LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND - If they gave out medals to cities based on beauty, then surely Lausanne, nestled on the shores of lovely Lake Geneva and at the base of the majestic Jura Mountains, would win gold.
This is a city that holds the honor of being the home base of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and thus attracts a lot of attention every few years when the Summer and Winter Games are awarded to a country by the athletic organization. Enchanting Lausanne is so much more than the IOC, though.
It has a distinguished history dating back to the Roman Empire when Roman legions built a military camp here and called it Lousanna. During the Napoleonic Wars it held the distinction of being the capital of the newly formed Swiss canton (state), called Vaud – which it still does today.
Lausanne is just 40 miles from Geneva but doesn’t get as much attention as its bigger sister city, which is just fine with the 130,000 people living here.
Above: Lausanne celebrates its Olympic roots.
Both Geneva and Lausanne share much the same typography, thanks mostly to Lake Geneva, or Lac Leman as the locals call it, which both cities border. The only difference is that in Lausanne there always seem to be a fine Swiss mist hanging over the lake.
Many of Lausanne’s citizens are foreigners – Americans and Europeans immigrate here to take advantage of its serenity and easy access to Switzerland’s legendary ski hills. People like Carol, a transplanted New Yorker who likes to guide visitors around here adopted city and introduce them to its charm. As we discovered, Carol is well known in Lausanne.
“Hello Carol,” shouted the server in the black apron as we passed a local café.
“Hello Jacques,” Carol shouted back.
“People here are always on a first name basis. Lausanne is not as stuffy as Geneva (the diplomatic capital of Europe because of the UN’s presence there) so people let their hair down and have fun,” said the woman who moved here with her husband and two children so they could continue their water skiing training.
They couldn’t have picked a better place. The calm waters of Lake Geneva are perfect for sportsmen, especially water skiers who don’t have to contend with large waves.
Lausanne, the French-speaking capital of Switzerland, has been making waves with tourists thanks to the many surprises it offers. Much of those tourist highlights are located in the Cité (Old Town), which is an uphill walk from the city’s well used train station.
The Cité is jammed-packed with historic relics, like Switzerland’s largest cathedral, which has been Protestant since the 15th century. Then there’s the 17th century Hotel de Ville (City Hall), the Palais du Rumine (now the home of several museums), the Chateau St. Marie (a former bishop’s castle) and the Ancienne-Academie, the former home of Lausanne’s university. After a few hours touring the Cité, Carol persuaded us to take the funicular down the hill to the port of Ouchy, where she promised to introduce us to some fine dinning and drinking spots that have popped up along the shores of Lake Geneva.
Above: Boating on lovely Lake Geneva is the big activity in Lausanne.
“This is the spot people like to come and party – especially during the summer months,” said Carol as we hurried to catch a lake steamer that would take us on a short tour. “Some of the steamers leave here and sail to Geneva. The views from the water are simply magnificent.”
As you would expect, there’s an Olympic museum here which draws most tourists to the city. The well laid out museum has mementoes from every modern day Olympics ever held – both summer and winter – and its video displays of important Olympic moments is well done and well worth the time it takes to see.
Lausanne is a major rail centre with trains from France and other parts of Switzerland converging here. The fact Parisians can come to Lausanne in less than four hours on France’s ultra-modern TGV trains makes this a perfect weekend retreat for many Frenchmen. And the exorbitant prices of the pastel colored homes listed here certainly reflect Lausanne’s popularity.
“To live in the centre of Lausanne you must be rich and famous,” Carol, who lives outside the handsome city, told us. “The house prices here are staggering. But then again, you get what you pay for.”
There are many hotels in Lausanne, ranging from the five-star Beau-Rivage Palace, where the athletic world’s elite like to hang their hats, to the far more affordable Hotel au Lac, a three-star property with a five-star view of Lake Geneva. This hotel even offers a private clock tower and turn of the century architecture.
Lausanne has counted many important people among its residents over the years. People like Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg, the former queen of Spain; English actor James Mason; Russian jeweler Peter Carl Faberge; and of course Pierre de Coubertin, the French baron who started the modern Olympic movement.
Lausanne is often called Le Petit Geneva but actually, it looks more like a petit paradise!