Vacation rentals in Switzerland (chalets, farms, apartments)
Vaud, for City Animals and Art Lovers
Vaud is a French-speaking canton in Switzerland. It is north of Lake Geneva.
Lausanne is charming in an intimate and discrete way. When we visited it in June 2003 my wife Urszula and I stayed away from the waterfront in Ouchy because it looked as if it was hijacked by skaters and cheap-food establishments. But we kept returning to the smallish Old Town with Place de la Palud at its center and covered stairs leading up to the cathedral. Every time we went there something was happening. We bumped into the crowd of art-lovers sipping wine and talking on the sidewalk next to an art gallery where the opening of an exhibition was taking place. In an instant, we were offered wine and invited to see photographs of athletes and sport events. Another time, we sat on the rim of the fountain and listened to a concert given by street musicians.
We loved the beautiful waterfront promenade with beds of flowers and manicured trees in Vevey. Charlie Chaplin, in addition to many rich and famous who lived in the city, spent his final years in Vevey and is buried there. The monument depicting his screen persona - Charlie the tramp - stands on the promenade and you just have to have a picture taken with him. The town is so charming that we would gladly return there just to absorb its relaxing atmosphere. Had we had more time, we would have rented bikes and biked along the Lake Geneva shore. But we wanted to see Chillon Castle where Lord Byron was imprisoned so we took a boat instead. The castle is an impressive structure, which grows in your eyes when the boat approaches it. And visiting its dark chambers can give you real creeps.
You can take a pleasant stroll in Montreux admiring beautiful hotels facing the lake. Which we did. But for us the major attraction was the Oberlander Express or MOB. We took a scenic ride from Montreux to Zweisimmen and back. With spectacular landscapes developing in front of our eyes, the experience was more like daydreaming than a scenic ride.
Switzerland's capital Bern is technically in another canton. Never mind. With its large medieval center intact, it is unique place (it has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.) As such, it is positively worth a day-trip (it's about an hour train ride from Lausanne). Situated on the hill and surrounded by the Aare river, it is extremely picturesque city. Although Berne has some good museums you don't want to visit them if your time is limited because you don't want to lose sight of arcaded streets, ancient houses and churches. We spent time walking under long arcades and around many distinctive fountains to infuse city's ancient atmosphere. It was the most satisfying stroll we took in Switzerland. If you like antiques there is a small flea market on Casinoplatz (just before you hit Zytglogge.) My wife found a porcelain tea cup there for her collection.
We went to Geneva reluctantly discouraged by friends who viewed it as boring, stiff, and unworthy. It turned out to be none of the above, at least from a tourist's point of view. Perhaps because the weather was beautiful, perhaps as a result of our expectations being so low, we found Geneva a lively, atmospheric city filled with sidewalk cafes, galleries and all other trappings of a European metropolis. We had only time to walk through the Old Town and visit Jardin Anglais on the waterfront. But that was enough to realize that we would like to have more time to explore the city.
The famous cathedrals - Notre-Dame in Lausanne and Munster in Bern were big disappointments. Both are impressive and intricate structures. But being accustomed to ornate and intricately decorated interiors of Catholic churches, we could not find the beauty inside the cathedrals. From within they looked like empty shells, more cavernous storage rooms than sacred spaces.
The only Swiss church that made strong impression on us was Temple de la Madeleine, one of the oldest churches in Geneva. When we opened the door we heard music. Inside Geneva singers and French musicians from Annency were rehearsing JD Zelenka's Missa Dei Patris. Filled with magnificent spiritual music, Temple de la Madeleine was alive and beautiful.
The temple hosts musical events quite often so if you are music buff you should check what is on.
The most interesting museum we saw was the Collection de l'Art Brut devoted to so called "raw art" or art created by ordinary people. The works exhibited in the museum show not only the unsuspected creative power of human imagination but also are a proof that the border between the established art and the "raw art" is blurrier and less defined than it is normally admitted.
We also recommend visiting Musee Jenisch in Vevey, which organizes world-class exhibitions. We happened to see an excellent collection of prints and drawings gathered by French artists and collector Alexis Forel (it included works by Renaissance artists, Rembrandt, and Impressionists.)
Lausanne is home of the fantastic modern Bejart Ballet. It is rarely seen in the city because it tours the world for most of the time (that's how I saw it in Warsaw more than 20 years ago.) When we were in Lausanne, it was just returning from another tour. But we missed by one the opening of its show based on the Mozart's "Magic Flute." O, shacks!
We avoided regular restaurants, which tend to be expensive and not particularly good.
In Lausanne the self-service Manora has a limited selection of pizzas, pastas, meat dishes and desserts. With a poor selection in the salad bar section and mostly overcooked vegetables served with hot dishes, it was just OK. But with mostly underprivileged patrons frequenting it, the restaurant offered a view on the other side of the Swiss prosperity.
We enjoyed more hors d'oeuvres (stuffed sun-dried tomatoes, spicy mussels and likes) and salads from the Globus department store (Rue du Pont 5.) With wine, they made a very tasty meal (and the Globus has a good choice of wines, too.)
In Montreux, we had crepes with mushroom at Chalet restaurant on Avenue des Alpes.
At lunchtime it is worth looking for specials at local cafes and restaurants. In Bern at Cafe Treff on Kornhausplatz (just before Kornhausbrucke) we had good pasta with pesto and really fresh salad for less than $8 per head.
Small, family-run hotel in Ouchy renovated in 1999. Decorated with prints by local artists and supplemented with other nice touches, it is likeable. It is located in Ouchy, a 10-minute walk from a beachfront park on the Lake Geneva, and a 10-minute bus trip from the central station. Room at @120 per double (booked through Expedia) was sunny and had spacious bathroom with balcony! But facing the street it was noisy. The rate included good buffet breakfast and a welcoming drink at hotel's bar (which on weekdays was rather quiet and empty.)
Small hotel run by the Salvation Army. It is not by any way posh but it is better than it sounds. Renovated in 1996, it is more than a youth hostel and less than a charming hotel. But it is located on a quite street in the Old Town and rooms are bright and plasticy (ours had a small balcony with a nice view.) My wife found decor in the corridors tacky and complained about noises made by young guest having fun until late night. I did not find anything wrong with the decor and did not hear anything.
Andrzej Zwaniecki is a traveler from Maryland.
© Andrzej Zwaniecki, 2004
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