Lake Geneva Area, Switzerland: Our Travel Stylist Reports
By Cathie Arquilla
Senior Travel Writer
When I asked Max Hartshorne, the editor of this website, if he would like another story about Switzerland, specifically the Lake Geneva Region, he said, “Sure, but I don’t want another wine and cheese story.”
It reminded me of the songwriter Sara Bareilles whose manager said to get noticed she should write a love song.
She wrote the multi-platinum-selling single with lyrics, “I’m not going to write you a love song.” Frankly, I’m not sure I can write about Switzerland without surreptitiously writing a love story about wine and cheese. But I’ll try!
Iconic Swiss Villages
The Lake Geneva Region of Switzerland encompasses the southwest shores of the lake and iconic Swiss villages, towns and countryside beyond its borders.
Some basic stats about the lake include: It is the largest lake in Europe with five countries sharing its shoreline. Three Swiss cities, Montreux, Vevey and Lausanne border the lake and make up the region. These are classic Swiss towns but each has its own brand of cool.
Montreux feels rather urban a bit no-nonsense. Euro groovy meets Heidi best describes Vevey and Lausanne is au current, young and cosmopolitan, leaning toward an international feel, rather than a traditional Swiss city. Laussane is the headquarters of the Olympic Committee and many other world sports organizations.
The Swiss Riviera
Most think of the Riviera as French, thoughts of Brigitte Bardot, blond and bosomy in Saint-Tropez, but the Swiss Riviera, with the Swiss towns of Montreux and Vevey, conjures up images of an entirely different nature.
Yes, there were some young fashionable window shoppers on the street of Vevey’s Old Village, but I was attracted to the style of the Swiss “old lady.”
What impressed me most about her was the effort she made to look “put together,” tidy, self-assured, proud of her age and heritage. She wears sturdy shoes; low heels, just heavy enough to withstand cobblestones, but not too clunky.
Her hosiery is sensible too, slightly thick for support and warmth, although in this microclimate, the weather is mostly friendly all year.
The calf-length skirt she wears of a wool blend is an understated grey, camel, or hunter, coupled with a cardigan set or turtleneck; she’s not changing her look from season to season. With the addition of a French or Italian silk scarf, she is chic and sensible, ready to tackle domestic errands or gossip with friends.
You might find her at Poyet, a restaurant slash chocolate shop, in Vevey, or perhaps picking up sundries at the apothecary Drugueri de Theatre. At lunch with a dapper beau in country tweed, she’ll have a chilly glass of Chasselas wine (a white, specific to the Lavaux region, not exported) and the Raclette, of course.
The Art and Business of Hospitality
Switzerland is arguably the founder and purveyor of hospitality. It has several of the world’s best hotel schools, including the Lausanne Hotel School (Ecole Hoteliere Lausanne), where I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon. We ate at the student restaurant Le Berçeau des Sens and had a tour of the school.
I was of two minds throughout the day. Could I have a “do-over” and go to college here myself and would my daughter like to go to school here?!
The first and most impressive were the students. It was the best-dressed student body on earth. Absent were sweats, pajama bottoms, baseball hats, tank tops, flip-flops, and gym shorts.
These kids were dressed like well-heeled executives. Slacks, heels, suits, jackets–savvy, sophisticated, and, oh so young! The place reeked of possibility and promise.
At the restaurant the students were earnest in their effort to manage and serve guests. They seemed to accept suggestions and criticisms from their professors as graciously as they were given.
My taste buds can still remember my starter of a spicy eggplant compote months later, not to mention the numerous choices from the cheese “trolley” and Swiss wine selection.
In addition to providing students with an extensive business and hospitality education, EHL Director Stefan-Sven Fraenkel explained that the school focuses on a soft-sell approach, “Our heritage means that you are able to do business around the table.
We provide students with the etiquette, training, and business tools to do business anywhere.” Mr. Fraenkel said the trend of students entering college these days was one of the entrepreneurial pursuits.
In Charge of their Destiny
They had seen their own parents working for “the company” and now they want to be, “In charge of their own destiny.” The school is addressing this desire both in its undergraduate and graduate-level courses.
Founded in 1893 the EHL has an enrollment of 1800 students from 88 countries. It makes a fascinating afternoon excursion in Lausanne.
Timeliness and the Swiss
Cathedral Lausanne has a clock that has been going without interruption for 600 years. It is wound daily by a man who ascends the tower at 2 pm, 10 pm and 2 am.
There are countless clichés about the timeliness of the Swiss. This little fact I find particularly amusing and it is just one reason to visit the Lausanne Cathedral. Besides the clock, the Cathedral boasts a custom organ built in Boston by the Fisk Company.
Inaugurated in 2003 and designed by Giugiarro, in the shape of an engine, with 6,700 pipes weighing 35 tons, the organ is delicious to your ears the way a creamy Vacherin cheese from this region melts in your mouth. Each Friday from March to October there is a free organ concert in this Gothic Cathedral. Listen, and transport yourself to the 16th century when a street went right down the center aisle.
MYOSW – Make Your Own Swiss Watch
In the age of smartphones, Ipads and every manner of techy stuff, one might argue, who needs a watch? That’s especially true for teens.
I heard millennials are just now discovering watches as a cool new accessory. Swatch is one Swiss company that has always capitalized on the young demographic churning out watches with poppy colors and fun design themes.
Kids are even wearing them two at a time. BUT if you really want to be cool, I say, make your own Swiss watch!
Olivier Piquet comes from a distinguished line of watchmakers and in a very smart adaptation of the craft, he’s established a tourist workshop right out of his “farm” in the Vallée de Joux.
According to Piquet, the birth of watchmaking in the Vallée de Joux came about in the 17th century because farmers needed to do something, preferably profitable, during the long harsh winters.
Geneva’s Watch Activity
Some went to Geneva, already know the world over for timepieces, learned “watch activity” and brought the craft back to the valley. Originally a watchmaker’s “atelie” (usually a fashion word) was in the attic. The first floor was reserved for coals and coal-burning–heat rises, makes sense.
Piquet has recreated a watchmaker’s atelier just off the back of his house. Cathedral beamed ceilings, honey-colored wood stairs, fixtures, and furniture, watch apparatus, miniature tools, with sun mellowing the whole space, land you right in the 17th century. All I needed was a bonnet and apron!
Six hundred people each year come through this small watch workshop to learn the art of watchmaking. Most come for two days. The first day is dedicated to learning watch mechanics. The second day you pick your parts and make your own watch!
Psst. The Vallée de Joux is a 30-minute winding and climbing bus ride from Lausanne. There, fall leaves peacock, cross-country ski trails swath paths, and with milk being a main revenue source in the valley, the Vacherin Mont-d’Or Cheese Museum delights. Vacherin season is from September to March. Do not miss the gooey goodness of this smelly wonderful cheese…
As I mentioned earlier, hospitality reigns supreme with the Swiss and they’ve got it coming and going. I’d say Swiss International Air Lines is “the only way to fly” but I believe that was some other airline’s tag line. On Swiss Air, I felt like I had my own little ultra-hip apartment. Everything essential was bed/seat side and anything else I needed or wanted was “delivered” including, of course, Swiss wine, cheese, and chocolate.
The aesthetic of the business class lounge both at JFK and Geneva was chic, minimalist, natural, and functional; wall, floor coverings, and furniture, Swiss. I’ve never really understood the point of a private business class lounge. Now I do.
It’s really nice to be in a relaxing environment with good treats, eats, wine and drinks just before hopping on a plane. It sets the stage for the next several hours on board.
You’re About to Have a Good Time
Much like an event planner laboring over the design of a party, the point is to say, “Look around you, you’re about to have a really good time…”
I did have a really good time both in flight and on the ground. The trip was definitely punctuated by wine and cheese, but there was so much to do. I only dipped my toe in the lake of activities, venues, events and excursions the Lake Geneva Region has to offer.
Deserving more than a sidebar mention, the following is a taste of places to know about before dipping your bread in that Fondue pot!
Lausanne Palace & Spa
Awarded Switzerland’s Gault & Millau hotel of the year prize for 2011, the Palace, is simply the best there is in the Swiss hotel industry. Both contemporary in style and traditional in character, the Palace has 4 restaurants, some award-winning, and a sigh-worthy spa that is the best of its class.
The much-anticipated opening of the L’hotel in the Flon district of Lausanne is set for October 2011. This ancient historic building now urban hotel will have 26 rooms and a roof terrace boasting panoramic views.
Café du Grütli
Perhaps it takes an Austrian to make a really good Fondue, more likely it’s the Swiss cheese you use. Chef Willi Prutsch has been making fondue and other local dishes for thirty years in his storybook townhouse restaurant. He says it’s easy. Perhaps, but before you make your own, eat his, and then you’ll have something unattainable to compare it to! Café de Grütli
Lausanne, a city of Museums
With about 19 significant museums, Lausanne is completive among cities known for their museums. From an Olympic museum to typewriter collection to photography installations to science foundations, Lausanne’s museums will satisfy any interest.
Among the 400 kilometers of terraced vineyards in the UNESCO Lavaux region of Switzerland is the hilly village of St. Saphorin. Beyond quaint, St. Saphorin is an archetypal 17th-century Swiss town with a history dating back to the Middle Ages.
Modern-day visitors outfitted in regular tourist garb, seem like graffiti when pictured on the cobblestone streets, arched walkways, and floral balconies of St. Saphorin. Stop by or stay over at the Auberge De L’Onde.
Un Air De Famille
Rue du Conseil 5, Vevey, is a stylish vagabond’s paradise. Anyone with a love for antiques or Victorian attics will lose themselves in this clothing store. Expect to discover some very cool euro designers.
At 32 rue du Lac, Vevey is filled with colorful, kid-like pop art merchandise setting a decidedly cheerful tone among more serious fashion shops on the street.
On The Celebrities’ Path, Montreux-Vevey
If benches could talk… This interactive walk consists of 25 different benches along pathways that give details of Vevey and Montreux’s famous inhabitants.
This lakeside promenade runs from Montreux to Vevey. Its horticultural variety, landscaping and views are stupendous.
A collection of 140 chalets erected and feverishly decorated each year in anticipation of the holidays. Sample mulled wine along the Grand Rue, sniff the air of savory, sweet, salty treats and be awestruck by this over-the-top Swiss Christmas market.