Could Lausanne possibly be the ultimate mid-sized town in Switzerland?
On a warm spring weekend, we have returned to the Olympic Capital to get to the bottom of this question. And we have experienced it all: from markets to museums, from the lake to the hill, and from artisanal to ritzy...
Much has been said about Lausanne here on Newly Swissed. We hope that our guides to Instagramable spots, Lausanne museums, and restaurants have already inspired you to visit. And if not, here are even more reasons to make Lausanne your destination for a weekend getaway.
The Lausanne farmers market
Every Saturday, the old town below the Lausanne cathedral turns into a sprawling farmers' market. Initially, we are looking for this market on a particular street or plaza. But we quickly realize that the booths and food trucks are spread across the entire old town.
Some of the main market activity is happening on Place de la Palud, as well as on Place de la Riponne. Place de la Palud has a cozy feel as it is flanked by rows of historic buildings. You will find everything from flower vendors to vegetable stands and even a dairy truck.
Place de la Riponne is a wider, more open space. From butchers to cheesemakers, this is where regional vendors would park their shops on wheels.
We love the Lausanne farmers market because it makes us feel like locals. And we do as locals do: comparing the crust on artisanal bread, sampling cheese, or standing in line for a fixed-price flower bouquet assembled in front of our eyes.
Strolling past the colorful booths, indulging, and eavesdropping on Lausanners at Café des Artisans is a highlight of our trip. And we are sure that you will love this experience, too!
Discoveries at the MCBA Museum of Art
An entire new arts district is shaping up just footsteps from the Lausanne train station. On the site of a former rail yard, the vast PLATEFORME 10 will eventually be home to three museums.
The approach to the MCBA, canton Vaud’s museum of art, evokes some question marks: its architecture is brute and standoffish, and the sheer volume of the building seems staggering.
Yet, once we stand inside the cathedral-style museum lobby, our initial reactions quickly dissipate in thin air. This space is unexpectedly warm and welcoming, with a golden sphere juxtaposed on a tree made of bronze. The arched window from the train shed that used to sit here reminds of Grand Central Station.
And best of all, the permanent exhibit is free of charge, with exhaustive guide booklets in various languages just waiting to be picked up. From its collection of Vaud holdings, the MCBA Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts showcases ancient masterpieces and contemporary installations.
From Albert Anker to Alberto Giacometti and Ai WeiWei, our two-hour visit is full of emotion, inspiration, and occasional LOLs.
In the special exhibits section on the top floor, make sure to step into the world of René Bauermeister. The MCBA has dedicated “California Dreaming” to this fairly unknown Neuchâtel-based artist. His use of industrial materials such as aluminum or inflatable plastic makes this collection a precious discovery for anyone into the likes of Allan Kaprow, Andy Warhol, or Jeff Koons.
Closed: Interactive pop art at the Selfie Hotel
Outside the station, an entire floor of the Hotel Alpha Palmiers has temporarily been converted into a giant photo booth. Inside two dozen rooms, the hosts of the Selfie Hotel have created lavish and fun settings. The idea is to book a slot together with a bestie, then click away. Your Instagram feed will have enough fodder for weeks to come.
At the welcome desk, we receive a room key and a pink door hanger saying “Selfie in Progress”. For regular visitors, online reservations for two-hour slots are required. Birthday kids can get in on the spot - with no admission charged.
Many rooms are eclectic and pure fun. Others are marked as #WIRSINDZUKUNFT and highlight the effects of consumer behavior on our planet. Masks are required until a room’s door is shut, and disinfectants are placed in the hallway. The hotel is open through the end of August 2021. And the rest is history...
Lausanne is home to lots of outdoor art
One afternoon, we are full-out playing tourists. Equipped with cameras, street maps, and notepads for sketching, we meet our English-speaking tour guide from Lausanne Tourisme.
Mrs. Christine is a longtime resident of Lausanne and her passion for this town is evident. As part of the Art in the City Tour, we crawl through narrow alleys that open up unique perspectives. We see curious installations and wall murals, oddly shaped fountains and artsy architecture.
Within easy walking distance from each other, Lausanne offers a world of outdoor art. And thanks to (likely Switzerland’s best) tourism guides and maps, everything is easy to access.
We have a recommendation for those planning to see Lausanne’s outdoor art little by little, and without the anecdotes of a guide: pick up the free “Art in the City” booklet at a tourism office or read it online. It is another example of how Lausanne excels at inspiring us through comprehensive and freely available content.
Marvel at canton Vaud from aboard a historic steam paddler
Daily at 3:30 PM, a historic steamboat departs the port of Ouchy in Lausanne. We barely make it onboard, having underestimated the magnetic lure of Lausanne’s lakeside. While watching rollerskaters practice maneuvers, we get lost in time - until we hear the steamer’s whistle.
La Suisse is a beautifully restored and maintained steam paddler with a history dating back to 1910. Its bow is decorated with a mermaid carved in wood and covered in gold leaf. During the three-hour cruise, we have time for many more discoveries, such as the sunny first-class deck, the captain's lair, or the exposed engine room.
On our journey towards Château de Chillon, the boat briefly docks at scenic little towns. In between, we marvel at the UNESCO World Heritage protected vineyards passing by like a motion picture.
Being the geeks we are, we soon find ourselves in the captain’s lair on the top deck. From up here, we gain an entirely new perspective and learn a lot about the operation of such a large vessel. (A crew of six is the minimum, and much is handled with experience rather than technology. A sonar device is rather a gadget than a necessity.)
It would be hard to pick a favorite moment of this boat ride. The approach on Chillon Castle, however, might make it to the top of the list. It is easy to see why its strategic position between north and south made this 12th-century fortress seem impenetrable.
This leisurely boat cruise on Lake Geneva is the perfect preview of the many places we have yet to explore in canton Vaud: the terraced vineyards of Lavaux with its wine cellars, the charming lakeside towns, and the splendid Vaud Alps. (Look up AilyosArt Nature and you will see why we want to hike this open-air art gallery…)