition where you discover the origins of the Games in Olympia, immersive 180° audio-visuals and cool memorabilia. You can even tackle the champions themselves on the sports installations - Usain Bolt is waiting for you on the 100m track.
In 2019, Lausanne welcomes a new cultural hub, Platform 10, home to three museums. One of them, Musée de l'Elysée, explores the art and history of photography with a unique collection of 100,000 prints and photographic collections, including works formerly owned by Charlie Chaplin.
Fans should visit Chaplin’s World, the comic legend’s former home-turned-museum in the Manoir du Ban, near Vevey, where Chaplin spent the last 25 years of his life. If you’re in search of the eclectic, then try The Collection de l'Art Brut for creations by self-taught artists that veer far from conventional artistic codes. The collection is the only one of its kind in Europe.
The cosy Lacustre café is right on the shore of Lake Geneva and a short stroll from the Olympic Museum. Mismatched furniture, chalk boards, hanging plant pots and multi-lightbulb vines decorate ceilings. They’re famed for their giant made-to-order pizzas, charcuterie platters, pancake stacks piled high with streaky bacon and dripping with syrup and cream, homemade apple pie and ice-creams doused in alcohol. The lemon sorbet swims in vodka and vanilla ice-cream comes paired with whisky.
Alternatively, the easy-going neighbourhood Café de Grancy offers fresh and hearty warming dishes of wild mushrooms and cream casserole, smoked boar with pear puree and deer ravioli and is topped off with friendly locals, bustling neighbourhood vibes, board games and magazines galore. The wine list demonstrates the diversity of the country’s vineyards and the waiters know their stuff, making good recommendations and solid pairings.
Spend the afternoon
If not wine-tasting then head to Lausanne’s traditional farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, on Place de la Riponne, Rue de Bourg, St-François and Place de la Palud. The air is filled with spices and wild flowers and the sloping cobbled streets are lined with stands selling: seasonal fruit and veg, local cheeses, sausages, bread, blooms, handicrafts and antiques. Local musicians playing trumpets and accordions charm shoppers with their upbeat musical tunes. The Christmas Market at de la Riponne takes place four weeks before Christmas.
Learn how to make chocolate at nearby La Chocolatiere and indulge in generous chocolate tastings, courtesy of the smiley Hadiyat. There’s gooey chocolate salted caramel, pralines, mint, choc chip, vivid powdered raspberry, champagne, lemon, lavender and whisky flavours – these pieces of heaven are displayed on vintage silver platters and sold in beautiful packaging. Put your feet up over a mug of steaming hot chocolate in their cosy adjoining cocoon with heaters, sofas and lamps.
For a 100% Swiss experience, dine at the Royal Savoy’s festive pop-up Chalet du Royal for a cosy evening, chalet style, surrounded by a pine forest, cauldrons of bubbling, gooey cheese fondue, baskets overflowing with warm chunks of bread for dipping and lithe, breezy wines to wash it all down.
For an experience in cultivated grandeur. look no further than Eat Me for tapas-style creations that reflect everything from the humblest of foods to the most modern of gastronomic fare: from Europe to the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Standout dishes are the punchy and citric octopus ceviche, bonfire-scented Jamaican jerk chicken and glossy tataki duck, sweetly rounded off with dessert cocktails and an end-of-evening dark molten chocolate cake. Sultry lighting and intimate dining make it an ideal haunt for a weekend en amoureux.
Stay up late
Ta Cave, the first crowdfunded bar of Switzerland is the place to go. Gorgeous wines (over 280) and finely carved dried meats and cheeses from the region are why the international and creative crowd love it here. The place is cosy-busy. In 2015, three friends brought together 850 local epicureans, their founding members and in exchange for CHF250 (£198), every member got a lifetime free aperitif - one glass of wine a day, for them and a friend. They’re currently crowd funding for sites in Zurich, Vevey, Berne and Bale if you fancy partaking in a little entrepreneurial venture.
The open air Bô Noël Christmas Market comes alive at night. Squares are filled with stalls selling Christmassy bits and bobs and DJs play beats to the crowds inside the many enormous warm and heated tents decorated with upside down hanging Christmas trees, fur seating and lanterns. For those who wish to buy products by local designers, Place Pépinet is the place to go. Wine lovers should head to Bô Caveau, under the arcs of Grand-Pont, which also accommodates the Children’s Village offering fairy tales, games and visits to Bô-Father Christmas.
Fancy a quiet one? Take after-dinner cocktails on the rooftop Sky Lounge at the Royal Savoy Hotel & Spa, salute the views and vineyards of Lavaux and soak up the Lausanne Festival of Lights - the centre of Lausanne beckons with colour and entices me to take a moonlight walk. It’s an alluring way to discover the streets of the city centre and the old town by night.
For more, visit lausanne-tourisme.ch