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Lausanne offers much more than you imagine

Lausanne panoramic shot

Michelle Chenery reports on a trip to the Swiss city now known as the Olympic Capital, home of the IOC. Her account covers chocolate-making, wine-tasting and even the ancient role of the city night watchman

Nobody can guarantee that there won’t be hitches on a group itinerary. The important thing is to ensure that the group members suffer the minimum inconvenience and discomfort and that the problem is overcome as soon as possible.
Our group visit to Lausanne started off with a two-hour wait on the runway at Heathrow. However the Swiss airline cabin staff kept us well supplied with Swiss chocolate, so no one felt too unhappy about the delay.

At Geneva a double-decker train whizzed us to Lausanne so comfortably that the transit felt more like five minutes than 45 minutes.

Naturally, once at the Lausanne Palace & Spa we were well and truly ready for a very late dinner. The hotel’s Brasserie stay open till very late and we were not disappointed with what it had to offer. We enjoyed fresh catch of the day fish, sumptuous steaks, local wine and beer and an array of fantastic creations for dessert. The upside down apple tart looked and tasted amazing.

Thus fortified, we were game to sample the local nightlife on a trip into the Flon area of the city. Recently renovated, this formerly run-down part of the city has now become the trendy district. Lausanne Festival was going full swing and there was a beach set up with plastic bubble chairs and sofas and plenty of sand. We found ourselves in the MAD Club. Not quite as crazy as it sounds, it has multiple floors, all with interesting decor and different styles of music. One floor was reserved strictly for the over 28s, another had a football game and a pool table and another a mini squeegee dance floor. We all found just what we wanted for a good time.

The Lausanne Palace and Spa, one of the city’s three 5-star properties, has 147 rooms, including 31 suites, in either a classical or contemporary style. Opened in 1915, it was owned by financiers until it was bought by Ute Funke in 1989, since when it has consistently undergone renovations, including the opening of the CBE Concept Spa, the transformation of the hotel’s four restaurants and three bars, the opening of a private night club, the installation of a high tech conference centre and the renovations of all rooms and suites. These improvements have cost nearly 60m francs (£41m; US$65m).

The CBE Concept spa and wellness centre offers 2100sqm of rest and relaxation space, with a wide range of treatments, therapies and contemporary or traditional rituals available, as well as a sports room, indoor pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, hammam, solarium and relaxation rooms. Guest rooms are equipped with LCD flat screens, mini-bar, work desk, safe and complimentary Wi-Fi.

The hotel takes bedding seriously. It has developed its very own ‘Bed Culture’, with mattresses by Victor Moritz in natural anti-allergenic fabrics such as silk, pure virgin wool and cashmere and covered by a large Nordic duvet. It all assured me very comfy nights’ sleep.

The four restaurants range from fine dining gastronomy to more rustic fare. La Table d'Edgard, the hotel’s flagship restaurant, reopened in 2012 following a complete makeover. It has two terraces overlooking Lake Geneva and Michelin has awarded it a Star for its cuisine, 4 Forks for its comfort and a Snowflake for its overall quality. It can accommodate up to 50 guests. Within it the Table d’Hôte allows six diners to have front row seats to watch the Chef and his team create their Southern French dishes.

The Brasserie du Grand Chêne is has a typically Parisian sprit to it, with wall seats in green leather, polished wood, brass ornaments and a solid wood staircase. Serving gourmet delights of onion soup, Bourgogne snails, sauerkraut, beef entrecôte, Zurich sliced veal and pot-au-feu to name but a few, and open until 1am.

The Côté Jardin restaurant boasts a panoramic terrace overlooking Lake Geneva and the Alps, serving an array of Mediterranean dishes and has been awarded 14 points in the Gault et Millau guide.

Palace Sushi Zen's cuisine is crafted by four Japanese chefs, who have come especially from Japan to the hotel. Traditional speciality dishes such as sushi and sashimi, udon noodles and Soba soup can be found on the menu.

Upon request The Cellier is the hotel’s wine cellar and amidst its 20,000 bottles up to12 guests can combine wine tasting with the pairing of local cheese and cured meat or antipasta in the company of a sommelier.

The Lausanne Palace has a dedicated Conference Centre consisting of 8 meeting rooms, all with removable walls. With spaces for from 8 to 80 delegates, all are air- conditioned and fitted with the latest av equipment.

The hotel also offers six banqueting rooms, three of which can be combined to cater for up to 650 for a banquet and 950 for a cocktail party. The rooms have retained their charming period décor, whilst incorporating the latest technology.

On our first morning in Lausanne we enjoyed a guided tour of the city, taking in the local market with colourful fresh produce and flowers. We saw many of the city’s chocolate shops and finished up in the old town, which was all ready for the Festival de la Cité.

We had free transport cards for the Metro that are issued to all by the Lausanne hotels and arrived at the small chocolate factory of Durig Chocolatier. We were taken to the kitchen, given a quick briefing on chocolate, cocoa beans and the sugar content of different chocolate types. Then we were all let loose with some moulds to create our own concoctions of six chocolates each, I was slightly distracted by the liquid chocolate jets pouring through the machine next to us, but eventually got down to the task at hand. We had to cope with decorating with white chocolate, layering dark chocolate and ganache, passion fruit caramel and a whole array of spices, nuts and peppers.

Some interesting combinations resulted. One person’s interesting variety combined chilli, ginger and caramel passion fruit.

We were then whisked to Chateau d'Ouchy located on the shores of the lake for lunch. This is a 4-star property dating from the 12thC and comprising 50 rooms, including 11 junior suites and two suites with an enchanting castle tower ambiance. Lunching on a terrace, we took in the fairytale building itself and views of the Alps and Lake Geneva. Produce from small independent suppliers gave us a meal of wild fish, farmhouse meats and traditional cheeses.

Then a short train journey brought us to the Lavaux Vineyard terraces, named a world heritage site by Unesco in 2007, illustrating a thousand years of labour on the land, producing some of the regions best wines. We visited the vineyard, Domaine Croix Duplex, which is over 30 hectares and able to host wine tastings for up 150 guests, the covered veranda up to 30, and the cellar with its open fire in winter able to host up to 30. One of our wines was said to go well with chocolate, at which point anyone who had any chocolates left got them out and we found it was true.

We were able to enjoy the region’s gorgeous landscape from a Compagnie Générale de Navigation steam boat. They run daily on Lake Geneva and can cater for up to 700 for a reception or even 500 for a banquet.

That evening the group ate at Café du Grütli, a traditional restaurant located in the old town, housed in a building dating back to 1849 with plenty of character. There we had the obligatory Swiss fondue and it was very good indeed.

On the same evening we were able to enjoy the unusual experience of accompanying a night-watchman on his rounds. When other cities abandoned the practice, Lausanne decided to preserve the tradition, so the night-watchmen work between 10pm and 2am with people welcome to join them to learn a little more about the history of his role.

Lausanne has about 14 conference hotels. Another notable 5-star property the 168-room Beau Rivage Palace, which boasts 12 conference rooms able to host up to 350 for a banquet. Other venues include the 5,200-capacity Beaulieu Lausanne Congress Centre and the Olympic Museum.

In 2014 the Swiss Tech Convention Centre, the worlds first fully automated facility, is due to open its doors. It will have a capacity of 3,000 people with a 2,205-seat auditorium, a 795-seat balcony and fifteen or so combinations of break-out rooms on the ground floor. The centre will have revolutionary technology to allow the seating to be retracted into the floor at the touch of a button, leaving a completely flat surface.

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To view more images of the trip please visit our Lausanne Facebook album

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