What better way to work off all that Swiss chocolate than to come to a city built on three hills? You’ll get a good workout here without resorting to the nearby ski slopes, which is quite apt considering this is home to the International Olympic Committee.
Chris Stauvermann recommends Lausanne, Switzerland
A 45-minute train ride from Geneva, Lausanne is a compact city that is home to around 135,000 people. And it’s not the poor relation of its larger, more well-known neighbour, either. It has plenty going on to make it well worth visiting in its own right. By the way, Switzerland is not dull. It’s just that it has a slight sense of restraint that is palpable and is no less worthy for it.
Mind you, legends such as Charlie Chaplin, Josephine Baker and Lord Byron all spent time there, and none could be accused of being conventional. Lausanne is surrounded by vineyard-covered slopes, and cascades downhill from the medieval Cite area to the wondrous Lake Geneva (the largest freshwater lake in Europe). Ouchy, the delightful lakefront area, is the perfect place for a stroll, skateboard or swim or simply to enjoy the marina and those magnificent views of the Savoy Alps. Here, you will find a promenade peppered with floral displays that connect the old and new ports, and a number of Belle Epoque-era hotels for luxury stays and fine dining.
While Lausanne’s Old Town is a labyrinth of cobbled streets, delightful squares and 17th-century buildings, the happening Flon district is awash with cafes, shops, galleries and restaurants all housed in buildings that are most definitely 21st century. And when the walking becomes a bit much, fear not. The city has a network of bridges, escalators and steps to lighten the load on your legs.
My favourite place- The Olympic Museum. With three expansive floors that wind around like a stadium track, you can relive some of the greatest sporting moments of all time. It’s all here: the medals, the costumes, the equipment and film footage. It also lies in resplendent gardens about five minutes’ walk from the quay at Ouchy, where you can admire some striking sculptures depicting the Olympic spirit and also find your inner Usain Bolt on a 100m track. The history of the games from its origins in Ancient Greece is skilfully portrayed on interactive displays, too. There’s a gift store and a café but with a park as pretty as this, you’ll want to sit outside in the (very) fresh air.
Highlights- The city’s fathers wisely made the Place de la Palud for pedestrians only. The winding, cobbled streets are a good place to start your inevitable trip to the venerable Cathedral of Notre Dame. But don’t hurry through it, sit on the steps opposite the town’s oldest fountain, the Fontaine de la Justice, and wait for the square’s clock bells to toll. And this being Switzerland, you can reset your watch by them.
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, market stalls sell local farm produce, and some of the cheeses are hard to resist.
Presiding over the square is the Hotel de Ville, a 15th-century town hall that is festooned with gargoyles in the shape of dragons and some rather stunning stained glass.
If you’re on the way from the square to the Gothic cathedral (to witness its 6000 organ pipes, for one) you can’t miss the Escaliers du Marche, a winding and covered flight of medieval cobbled steps. As you climb up, you can gaze at an array of terraced houses that date from the 16th century.
If it’s raining, there are 22 museums and art galleries to choose from, including the quirky (not qwerty!) Typewriter Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Lausanne-Vidy Roman Museum.
For a trip out, visit the vineyards of Lavaux, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Firstly, take the train to Lutry, walk down to the pier and hop on the delightful Lavaux Express, which is basically a tractor dressed as a train that pulls little train cars up the road and through some quaint, picturesque villages with a couple of stops on the way. The views are quite magnificent.
Lowlights- Lausanne is not cheap but you’d expect that in Switzerland. You can pay around 10 Euros (RO4) for a pretty average pizza and four Euros for a coffee that’s just OK.
Souvenirs- For objets d’art, visit some of the renovated warehouses in the Flon district. For local crafts, try some of the markets on Wednesdays or Saturdays. And of course, there’s chocolate; even the cheaper options are five times better than you will find at home.
Getting there- You can fly from Muscat to Geneva with Etihad Airways. From Geneva Airport, it’s a 45-minute train ride.
Where to stay- It’s a choice between the original palace hotels in the Ouchy area or quainter (and cheaper) options in the Old Town and everywhere in between. The Hotel Carlton is a four-star boutique establishment that offers easy accessibility to both parts of the city.
Top 5 Things To Do
1) Chill out along the lakefront at Ouchy
2) Wander around the Old Town area
3) Indulge in some fondue, crepes or hot chocolate
4) Visit at least one museum
5) Jog though Sauvabelin Forest