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Some of My Favorite Things in Switzerland’s Lake Geneva Region

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By Hope S. Philbrick

“The hills are alive with the sound of music” sounded silly to me. While I appreciate a good musical and just about anything Julie Andrews belts out, the words didn’t make sense: It’s not the Alps but Maria who sings, while spinning with her arms outstretched, in The Sound of Music. But a recent visit to Switzerland proved that the famous line does indeed make perfect sense: In the Lake Geneva region a pleasant tune tinkles through the crisp mountain air as dairy cows, sheep and goats with bells around their necks graze and create a chorus of nature itself.

I visited the French-speaking southwest region where arriving seems like stepping into a postcard. To say it’s spectacularly, breathtakingly beautiful doesn’t really begin to do the place justice. Photos may look attractive, but trust me, the three-dimensional panoramic view is even better.

Gourmet Cuisine and Exclusive Wine

The first stop on my flavor-focused itinerary was lunch at Anne-Sophie Pic at the Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne. The meal was memorable in part because it was my first experience dining at a Michelin rated restaurant. The restaurant has two stars, but Chef Anne-Sophie Pic is the first female in 50 years to earn three Michelin stars in France (for her restaurant in Valence). I can’t imagine what prevented the scorekeepers from awarding three stars here. Her creative cuisine showcases local seasonal ingredients, tastes exquisite and is served like tiny works of art in elegant style. I was swooning from the moment I saw the crystal glasses sparkling on the table until the last dessert spoon was whisked away.

Chef Edgard Bovier. Credit: Lausanne Palace & Spa
Chef Edgard Bovier. Credit: Lausanne Palace & Spa

That evening I dined at another Michelin-rated restaurant: La Table d’Edgard at Lausanne Palace & Spa, which boasts one star (and which turned out to be my personal favorite restaurant of the trip; whatever the Michelin rating system entails, it’s a code I haven’t yet cracked). Chef Edgard Bovier won me over with his charming personality and divine Mediterranean-influenced gourmet cuisine that is innovative yet approachable. A meal there is more than just one reason to love the hotel: With its impressive views, spacious rooms and luxurious amenities, Lausanne Palace & Spa is a hotel that’s easy to adore.

The Lausanne Palalce Hotel & Spa. Credit: Lausanne Palace & SpaThe Lausanne Palalce Hotel & Spa. Credit: Lausanne Palace & Spa

Over the next several days I discovered that when dining closer to earth (that is, at restaurants, bistros and cafés without Michelin star ratings), menus routinely feature traditional cheese-based dishes such as fondue (melted cheese with bread), raclette (hot cheese with potatoes) and rösti (hash browns with cheese). Milk from all those animals creating melodies on the mountainsides—primarily Holstein and Simmental cows—gets transformed into delicious cheese, particularly Gruyère in the Lake Geneva region. To learn the specifics about Gruyère cheese, you must visit La Maison du Gruyère in La Gruyère for an overview of the AOC-certified production process with interactive displays and demonstrations that engage all five senses.

The water flowing in public fountains throughout the Lake Geneva region is safe to drink. Credit: REGIS COLOMBO/www.diapo.chThe water flowing in public fountains throughout the Lake Geneva region is safe to drink. Credit: REGIS COLOMBO/www.diapo.ch

The natural pairing with cheese is wine and “Swiss people love to drink Swiss wine,” says Pauline Ladsous, revenue manager at Lausanne Palace & Spa. In fact, they love it so much they keep it all for themselves: Swiss wine is not exported, so enjoy it while visiting the country. Chasselas is an easy-drinking white varietal with fruit, floral and mineral notes that pairs well with gourmet fare as well as more humble regional dishes like cheese fondue (try it at Restaurant Edelweiss in Geneva—where you can also take fondue cooking classes), fried perch (which is excellent at Le Maître Jaques in Nyon) or sausages (a tasty menu selection at Auberge du Vigneron in Epesses).

A delectable variety of Swiss chocolates. Credit: Hope S. Philbrick A delectable variety of Swiss chocolates. Credit: Hope S. Philbrick

The Swiss consume more chocolate than any other country in the world. Nearly any town is likely to have at least one chocolate shop. Opened in 1850, Blondel in Lausanne is the country’s oldest chocolate shop and specializes in chocolate bark. Dürig Chocolatier in Lausanne offers a range of products including organic fair-trade chocolates, bars, bonbons and specialties. A great place to learn about chocolate is Maison Cailler in Broc, which was founded in 1898 yet first opened for tours in April 2010. A narrated tour details the chocolate-making process from cocoa bean to chocolate bar and concludes with tasty samples.

Travel by train to, from and around Lausanne. Credit: REGIS COLOMBO/www.diapo.chTravel by train to, from and around Lausanne. Credit: REGIS COLOMBO/www.diapo.ch

Exploring by Train and on Foot

When not stuffing treats into your mouth, there are many ways to burn calories. Whether your destination is a museum or a bike path, getting there is easy. Buy a Swiss Pass to access Switzerland’s public transportation system: a fine-tuned network of trains, buses, boats and trams can get you anywhere you want to go. Thus no matter where you choose to base your stay, adding daytrips to your itinerary is easy—and the journey will most certainly be scenic. But fair warning: Wherever you go, you’ll wish you could have stayed longer.

Whether or not you enjoy wine, be sure to visit the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces that stretch about 18 miles along Lake Geneva’s north shore from Chateau de Chillon to eastern Lausanne.

The Lavaux Vineyard Terraces that stretch about 18 miles along Lake Geneva’s north shore. Credit: Hope S. PhilbrickThe Lavaux Vineyard Terraces that stretch about 18 miles along Lake Geneva’s north shore. Credit: Hope S. Philbrick

Designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, the terraces can be traced back to 11th century Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries. Hiking in the area is a physical challenge that offers amazing visual rewards. Or simply enjoy the view aboard The Wine Train that runs through the area.

From the train depot in La Gruyère you’ll see La Maison du Gruyère across the street; it’s then a 10-minute walk along an uphill path to the charming medieval village of Gruyères that boasts historic treasures like a castle from the 11th Century, a prisoner’s tower, garrison walls and a house once belonging to a court jester. A contemporary venue is the H.R. Giger Museum that showcases the most extensive collection of artwork by the Swiss artist who won an Academy Award for visual effects for his design work on the movie “Alien.”

It’s too far to walk from Gruyères to The Musée Gruérien in Bulle, but worth the trip to learn more about the history, art and culture of the region. Exhibits include collections of traditional costumes, festive cowbells, farming tools and folk art.

Fried perch at Le Maître Jaques in Nyon - a dish sure to re-invogorate you after a day of exploring. Credit: Hope S. PhilbrickFried perch at Le Maître Jaques in Nyon – a dish sure to re-invogorate you after a day of exploring. Credit: Hope S. Philbrick

In Nyon dive deep into the lake without getting wet at the Lake Geneva Museum. Aquariums reveal what’s swimming below the surface while displays detail the nature, history and culture of the lake and its surrounding communities. The fishing village was once considered the Roman Empire’s most important colony in Switzerland and The Roman Museum displays artifacts dating from as early as 45 B.C. Placards are all French, but the impressive ancient objects are self-explanatory.

Shopping is the main attraction in Geneva, Switzerland’s second largest city and home to the Red Cross, United Nations and World Health Organization. The Old Town district is packed with art galleries, antique shops and boutiques. Even more upscale shops are nearby along Rue du Rhône, Rue de la Confédération and Rue du Marché where you’ll find abundant displays of watches, chocolate, designer clothing, jewelry, shoes and art.

Whether shopping or perusing a menu in Switzerland’s Lake Geneva region, it’s a challenge to choose just one item. It’s equally hard to imagine visiting only once.

4HomeCooks

Enjoy the taste of Switzerland at home.

Fondue Moitié- Moitié

Ingredients
1 clove of garlic, cut into two
14 oz. of grated or thin slices of Gruyère AOC cheese
2 tsp. corn flour
350 ml. white wine
14 oz. Vacherin Fribourgeois AOC cheese cut into small dice
1 small glass of kirsch (optional)
1 pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Preparation
Rub the fondue dish with the clove of garlic where it can be left if you wish.

Mix the Gruyère AOC, the Vacherin Fribourgeois AOC cheese and the corn flour in the fondue pot, add the white wine and bring to a boil while stirring constantly until the cheese has melted.

Add the kirsch and cayenne as desired.

Serve immediately. Keep warm on low burner with very low flame.

Fondue Vaudoise

Ingredients
1 clove of garlic, cut into two
28 oz. of grated or thin slices of Gruyère AOC cheese (different degrees of maturity)
4 tsp. corn flour
3.5 dl. Vaud white wine
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 small glass of kirsch (optional)
freshly ground pepper
freshly ground nutmeg

Preparation
Rub the fondue dish with the clove of garlic where it can be left if you wish.

Mix the Gruyère AOC with the corn flour in the fondue pot, add the white wine and lemon juice and bring to a boil while stirring constantly until the cheese has melted.

Add the kirsch and seasonings.

Serve immediately. Keep warm on low burner with very low flame.

—Recipes Courtesy Le Gruyère AOC Switzerland; www.gruyere.com

If You Go

KnowB4YouGo

If visiting during summer, early fall or late spring, bring your own water bottle. Fill it for free at any of the flowing water fountains—the water is not only safe to drink, it’s across the lake from the famous Evian, available by the bottle.

This can get confusing: Gruyère or Le Gruyère is the cheese. La Gruyère is the district. Gruyères is the village.

How2GetThere

Swiss International Air Lines
The airline offers daily flights to Geneva from several major cities. New business class seats recline flat.

Swiss Travel System
Forget taxis and rental cars: A Swiss Pass is all you need to get from the airport to wherever you want to go in Switzerland.

Where2Stay

The Hotel Central
Rue de la Rôtisserie 2, 1204 Geneva
Tel : +41 (0)22 818 81 00
Feel like a local at this apartment-style hotel that offers a convenient location and city views.

Hôtel des Trois Couronnes
Rue d’Italie 49, 1800 Vevey
Tel : +41 (0)21 923 32 00
Feel like royalty at this high-quality hotel that boasts impressive lake views, friendly staff and upscale amenities.

Lausanne Palace & Spa
7-9 Grand-Chêne, 1002 Lausanne
Tel. +41 (0)21 331 31 31
A personal favorite. This top-notch historic hotel impresses in every possible way, from customer service to amenities and on-site facilities. Originally built in 1915, the seven-story building houses four restaurants and bars. Guests enjoy free Internet access and spa access.

Where2Eat

The Geneva canton boasts the greatest concentration of restaurants in all of Switzerland. Alas, I could not try them all yet recommend these:

Anne-Sophie Pic
Beau-Rivage Palace / Place du Port 17-19, 1000 Lausanne 6
Tel: +41 (0)21 613 33 34
Fine dining.

Auberge du Vigneron
Route de la Corniche, 1098 Epesses
Tel : +41 (0)21 799 14 19
Local treasure.

Il Lago Restaurant
Four Season’s Hotel, 33 Quai des Bergues, 1201 Geneva
Tel: + 41 (22) 908 70 00
Fine dining.

La Pomme de Pin
rue Cité-Derrière 11, Lausanne
Tel: +41 21 323 46 56
Traditional seasonal cuisine with French influences. Reservations strongly recommended.

Le Maître Jaques
2 ruelle des Moulins, 1260 Nyon
Tel : +41 (0)22 361 28 34
Another local treasure.

Restaurant Edelweiss Manotel
2 place de la Navigation, 1201 Geneva
Tel: +41 (0) 22 544 51 51
Touristy, but fun.

Restaurant Les Armures
1 rue Puits-St-Pierre, 1204 Geneva
Tél. +41 (0)22 310 91 72
Upscale, traditional.

What2Do

Blondel
rue de Bourg 5, 1003 Lausanne
Tel. +41 (0)21 323 44 74

Dürig Chocolatier
Avenue d Ouchy 15, 1006 Lausanne
Tel: +41 (0) 21 601 24 35

H.R. Giger Museum
Château St. Germain, 1663 Gruyères
Tel.: +41 26 921 22 00

La Maison du Gruyère
1663 Pringy-Gruyères
Tel: +41 (0) 026 921 84 00

Lake Geneva Museum
Quai Louis Bonnard 8, 1260 Nyon
Tel. +41 (0) 22 361 09 49

Maison Cailler
rue Jules Bellet 7, 1636 Broc
Tel: + 41 (0)26 921 59 60

The Musée Gruérien
Rue de la Condémine 25, 1630 Bulle
Tel: +41 (0)26 916 10 10
Closed for renovation until Autumn 2011

The Roman Museum
Rue Maupertuis, 1260 Nyon
Tel: +41(0)22 361.75.91

4MoreInfo

La Gruyère Region Tourism

Lake Geneva Region Tourism

Lausanne Tourism & Convention Bureau

Montreaux-Riviera Region Tourism

Nyon Region Tourism

Switzerland Tourism

Top photo: A stunning view of Lake Geneva from the rooftops of Lausanne. Credit: REGIS COLOMBO/www.diapo.ch

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rebecca Mizrahi April 3, 2012 at 3:09 am

I was very pleased to read and see photos of your trip around lake Geneva as it is my region. I’m was born and still live in Lausanne. The pictures you took are great and reflect the quietly of our region. And you said right it is like stepping into a postcard! But if I could say something, I would prefer you to name it Lake Leman, which is it’s real name instead of lake of Geneva.
Best regards,
Rebecca Mizrahi
Lausanne

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