Sport, Swiss Wine & Chocolate in the Olympic Capital, Lausanne
Do your kids love sport? Have you been inspired by this summer’s Olympic action? If so you might want to consider a weekend break to Lausanne, the Olympic Capital. It’s where the modern Olympic Movement hails from and is where the IOC and many other international sporting bodies are based. You can combine a visit to the interactive Olympic Museum with some lakeside sports, then fuel up with some adventures in Swiss chocolate and wine. We checked out this cool blue, lakeside Swiss city in 24 hours in a sport, chocolate and wine themed sprint around Lausanne…
Olympism is not a system, it is a state of mind
How much do you know about the Olympic Games? I thought I knew everything until I visited Lausanne, the Olympic Capital and Switzerland’s fourth biggest city. Turns out I knew nothing. Lausanne’s Olympic Museum puts that right. This fascinating museum takes you to places that the TV coverage can’t. Like back to ancient Olympia, where winning took second place to worship of the Gods. With no pants on. Check out our video of wierd and wonderful Olympic facts…
Costumes and games
Over several floors, the Olympic Museum offers more weird and wonderful outfits than you can shake a javelin at including some quirky little numbers like the bright red ‘concentration coat’ worn by the Swiss Ski team in 2002. Designed to keep external distractions out the coat was discarded when the team realised “It is inside that the athlete must create a bubble.” A lesson for us all.
Like Lausanne itself, the museum is set in a huge building on the shores of Lac Léman (better known to many outside Switzerland as Lake Geneva). The museum gardens lead up from the lakeside to the museum itself and are packed with sculptures perfect for teen selfies. Inside there are plenty of interactive games; you can race Usain Bolt with a neat track and light system, see if you can pick up a shotput, and even try out biathlon. Do have a family challenge, but don’t do this if you lose. It’s just not in the spirit.
Olympic facts and food
The museum is the largest collection of Olympic information anywhere in the world and you can find it in some unexpected places like the names of the bearer of each Olympic torch carved into the stone of the steps up from the road. The party in Rio means they’ll need to get the stonemason back quite soon! (Here’s a quick quiz question – why are there several names on the steps for London 2012?)
It’s not just the exhibits that are a big draw. The integral TOM restaurant overlooks the gardens and Lac Léman and has an Olympic themed menu. The food is good and you need to book about three weeks in advance for their popular Sunday brunch.
Ride and slide in Lac Léman
Enough consuming of sport, it’s time to do some. And we don’t have to walk far for that. Lac Léman is teeming with families playing out. On micro scooters, on roller blades, stand up paddle boards and pedalos. We hire a sunshine yellow pedalo with a slide. It’s not quite the sport of the Olympians but it is a lot of fun to slide into and swim in the cool lake. Lake swimming is almost de-rigeur here and many do it all year round.
Chilling on the lake
Down by the lake, Ouchy is one of the biggest tourist hubs of Lausanne , with locals using the lake and prom for exercise and relaxation. The promenade covers three different parks. The Bellerive swimming pool is a great place for a swim if you don’t fancy the lake. Or take a steamer ride on one of the historic Belle Epoque fleet, said to be the world’s most important, elegant and homogeneous fleet of side-wheel paddle boats. Catch one of these paddle boats and experience a little of how they travelled the lake in the past today. For the best experience, try travelling first class!
Out of town and on the wine trail
We find ourselves on another of the CGN cruise boats a few hours later, enjoying more of the scenery around the lake. The fleet of 20 boats offer a great way to see the castles, hills and vineyards that surround the city as well as the snow covered peaks of the Swiss and Savoy Alps. You can even hop across to France for an afternoon if you want.
We stay on the Swiss side and hop off at Cully, east of the city. We are here to see how Swiss wine is produced. Never heard of Swiss wine? That’s because the Swiss don’t part with it. Ninety eight per cent is kept for domestic use, and the rest shipped to places like Japan. It is plentiful in Lausanne. (Try sampling it in Pinte Besson, the oldest restaurant in Lausanne which is set in a cave and dates back to 1780. You’ll feel like the wine is maturing every minute of your meal!)
Swiss Wine by Train
The predominant wine grape variety is Chasselas; which produces a dry, crisp wine. And when you see how the grape is grown here you marvel at how they managed to squeeze any flavour out of the land at all! The best way to see the extraordinary Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007, is to take a vineyard wine tour. Many are available; ask at the tourist office for more information or visit the Lavaux Vinorama for a film and wine tastings. But there’s a more novel way of doing the terraced slopes if you have children with a short attention span. Less than a minute walk from the dock at Cully a little character train awaits to take you on a tour of the settlements and vineyards. Sadly there is no commentary but kids love the novelty of the driving train and for adults you get a glimpse of the sheer volume and angle of the vineyards, teetering above the blue, blue bay.
The history of the grape
Lavaux consists of 830 hectares of terraced vineyard. Its history goes back to the 11th century when the monks decided to tend and tame the land, making terraces out of stone. According to our guide there are 400 kms of stone walls in 40 different layers, built to avoid the soil sliding down the mountainside. In the 1500’s wine growing was developed on a professional level and it’s thought some of the local wine producers are descendants of 18 generations. People talk about ‘three suns’ here helping the grapes to grow – the sun from the sky, the sun from the lake reflected onto the hillside and the heat from the stone walls.
Looking Around Lausanne
“The best way to see a city is to stroll around,” says Anette Miserez, a guide who takes us on a whirlwind tour of her city. Lausanne has the feel of hilly San Francisco; three hills and two rivers give the city its topography and it’s not unusual to see people micro scooting very fast down the hills. We whizz (on foot) through Quartier du Flon, the former ‘dirty part’ of Lausanne, an urban regeneration success where warehouses have been converted into smart shops and restaurants. In trendy Flon the wall-less Mirror House sits alongside the pop up jungle café (the ice rink in winter) and ‘exhibition 24 hours’ where modern artists show off the product of their imaginations. Lausanne is popular with artists and has been through time. Dickens, Byron and others wrote here and Coco Chanel and David Bowie both spent many years in Lausanne. If you like more disturbing art check out the Collection de l’Art Brut.
Via the Rue de Bourg with the most famous department store in the city, we head to Place de la Pallud to drink from the Fountain of Justice; the oldest fountain in the city. It dates back to 1585 but Anette says people have been coming here to drink since the 10th century. “In Lausanne you never buy water!” she exclaims, filling up her bottle. With a scale in her hand and her eyes bound, the bright and colourful statue figure above the fountain tells you that you should never judge with your eyes. But you can judge the history of Vaud in the little figures that tell the story of the canton every hour on the clock opposite the statue.
Every tour takes in the Cathedral
Now in the old town (or Cité) we end up at the jewel of the city – the 13th century Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne – the largest church in Switzerland. Even if you don’t have time to go inside, the walk up the little winding alleyways is worth the effort.
Chocolate makers at work
We wind on through pedestrian streets where a food market is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. As all good tours do (in my opinion) we wind up at a chocolate shop. And not just any chocolate shop. La Chocolatiere was founded in 1970 and has won many awards including the city’s Chocolate Rally, a competition of chocolate makers judged by both the public and chocolate specialists. The recent award makes it the official supplier of the city of Lausanne for the year. Executive Assisant Eléonore Tappy explains how the chocolate in Switzerland is different from other countries while presenting us with a plate of goodies to try.
“It is where milk chocolate was born. We use a lot of almonds and hazelnuts.” She puts the success of her shop down to high quality ingredients and Swiss know-how. “We make everything here downstairs in the laboratory. We still make everything by hand, we don’t use machines.”
In the Laboratory
We watch chef Laurent Gonzales at work making ‘autumn’- a giant tableaux of chocolate trees and conkers. And we try some more chocolate, tasting the difference between dark, milk and white. My favourite is the ‘three brothers’ recipe; a favourite of the founder of the shop. Just in case you are thinking of giving me a gift.
Getting to and around Lausanne
Lausanne is easy to get, less than an hour from Geneva with great public transport links so you don’t need to bring or rent a car. It’s free and easy to get around Lausanne once you get there. Every hotel guest is provided with the free Lausanne Transport Card which gives you free access to all transport and a discount on many museums. As well as saving money, it takes away the need to fiddle with change for tickets and you don’t have to show your pass unless an inspector comes on board and asks to see it.
Lausanne is a modern, open city with a good transport network of buses and trams. For novelty take the M2 metro line which is capable of climbing gradients of up to 12%. It’s the oldest Metro in Europe and locals labelled it ‘the string.’ Even when waiting for a train at the station you can feel the slope and in winter you can take it to the snow.
Alternatively you can walk around the main tourist spots. We fit our tour into 90 minutes although it would have been better suited to two hours. If possible you should leave at least half a day to wander around the lake and enjoy its facilities.
Staying in Lausanne
We stayed at Hotel Mirabeau, a Parisian style hotel with art deco touches everywhere from reception to bathrooms. Our family suite was spacious and our stay included a buffet breakfast. The hotel is convenient for the main rail station but slightly out of town, although you can access the city and lake using the bus and tram system free with your free transport pass.
Eating in Lausanne
You really shouldn’t do Lausanne without doing the traditional dishes of fondue or raclette. We recommend Cafe de Grancy – ask for a seat on the terrace or enjoy the hipster vibe and a game of Monopoly. If you prefer a lake view have a sirloin steak on the terrace at Le Pirate Café at the Hotel Aulac. And always, a nice glass of Chasselas blanc. Well you won’t be able to get it back home!Disclosure Note: Our trip to Lausanne was arranged and supported by Lausanne Tourisme. Thanks also to DFDS Seaways who supported our crossing to Europe between Newcastle and Holland. As ever, all the Olympic city tripping, fact finding, lake swimming, chocolate eating and wine tasting was our own. As are the words, opinions, experience, photography and videography.