Spend enough time in Switzerland and you’ll inevitably hear the word “Swissness.” It’s a term the Swiss proudly use to describe that certain something that makes their country arguably one of the most desirable travel destinations in the world. But ask them what the term means exactly, and you’ll likely be answered with a long pause.
It’s almost impossible to boil down the country’s most appealing characteristics into a few words. Stunning scenery marked by towering mountains and turquoise lakes? Switzerland has that in spades. An über-efficient nationwide rail system that zips travelers from one corner to another in superior silence and comfort? It’s commuter transportation like no other. An enduring commitment to quality and craftsmanship? It can be felt and seen almost anywhere. A standard of service the rest of the world aspires to offer? You better believe it.
Perhaps no place in Switzerland embodies the notion of Swissness more than Lausanne, a French-speaking city of fewer than 140,000 on the shores of Lake Geneva. Lausanne is best known as Olympic land. It’s the home of the International Olympic Committee’s headquarters as well as the Olympic Museum and Olympic Park (olympic.org), an interactive hilltop campus that overlooks Lake Geneva and the Jura Mountains. A self-guided tour takes visitors through decades of history, with memorabilia ranging from promotional posters to athletes’ uniforms and sporting equipment—a surprisingly thrilling sight, even for the least sports-minded of guests. Peruse miniature models of Olympic stadiums and shed a tear while watching a montage of moments from Opening Ceremonies past. When it’s time for a snack break, the playful, sports-themed menu at the museum’s colorful TOM café serves light fare and heartier options such as beef tartare and cheeseburgers—all without a winding buffet line. The best reason to dine there is the café’s alfresco terrace, which has one of the best lake views in all of Lausanne.
For a true taste of how Swissness translates to the plate, no culinary experience outshines Anne-Sophie Pic (anne-sophie-pic.com), the two-Michelin-star flagship restaurant inside the city’s grande dame Beau-Rivage Palace hotel (brp.ch). Herself a three-Michelin-star chef with a signature eatery in Valence, France, Pic appointed Kevin Gatin to oversee her Lausanne location, where dishes center around local, seasonal ingredients that evoke memories of “family, love, and nature.” And with marine ingredients like scallops and lobster sourced from Normandy and Brittany, respectively, Pic’s native France is never far from mind. Come springtime, the restaurant’s patio turns into seating space, allowing brisk lake breezes to complement Pic’s nostalgic cuisine.
Arguably the most fitting ending to a meal at Anne-Sophie Pic is an overnight (or two) at the Beau-Rivage Palace, which opened in 1861 and has since welcomed dignitaries, artists, royals, and celebrities. During its latest renovation from 2012-2014, interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon cloaked the guest rooms in pretty pastel and neutral tones, and strategically added mirrored surfaces to allow natural light and reflections of Lake Geneva to play off the interiors. The effect is almost as soft as the fluffy bathrobes that await your arrival—an amenity not to be overlooked, whether lounging in a lake-view suite or getting pampered in the hotel’s lavish Cinq Mondes spa.
The Beau-Rivage Palace is so well located—nestled along Lake Geneva and just a short walk from the city’s Ouchy-Olympique metro stop—that it makes a perfect base for navigating Lausanne’s surrounds. Stroll across the street to the Lausanne-Ouchy passenger ferry terminal to board a boat bound for the picturesque French towns of Evian and Thonon-les-Bains just across the lake. (Think: crêperies, coffee shops, gardens, spas, and plenty of historic architecture.)
For adventures farther afield, ride Lausanne’s delightfully dependable metro to the city’s main Lausanne Gare station, from where the country’s national railway dispatches passengers to cities and towns throughout Switzerland. Explorations within easy reach include Geneva (a 35-minute ride west), Vevey (15 minutes to the east), and Montreux (18 to 27 minutes, depending on when you commute). While in Vevey, visit the Chaplin’s World museum (chaplinsworld.com), dedicated to the famed silent film star. And try to time your trip to Montreux between June 29 and July 14, when major names in pop, hip-hop, and contemporary music descend upon the town for its namesake jazz festival (montreuxjazzfestival.com).
Will a Lausanne vacation bring you closer to capturing Swissness in its purest form? Probably not. But one thing is for sure: With world-class cuisine, an international music scene, and a legendary luxury hotel, it’s hard to imagine a place more splendidly Swiss than Lausanne.