Lausanne Old Town
Lausanne Switzerland is one of Switzerland’s cultural and intellectual centers. It is also in the center of the country’s Vaud wine region, right between two of its premier areas, La Cote area (known for producing steely white wines, mainly from the Chasselas grape) to the west and Lavaux (known especially for its famous Dezaley vineyard) to the east.
Lausanne started on the lakefront as a Roman settlement in the first century. The city moved about two kilometers off the lakeshore to higher, more defensible ground. The city’s Old Town, with its well-preserved buildings, is located here. We began our exploration of Lausanne here. Among the primary sites are:
- Place St.-Francois is effective in the center of Old Town. Located here is the site of Eglise St.-Francois, a 13th-century monastery church with a pretty façade if here but its interior is nondescript.
- Rue de Bouge. The street is lined with 15th-17th-century houses. It also has some of the city’s upmarket stores, especially jewelry and clothing stores.
- Cathedral Notre-Dame is a 12th-century French Gothic Catholic cathedral built on the foundations of early Roman basilicas. It now serves as a Protestant cathedral. Among its highlights are its 13th-century rose stained-glass window and the intricately carved stalls of Chapelle St-Maurice;
- Town Hall, a 17th-century Renaissance-style, arcaded building that highlights Place de la Palud;
- Bishop’s Palace, a 13th-century palace that now serves as a museum that portrays the history of the city;
- Palais de Rumine is a late 19th-century Neo-Renaissance structure. It initially housed the university and is now home to the library of the university (which has since moved) and a number of small museums.
- Chateau St.-Marie is a 15th-century Bishop’s Palace that is now the seat of the Vaud region.
Escaping Old Town
North of the city is Fondation de l’Hermitage. This beautifully landscaped park (complete with a huge Neo-Gothic villa) is home to a gallery with more than 800 French paintings, with a particular focus on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works.
Our visit coincided with a special exhibit that used the entire museum to examine how artists use shadows to create moods or impressions, or use them as symbols or merely for artistic effect. It traced the use of shadows in portraiture back to Rembrandt, and more recently to Warhol. Others used shadows to create feelings of fear or foreboding or to create a mood in which a work can be interpreted.
The exhibits showed the use of shadows in all styles of art, from realism, through impressionism (Monet) and cubism (Picasso), to surrealism (with Munch a particular master in its use) and conceptualism (Duchamp). They showed shadows’ use in media including photography (especially with Steichen and most interestingly, Man Ray), cutouts (Christian Boltanski), and as fascinating sculptures in which a seemingly random, 3D assemblage of weird shapes pieces of wood come together in the shadow of a man. Other artists, such as Warhol and especially Sol LeWitt took more of an analytic approach to examining the effect of different types of styles in a series of works. LeWitt, in particular, pulled together 28 different images of a sphere with light shining on it from different angles.
Unfortunately, not much explanation was in English. Joyce’s French was a little rusty so we lost a lot of meaning in our incomplete translations. Also, the exhibit was not at all what we were expecting from the description we read of the museum’s permanent collection.
The Flon District is a fun section of town targeted at young adults. It primarily has interestingly designed newer buildings, many of which house restaurants, bars, and galleries. It was designed as something of a meeting place. Brightly painted seats are scattered around the plaza which has a fountain at the center with replicas of a band setup, with each instrument squirting water.
Ouchy is the city’s original port district and fishing village. While it maintains a number of its original buildings, it has evolved into a lakeside resort. It has a pleasant boat harbor, a pretty lakeside promenade with lake and mountain views, a nicely landscaped park, and a number of resort hotels, including the Hotel du Chateau d’Ouchy. The hotel is a fabulous, 12th-century castle that had been incorporated into an 1890, Neo-Gothic castle. It has been repurposed into a luxury hotel.
Ouchy is also home to the Olympic Museum. While we were unable to visit the museum, we did briefly explore its nicely landscaped gardens that are decorated with statues that commemorate Olympic sports and notable athletes.
Another interesting-sounding museum that we were unable to visit is the Collection of de l’Art Brut. It contains a collection of art produced by untrained, often emotionally-troubled, “marginal” citizens that Jean Dubuffet collected and donated to the city.
- Le Mirabeau is a very nice restaurant with excellent service. We had two dishes and an introduction to a new wine grape. We were very impressed by Joyce’s chicken breast with sage sauce, french fries, and vegetables. Tom’s venison stew was less interesting (tasteless meat and overly concentrated Brouilly sauce–although the cranberry jam helped), with red cabbage and overly done Brussel sprouts. On the other hand, the spätzle was baked to an almost crispy texture, which we both enjoyed. The new grape was a local Plant Robert (a variant of Gamay that had the body and taste that was more like a slightly acidic, light-bodied merlot), a 2017 Denis Farquex in the Riex region of Lavaux.
- Café du Grutli is a deservedly popular family-run spot where we had great service and our last two fondues of Switzerland visit—a beef fondue and a cheese fondue made with two types of gruyere (young and aged) and vacheron. Our server paired both with a bottle of fruity, but dry 2018 Corbassieres Cornelin du Sion from the country’s Valais region.
- Les Brasseurs is a casual brasserie where we had a quick lunch of a flammkuchen or flame cake. We also had an Alsatian-style oval, thin-crust pizza, with cream, onion, smoked bacon, and Viennese sausage. Tom paired it with a seasonal dark beer
We stayed at the Hotel Des Voyageurs. The property is close to the Lausanne-Flon metro stop. Although it is close to the train station, it is also a bit uphill. But the hotel provides free Lausanne public transport to make getting around easier. This 3-star hotel felt more like 4 stars and the old town location was perfect. The staff was very helpful and the room was very comfortable. Probably the only thing missing from a great stay was the lack of a bathrobe. Breakfast was included and was mostly cold items. They did have scrambled eggs, but they were mostly tasteless.