48 Hours in Lausanne

A perfect base for exploring the Swiss Riviera, the capital of the French-speaking canton of Vaud has charm to spare.

Day One

Morning: Just 30 minutes from the French border on the shores of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to locals), Lausanne’s appeal lies in its split personality: it’s both a lakeside resort complete with grand old hotels and a roll call of famous habitués—T.S. Eliot, Coco Chanel, the late Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej, who spent nearly 18 years of his youth here—and a buzzing, cosmopolitan city where young professionals rub shoulders with students and bankers. If you’ve checked in to Hôtel Royal Savoy Lausanne (41-21/614-8888; doubles from US$364), you’re in a good position to appreciate this duality. Set between the recreational port area of Ouchy and the historic old-town district of La Cité, this turreted Art Nouveau pile embraces both the past and present, thanks to a recent top-to-bottom makeover that’s refurbished the 1909 landmark in an elegant contemporary style.

Outside the Hôtel Royal Savoy

Outside the Hôtel Royal Savoy. Photo by Yoppy Pieter.

After breakfast, ride the metro north to Riponne-Maurice Béjart, where the winding streets of Lausanne’s medieval city center await. The hilltop Nôtre-Dame Cathedral should be your first stop. Built in the 13th century, this is arguably the finest example of gothic architecture in Switzerland, and one that comes with the city’s best vantage point: the views from its belfry take in the glittering expanse of Lake Geneva and the Alps beyond. Next door, Mudac (41-21/315-2530), a museum of applied arts, beckons with one of Europe’s largest collections of contemporary glass sculpture.

A view of the old town and cathedral, backed by Lake Geneva.

A view of the old town and cathedral, backed by Lake Geneva. Photo courtesy of Lausanne Tourisme.

Afternoon: For lunch, head across Bessières Bridge and turn down Rue Marterey. The 1930s-themed L’Etoile Blanche (41-21/351-2460) is one option, but better still is Café Mood (41-21/544-8875), just steps away from the modern extension of the city’s opera house. The daily specials here are a treat—think plaice fillets in beurre blanc with risotto made from whole wheat berries.

Window shopping awaits on Rue de Bourg, the city’s most fashionable retail stretch, with the nearby Bongénie department store offering a well-edited selection of designer labels. Snap up some edible souvenirs by the 17th-century town hall on Place de la Palud, where La Ferme Vaudoise (41-21/351-3555) stocks locally produced jams, condiments, cheeses, and wines on its shelves. Aegon + Aegon (41-21/312-7912) is a “curiosity shop” less than 10 minutes away on foot; expect to see minimalistic homeware alongside a tempting array of perfumes and bath products.

Evening: Near the rejuvenated former warehouse district of Le Flon, restaurant Brasserie de Montbenon (41-21/320-4030) is a must-try for dinner thanks to its position on a grassy esplanade overlooking Lake Geneva. The menu features Swiss-French classics such as beef tartare and chicken cordon bleu stuffed with raw cow’s-milk cheese, all enjoyed beneath a lofty domed ceiling. Le Flon is also the city’s nightlife hub, so if you’re looking to stay out late, you’re in the right place. Options range from the long-running five-floor disco MAD to house-and jungle-music haunt D! Club and Le Romandie, a rock venue tucked appropriately beneath the stone arches of a 19th-century viaduct.

The domed interior of Brasserie de Montbenon

The domed interior of Brasserie de Montbenon. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Crispy soft-boiled egg with leek vinaigrette at the Royal Savoy Brasserie du Royal

Crispy soft-boiled egg with leek vinaigrette at the Royal Savoy Brasserie du Royal. Photo courtesy of the hotel.

Day Two

Morning: With a scenic lakeside setting that’s perfect for runners and water sports enthusiasts, Lausanne makes a fitting home for the International Olympic Committee. Begin your day at the Olympic Museum (41-21/621-6511), a shrine to the passion and spectacle of both the ancient and modern games. Neighboring Musée de l’Élysée (41-21/316-9911) is also worth a look—its galleries are entirely devoted to photography.

Afternoon: Work up an appetite with a stroll down to the lakeside, where the restaurant at Château d’Ouchy (41-21/331-5181) serves a seasonal menu with ingredients sourced from small, independent suppliers around the region. The specialty here is freshly caught lake perch cooked à la meunière, and reserving a table is highly recommended.

Nearby, hop aboard one of CGN Horizons’ (41/900-929-929) Belle Époque paddle steamers for a three-hour Lake Geneva cruise that takes in the UNESCO-listed vineyards of Lavaux, the towns of Vevey and Montreux, and the medieval bastion of Chillon Castle before taking you back to Ouchy.

Evening: Return to the Royal Savoy for rooftop cocktails at the newly minted Sky Lounge, whose wraparound glass walls afford panoramic views. Afterward, head downstairs for dinner at Brasserie du Royal. Here, the menu is conceived by triple-Michelin-starred chef Marc Haeberlin, who brings accents of his native Alsace to local specialties such as papet vaudois—pork and cabbage sausage stewed in white wine with potato, onions, and leek. The menu’s seasonal nature ensures that you’ll be well-fed no matter when you time your visit.

If Time Allows…

Modern-architecture buffs will want to visit the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), a 15-minute train ride from the center of town. The campus is noteworthy for two avant-garde, Japanese-designed buildings: the Rolex Learning Center, an undulating, glass-walled behemoth by Tokyo-based architecture firm SANAA; and the recently opened, Kengo Kuma–designed ArtLab. The latter is distinguished by its sweeping slate canopy, while inside, visitors can view or listen to more than 5,000 concerts from the archives of the Montreux Jazz Festival.

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2017 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Lausanne Allure”).

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