Once-sleepy Lausanne, on the banks of Lake Geneva, has turned over a stylish new leaf. Vicky Lowry reveals the city's hidden charms
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.
WHERE TO SHOP
Bon Génie-Les Boutiques (10 Place St.-François; 41-21/345-2727) has much in common with Barneys New York. It's a small department store with a well-edited selection of designers (Gucci, Armani, Max Mara), but the cost can be as much as30 percent below what it would be in the States, and that's before the 7.6 percent tax rebate.
• Carla G (7 Place de l'Europe; 41-21/312-5185) sells a collection of body-hugging Italian pieces (fringed leather coats, low-riding jeans) and skin-revealing dresses meant for late nights at hot spots in the nearby Flon neighborhood.
• Swiss embroidery is so expensive that most manufacturers have gone out of business, but Langenthal (8 Rue de Bourg; 41-21/323-4402) remains the source for all things linen—its owner imports items from the countryside, where artisans still delicately embroider handkerchiefs and lace-edged satin sheets.
• For the home chef, Cordon Bleu (22 Place de la Palud; 41-21/311-0270) carries the latest in Continental housewares; you'll find substantial savings on Wüsthof knives, Rösle tools, Kuhn Rikon's durable, double-insulated pots and pans, and other hard-to-find, professional-style European cookware.
Walking up and down steep cobblestoned streets can be exhausting. When a quick lunch or caffeine fix is in order, follow the smartly dressed local demoiselles to Edward's (2 Rue de la Paix; 41-21/311-4748; lunch for two $19), a sandwich shop with a gourmet agenda, where a touch of mustard elevates a classic BLT and a surprisingly good bagel gets a decidedly European topping of cucumber- and mint-laced tuna salad.
• The fourth floor of the Bon Génie department store is reserved for the BG Café (41-21/320-4852; lunch for two $40), a lovely tearoom overlooking the tree-lined town square. Nosh on a smoked-salmon club sandwich (overflowing with sliced eggs, tomatoes, and tartar sauce), one of the half-dozen salads, or just a side of the addictive house-made potato chips.
• Minimalist, thin-crust pizzas draw the lunchtime crowds to Chez Mario (28 Rue de Bourg; 41-21/323-7401; lunch for two $24), a second-story pizzeria with graffiti-covered walls and the best espresso in town.
Every city has a warehouse district; Lausanne's is called the Flon (a short walk from the center of town and steps away from the metro). Skateboarders practice there during the day, but when the sun goes down it's all about the nightlife. If you missed Carnival in Rio, head over to L'Atelier Volant (12 Côtes de Montbenon; 41-21/624-8428). The décor is tropical, the rum flows freely, and the DJ's spin salsa and merengue into the wee hours.
• A giant condom painted on the outside wall is a welcome of sorts to www.jet-lag.ch (23 Rte. de Genève; 41-21/340-6969; www.mad.ch), a five-floor disco where buxom go-go dancers writhe to the beat of hard-core techno music and DJ's from all over Europe entertain the youthful crowd (up to 1,000 revelers can fit inside this renovated warehouse).
• Although Café Luna (7 Place de l'Europe; 41-21/329-0846) is a coffee bar serving light lunches, at night it turns into Lausanne's trendiest lounge — Gitanes-smoking, black-clad patrons snare seats on the couches and practice the art of la drague (French for "flirting").
• Several blocks away, in the heart of the Old Town, Bleu Lézard (10 Rue Enning; 41-21/321-3830) serves casual French dishes until about 11 p.m., when it's transformed into an eighties disco blasting pop music.
Lausanne is an outdoor-sports mecca worthy of the city's distinction as the Olympic capital. (The International Olympic Committee has its headquarters here.) There's a 15-mile lakeside trail wide enough to be shared by runners, cyclists, and in-line skaters, but the real action takes place on the water. The winds on Lake Geneva—Western Europe's largest lake—are remarkably good for windsurfing; the friendly folks at the Surf Shop (1 Ave. de la Plage; 41-21/802-1616; www.surfshop.ch) will fit you with the right board and can provide lessons on the art of planche à voile. Ciels Bleus (2 Place du Vieux-Port; 41-76/366-3949; www.cielsbleus.ch) rents motorboats and offers waterskiing and wakeboarding expeditions for those with a need for speed.
Vicky Lowry has written for the New York Times, Elle Décor, and Vogue.
Philippe Rochat CHEF, HOTEL DE VILLE, CRISSIER
Where does the chef at one of Switzerland's two Michelin three-starred restaurants go for a bite to eat?Here, a few of his favorites:
RESTAURANT LE PETIT 74 Rte. des Deux Villages, St.-Légier; 41-21/943-1185; dinner for two $160. "Chef André Minder cooks his fish with just a little olive oil and lemon."
RESTAURANT DU CHASSEUR La Rte. Suisse, Allaman; 41-21/807-3073; dinner for two $128. "Wild mushrooms are amazing here, and Marcelo Fernandez's fricassee of chanterelles is the best."
LA POMME DE PIN 11 Rue Cité Derrière, Lausanne; 41-21/323-4656; dinner for two $96. "This is the place for classic French cuisine, such as rabbit tournedos and warm chocolate soufflé."
RESTAURANT DU PORT 9 Rue du Port, Rolle; 41-21/825-1520; dinner for two $64. "We go to the restaurant's lakeside terrace for freshly caught perch cooked À la meunière and served only with a lemon wedge and french fries."
Don't wait to buy chocolates at the airport—two shops in town are known for their exquisite sweets. You may feel underdressed when you walk into Blondel (5 Rue de Bourg; 41-21/323-4474); the saleswoman at the 154-year-old institution wears Chanel. A long line forms outside as customers patiently wait to pick from the two dozenkinds of truffles made daily on the premises; chocolats au marteau are a specialty. • For a more modern take on Switzerland's most desirable export, head to Confiserie de St.-Pierre (2-4 Rue Enning; 41-21/312-5852), a tearoom with an inviting display of unusual—but wonderful—confections. The pâtissier, David Potéreau, is an inventive cocoa nut, infusing his chocolates with jasmine tea and Indian spices and dusting them with colorful dried roses, rosemary, and lavender.
A quaint 18th-century farmhouse near the center of town, across from the Palais de Beaulieu, is the unusual setting for the Collection de l'Art Brut (11 Ave. des Bergières; 41-21/315-2570; www.artbrut.ch): Outsider art that has been created by prisoners, psy-chiatric patients, and other non-traditional artists. Every inch of the museum is filled with explosive, vibrant, and often frightening images (see poster at left). The artisans may be untrained, but the power and originality of their work will stop you in your tracks.
Types of candies sold at Blondel.
Most popular: dark chocolate truffle with pistachio Fondue at Café Romand.
Number of bottles of champagne ordered from room service at the Hôtel Beau-Rivage Palace in 2003
La Pomme de Pin
La Grappe d'Or
Restaurant du Chasseur
The Lausanne Palace & Spa
An institution for high rollers since 1915, with a happening British colonial–style bar.
Room to Book: Ask for a junior room overlooking Lake Geneva.
Doubles From $530.