Friday evening, 6 Oct., found us headed to Heathrow for a 7:30 p.m. flight to Geneva, Switzerland. An hour later (after the three+ hours it took to get us to and through the airport!) we landed, retrieved bags and found the train. Another hour and we were in Lausanne in a cab en route to the hotel Angleterre. A lovely property spread amongst a few buildings and very near Lake Geneva (this we discovered the next morning by daylight).
Saturday…We rated our first buffet breakfast in Switzerland a seven. Breads: fabulous. Cheese and pastries, also fabulous.
The lake view was lovely, of course, though a bit cloudy so we had to envision the Alps lurking behind the gray. From breakfast we headed down to the lake and to the left in search of the Olympic Museum.
The museum was a good visit – lots of inspirational clips and photos, cool memorabilia – shoes, medals, stamps, sculptures, quotes…all things Olympic. Particularly interesting for us as London readies for Olympics 2012. In fact I was able to go on an Olympic walk – a guided tour of the Olympic site – recently. Claire got to do the same with her class as one of her classmates’ parents works on site.
After being moved by Olympic heroism for a couple of hours (alternating with reading about political issues and corruption!) we decided to find our way downtown. From the port area we found the metro and hopped off at a stop near the cathedral. Then onto lunch, which wasn’t to be had at a bustling creperie. That one was too bustling. Had we had the patience to wait, we probably would have suffered immeasurably from the noise and chaos!
We opted instead for a cute but very small sandwich/cake shop around the corner. There we had decadent hot chocolate and split a couple of sandwiches. As we were around the corner from the Cathedral we popped in.
About the Cathedral:
“The most beautiful Gothic church in Switzerland, Lausanne Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame) stands 500 feet above Lake Geneva. Construction on the cathedral began in 1175 and it was consecrated in 1275 by Pope Gregory X. It remains unfinished today.
Throughout the Middle Ages, pilgrims flocked to the cathedral to pray before the Golden Virgin, a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary (to whom the cathedral is dedicated).
Lausanne was one of many medieval cities to institute a nightwatch to prevent the all-too-common threat of devastating fires. Although it is mostly stone, the city was once made mostly of wood and burned down several times. Every night, watchmen stationed on the wall surrounding the town would call out to each other, ensuring that there were no fires and that no enemy was approaching.
The cathedral nightwatch was the most important. Every night, the watchman walks up the 153 stairs to the top of the tower. Every hour on the hour from 10pm to 2am, he calls out to the four directions: C'est le guet; il a sonné l'heure ("This is the nightwatch; the hour has struck"). Lausanne is the only city in Europe to continue this tradition to this day. Nowadays, the reassuring sound of the nightwatchman's voice startles lovers on park benches and drunken students stumbling home.
In 1536, the combined forces of the Reformation and Bernese army stripped Lausanne Cathedral of virtually all its decoration, including altars, statues and paintings. The beloved Golden Virgin was melted down to make coins. Its treasury, a unique collection of liturgical vestments and tapestries, was taken over to Bern, where it is now preserved in a museum.
The architect-restorer Eugène Viollet-le-Duc began a restoration of the cathedral in the 19th century - and it is still going on today.
We continued our perusal around Old Town, seeking out a bit of infamous Swiss chocolate at the most popular shop in town, a lovely little store that smelled amazing from the street. We joined the queue out the door. It was worth the hassle – amazingly rich chocolate. The aroma in the store was out of this world.
After poking around Old Town some more we took the metro back to our stop near the hotel and relaxed before dinner. In our quest for a lunch spot we’d stumbled upon our restaurant for the evening, Café de L'Eveche. This one was known, quite appropriately, for its fondue. Joe and I shared one, along with a fabulous blue cheese salad with walnuts, carpaccio, vegetables and amazing balsamic dressing. The kids opted for tagliatelle and Bolognese, which looked great, too. Dessert was heavenly – tiramisu and a coffee flavored ice cream coated in dark chocolate.
Full of cheese and chocolate, we headed back to the hotel.
Day two in Switzerland
Sometimes the realization of where you are when you wake up is astounding. That’s how it was this a.m. when I remembered I was in Switzlerland. And on such a beautiful day. Sunny, it had cleared some so we had a great view of the Alps from our window, a lakeside perch.
After breakfast we walked down to the shore and found tickets for a paddle boat ride on Lake Geneva, departing late morning. This was one of those things I’d researched online and was all set to purchase tickets for a family ice cream social cruise…only to have the cost come up in US dollars. I’d been about to buy tickets for a lake cruise on our lake Geneva!
After perusing Ouchy (our little lakeside town) for a disposable camera (I did such a good job packing…until realizing I’d forgotten the camera in only one of the most beautiful places in the world!!!), the kids stole a few minutes at a playground before we boarded our boat.
It was a lovely white BIG paddleboat. Incidentally, 25 percent of the world’s functioning steamers – 19 -- are in Switzerland.
On board we settled into a table with a great view as our boat chugged along past gorgeous vineyards lining the hillsides, Alps rising up behind. The fall colors of the vines were fabulous, especially under the crisp, bright blue sky and fall sunshine.
A few sailboats dotted the lake. Ninety minutes later we were in Chillon, our destination. There we disembarked and searched for lunch. We were pointed toward a very non-descript restaurant that didn’t hold much promise. Surprisingly, my mushroom soup was amazing, as was my salad with little goat cheese pastries. Joe’s shrimp salad looked very tasty, too.
The kids had spaghetti and schnitzel; we heard no complaints.
Then off to Chillon Castle, which is a very picturesque castle perched on the lake:
Whilst Castles built by the Savoys generally have a square plan with a circular tower at each corner, Chillon Castle is special in that it follows the oval form of the 100m X 50m island it is built on. It is surrounded by a natural moat, and is accessible from the lake on all sides. On the land side it can be entered by crossing the wooden bridge. Formerly there was a drawbridge, the remains of whose pulley system can still be seen.
Chillon is a double function castle. The façade opposite the mountain, pierced by arrow slits and loopholes and topped by machicolations on the battlements, is the fortress that protects the road, the Via Italica. Facing the lake, magnificent Gothic windows adorn the façade of the princely residence. The keep in the centre of the castle is linked to the dwelling via the sentry walks.
The three inner courtyards correspond to the use of the buildings surrounding them: the castellan’s or constable’s residence, and the lord of the castle’s apartments.
The place has a ton of rooms and good exhibits – we made the rounds before heading to the dock to board our chariot back to Ouchy. A lovely ride back, this time we perched near the paddles of the steamer – apparently these kinds of boats have been a tradition in Switzerland for 100+ years.
Back in Ouchy we regrouped at the hotel before heading off to dinner at Restaurant de la Croix d'Ouchy, a lovely place near our hotel. The food was out of this world, as was the service and setting. Comfortable, oldy-worldy dining room, delicious food – I had an amazing fish dish, Joe had what looked like an incredible steak, the desserts were rich and chocolate-y and to die for.
We sauntered hotel-ward, full and happy.
Day Three in Lausanne
This morning we set off to the train station, easily accessed via the metro. Once there a very helpful woman got us oriented to the chocolate factory!
We took a couple of trains to Broc, Switzerland, changing in Gruyeres en route. Our last train was a tiny two-car job, one car w/ red and white polka dots. The ride alone was amazing – Alpen views, vineyards, fall colors, cows and countryside. Brilliant white snowcapped peaks…
In the tiny little town of Broc, nestled in mountains, we followed the signs – and smells – to the Cailler chocolate factory. The air smelled like molten chocolate – warm and so appetizing.
At the factory we got tickets and into position for the English tour. Once the doors opened we stepped into a beautifully decorated Disney-esque “set”, an elevator that took us down a couple levels, I guess, entertaining us along the way with historical information about the development of chocolate.
After our 20 minute interactive guided tour – reminiscent of the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney, we were deposited in the tasting room. That was beyond heavenly. We all tried entirely too many. And we hadn’t had lunch so whoa was it a sugar rush.
From there we stopped at the gift shop (of course), added to the factory income for the day, then walked back toward the train station, stopping at the chocolate factory outlet en route. This one was mostly grocery store (dog food, anyone) with some chocolate thrown in. In true outlet mall style, no great bargains, really…
Then back to the trains, the small one, then a bigger one and we were in Gruyeres. What an appropriate name.
This town was delightful. Our first stop, just out of the train station, was the cheese factory. We were handed samples of Gruyeres as we purchased our tickets. Three samples, the cheese at three different ages.
The audio guide tour was good, with a cow named Cherry as the narrator. After being educated about cows’ diet, rhythms of the season (i.e. grazing on the slopes in summer), etc. we were taken through the milking parlor. We saw huge rounds of cheese in the making, tanks being drained, etc. At the end we saw the cheese cave – a cool, dark place where dozens of rounds of cheese were being aged.
After our tour we popped over to the café and ate our samples with bread, then ordered some amazing gruyeres mac and cheese and a ham and cheese salad. Ahh what a great food day…heavenly chocolate followed by heavenly cheese.
We then shuffled into the lovely little Alpen town of Gruyeres, set on a hill with amazing mountain scapes all around, green meadows, cows with big bells. Here and there one would peal. Blue skies, snow-capped mountains, green pastures and lovely brown, big-eyed cows. So Swiss.
After putzing about town a bit, seeking out the ever-important souvenir for Claire and Ava, we wandered back to the train station to start the process back to the hotel. In short order we were back in Lausanne!
This evening we elected to eat at the hotel restaurant, which had been written up as a good one. And it was! Italian food that everyone enjoyed.
Final day in Switzerland
This a.m. we headed downtown Lausanne after our final hotel breakfast, this time for a museum visit – the Natural History and Geology museums. We perused stuffed stuff, rocks and more in a lovely setting. Then it was time for lunch and we were determined to try that creperie that was too chaotic earlier in our visit. This time we nailed a table and perused the menu. The crepes were very tasty; I did a blue cheese and mushroom one, can’t remember the others. Claire had ordered a bacon and maple syrup selection but was disappointed when it came out with just bacon. Not for long. As we were wrapping up, another crepe came out…the waiter had assumed she’d wanted that one for dessert! Ahh the language barriers.
From crepes we wandered back to our chocolate shop for a treat for the road, then to the lakeside for a little outdoor time – chess and playground – before cabbing it to the train station and starting the homeward process. Lovely trip!