The expression "everything old is new again" fits Lausanne to a T. One of Switzerland's smallest cities, it has always been a haven for discreetly wealthy and flamboyantly famous Europeans (Mozart liked to play at the town hall; Lord Byron wrote poems by the lake). Now this postcard-perfect resort on Lake Geneva has been rediscovered by a new generation of sybarites, who come from near (the French border is 30 minutes away) and far (TV channels broadcast in more than seven languages, including Arabic). Lausanne's allure lies in its duality: it's both a lakeside resort town—with opulent old-world hotels, boisterous outdoor cafés, and even a few bikini-tops-optional beaches—and a cosmopolitan city, where fashionable students commingle with bankers in the energetic dining rooms and nightclubs that have thoroughly modernized the cobblestoned streets of the enchantinghistoric town above the port.
WHERE TO STAY
The oldest hotel management school in the world is in Lausanne, and its graduates often stay around, which explains the superb service at the majestic Hôtel Beau-Rivage Palace (17-19 Place du Port; 800/223-6800 or 41-21/613-3333; www.brp.ch; doubles from $376), considered by many to be the finest hotel in Switzerland. (Coco Chanel, a woman who knew a thing or two about taste, lived in one of the 29 suites in this grand old dowager.) When you order champagne, it arrives perfectly chilled moments after you hang up the phone. Any of the spacious Belle Époque rooms could easily hold a yoga class. Thanks to the tennis courts, a decent gym, an indoor-outdoor swimming pool, and three restaurants, you won't have to venture out of this 10-acre garden oasis.
• Next door, sister property Hôtel Angleterre et Résidence (11 Place du Port; 41-21/613-3434; www.angleterre-residence.ch; doubles from $276) has completed a $25 million renovation, transforming six small historic mansions into a country-manor haven for travelers who prefer elegance over excess. The best room is No. 1001, a romantic junior suite in the 18th-century Florissant mansion with a king-sized bed (not so common in Europe) and a view of the mountain-rimmed lake.
• There are three reasons to stay at the city's most luxurious business hotel, the Lausanne Palace & Spa (7-9 Grand-Chêne; 41-21/331-3131; www.lausanne-palace.ch; doubles from $384): the huge, ultra-modern black marble bathrooms in each of the 154rooms; the treatments in the Aveda spa, which do wonders toward obliterating jet lag (try the Reflexo, a Thai massage combined with foot reflexology); and the location, ideal for die-hard shoppers and club-goers alike—the fashion district is literally across the way, as is a set of stairs that leads down to a street lined with nightclubs.
• Lausanne finally has a design hotel, the Hôtel Alpha-Palmiers (34 Rue du Petit-Chêne; 41-21/323-0131; www.fhotels.ch; doubles from $207), a soaring glass-and-steel structure cantilevered into the hillside. Rooms are decorated with original Le Corbusier cowhide furniture, and the street-levelJardin Thai restaurant is where trendsetters head for authentic basil-infused Penang curry and spicy lemon-balm soup with prawns. (The Thai-born chef stuffed her suitcases with her grandmother's favorite recipes.)
• BEST VALUE One of the most affordable hotels in the area, the 82-room Hôtel Agora (9 Ave. du Rond-Point; 41-21/617-1211; www.fhotels.ch; doubles from $196) is also the quirkiest, with a design aesthetic right out of Austin Powers: stainless-steel lobby; disco-ball lighting. The unadorned rooms may be small, but the hotel's location— a quiet, leafy street one block from the train station—is a big asset for its multilingual European clientele.
WHERE TO EAT
Although you can find plenty of gooey fondue and other Swiss specialties in Lausanne, refined French cuisine is the norm here. The city's proximity to France accounts for the ease in luring talented young chefs who want to make a big splash in a smaller setting. Inside a landmark 450-year-old pink stone building, La Grappe d'Or (3 Cheneau-de-Bourg; 41-21/323-0760; dinner for two $205) has been feeding royalty and rockers (King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Elton John, Pink Floyd) for generations. Chef Peter Baermann is passionate about wine (500 bottles are on the list) and fresh fish, preparing French classics such as turbot in a butter-and-shallot sauce.
• The Indian-themed dining room of Jet Lag (Place Auberjonois; 41-21/311-1133; www.jet-lag.ch; dinner for two $136) has a red-and-white motif. Frank Vialon, the 31-year-old chef, gives his Asian-inspired dishes a sweet-and-sour kick (crab blanc manger with red onions in a ponzu sauce, cod cooked with butter and vanilla salt served on a banana leaf).
• Java (36 Rue Marterey; 41-21/321-3837; dinner for two $48), on a trendy block packed with small bistros, attracts an art-world crowd with its mismatched tables, drawing-room vibe, and traditional menu (onglet, steak tartare, an ample cheese platter) that won't break the bank.
• Local intelligentsia (especially writers and professors) take their lunch, aperitifs, and dinner at the busy Café Romand (2 Place St.-François; 41-21/312-6375; dinner for two $48), a smoke-filled, dimly lit institution that has been turning out exemplary cheese-based dishes since 1951. Stick with the house specials: fondue; raclette; and croûte au fromage, a massive piece of grilled bread topped with melted Gruyère, ham, and eggs.