Nestled on the shore of Lake Geneva in the French speaking part of Switzerland is a pleasant surprise called Lausanne. What started as just a pit stop for 19th Century British boys on tour and religious pilgrims has turned into a vibrant and ever-evolving city with art, start-ups and design firms, fresh cuisine, trendy nightlife, and best of all, it’s the meeting point of two diverse Swiss wine regions, Lavoux and La Côte. It’s seriously fun for all ages.
The lively port of Ouchy is a popular vacation spot for the Swiss and the French. It serves as a great starting point to explore by hiking or by bike the Lavoux wine region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for it’s terraced vineyards. The marina also welcomes hundreds commuters daily from nearby France, who travel by ferry across Lake Geneva to work in Lausanne.
Ouchy is also home to the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Museum, where much of the modern Olympic records and artifacts are held.
If you had asked a Lausanne local about Flon 20 years ago, they might have painted you a horror story of it’s seedy alleys and notorious “red-light” reputation. To fix the problem, the city banded together to create the new and improved Flon: a district with music schools, performance halls, and businesses while maintaining an edgy, yet fun nightlife. This was the first time in my travels where I saw two juxtaposing worlds coexist so nicely together. There’s a music conservatory literally across the street from one of Switzerland’s most notorious night clubs. The strategy behind cleaning up Flon: to create traffic through this part of the city 24/7 — workers during the day, concerts and dining during the evening, and partying late into the night!
Buildings in Flon are held to strict codes. To prevent obstructing the view to Lake Geneva, they cannot be built too tall. They are also built in a style reminiscent of the warehouses that once occupied this district.
La Cité is a relatively quiet part of town, but it draws a lot of attention because it is the historic part of Lausanne. It’s medieval buildings have been mostly transformed into residential homes, design firms and start-ups, restaurants, and other businesses. But what’s most interesting and worth seeing in this part of the city is the Château Saint-Maire and the Lausanne Cathedral. The Château Saint-Maire is not open to the public because it still serves as the seat to the governing powers that be, but the Lausanne Cathedral is open to the public and is certainly worth a peek!
Compared to many churches in Europe, the Lausanne Cathedral might seem a bit bare. That’s because Switzerland went through the Reformation a bit earlier than many other European countries. 1536 to be exact. Many churches were stripped of their statues of saints and ornate relics. However, some original painting can still be found in certain areas of the cathedral, included at the front door, which is commonly referred to as the “Painted Portal”.
This is the center of town where there’s a bit more action. City Hall is located in Ville Marché and on Wednesdays and Saturdays, local merchants create an outdoor market where they sell local meats, cheeses, produce and other goods.
What’s a city without some greenspace? Sauvabelin is a forest in the hills overlooking Lausanne. Here, travelers can find the Foundation de l’Hermitage, the old home owned by the wealthy Bugnion family which has been turned into an art gallery. What makes the Foundation de l’Hermitage so great is that not only does it have great views of Lake Geneva and Lausanne, but they change their exhibits regularly, so you can always bank on seeing something new. When we visited, there was an extensive collection belonging to the Geneva-based collector Jean Bonna. It featured works by Manet, Rembrandt, and Gauguin.
Another great place to check out in Sauvabelin is the Sauvabelin Tower, a 35 meter tower with panoramic views of the region.