The canton of Vaud
AOn the map it juts out into France like a hook: Vaud (from pre-Old High German for “forest”), the largest French-speaking canton in Switzerland and the fourth-largest in the Confederation after Graubünden, Bern and Valais. The landscape of Country of Vaud, as the Vaud is called in the official language, is characterized by forest, mountains, vineyards – and water. Because it stretches from Lake Geneva to Lake Neuchâtel, the two largest lakes in Switzerland. Lausanne, capital of the canton, well-known university city and cultural metropolis with treasures such as Notre-Dame, the most important Gothic cathedral in Switzerland, is located on the former.
Sailing, surfing and swimming in summer, skiing in winter and culinary and cultural delights all year round are among the many attractions. Gourmet boat trips on Lake Geneva, including Swiss cheese fondue, are as much a part of Vaud as cucumbers are of Spreewald. The Alpenblick is included for free.
Culinary fans can also get to know the region on the cheese train: during the journey you can taste traditional cheeses such as Appenzeller, Emmental or Gruyère. From Montreux it goes over the hilly landscape of Rossinière, where the largest chalet in Switzerland can be visited, to Château-d’Oex. Visits to restaurants and museums there provide insights into traditional Swiss cheese production and folk art.
On Lake Neuchâtel, on the other hand, you can enjoy cheese fondue with truffles from the region and other delicacies on a ride in Claude Jäggi’s fondue horse-drawn carriage through the vineyards. You should definitely try Papet Vaudois in one of the many country inns, a typical Vaud specialty made from leeks and potatoes, which is served with saucisse aux choux (Vaud cabbage sausage made from pork and cabbage) or boutefas (regional raw sausage).
You should also make time for the most visited monument in Switzerland: Chillon Castle near Montreux. The medieval moated castle sits enthroned on a rocky island at the eastern end of Lake Geneva against the spectacular backdrop of the Vaud Alps. The best way to end the tour is in the tasting room to taste the castle wines.
Half in Switzerland, half in France
Lying with your head in Switzerland and your feet in France: it’s possible at the Hôtel Arbez Franco-Suisse. Because it is on the border of both countries in the also divided village of La Cure. One third of the hotel is in Vaud, two thirds in the French department of Jura.
The house can be entered from both sides and has a French and a Swiss address. The border runs through the kitchen, dining room, stairwell and rooms 6, 9 and 12. Conveniently, Switzerland is part of the Schengen area, so you don’t need to show a passport when changing countries within the hotel.
The house owes its strange location to regional trade under Napoleon. Shortly before the new border was drawn in 1863 through the then completely French village, the building was hastily erected by a smuggler – who then used the border location for his crooked business. Today, the “Arbez” belongs to the descendants of Jules-Jean Arbez, who bought it from the builder’s sons in 1921.
The location on Lake Geneva is ideal for the wine
The terraced vineyards of Lavaux east of Lausanne are steep with gradients of up to 45 degrees. Below Lake Geneva, plus the mountains, the panorama is phenomenal. And not only that. The location creates optimal conditions for the wines. The sun hits the vines at a perfect angle, the lake reflects the light, stone walls trap heat.
Grapes have been cultivated here since the 11th century. Today, the Lavaux vineyards are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With over 800 hectares, they are the largest contiguous wine-growing region in Switzerland. In the six Vaud wine regions, around 40 million bottles of wine are produced every year on an area of almost 4000 hectares, making Vaud the second largest wine-growing region in the country after Valais.
The most common variety in Lavaux is the Gutedel, also known as Chasselas, which accounts for almost 70 percent of the harvest. Depending on the vineyard, the white wine tastes fruity and dry, floral, mineral or has a subtle sweetness. But good red wines are also pressed here. The best way to taste the drops is on a hiking or cycling tour with tasting – in view of the steep terrain, the tasting should take place at the end of the excursion.
Lavey-les-Bains’ Therme has the hottest spring water
The water temperature of the springs in Lavey-les-Bains is at least 62 degrees Celsius, sometimes even 70 degrees are measured. The thermal baths in the spa town can boast of having the hottest spring water in Switzerland. However, guests do not have to worry about scalding, as the water in the outdoor and indoor pools is only a pleasant 33 to 36 degrees.
It gushes through the pools all year round, which come up with massage jets, a waterfall and underwater loungers – and with a picturesque view of the Alps. In contrast to those of other Swiss thermal baths, which have been used since Roman times, the sulfur healing springs were only discovered by chance by a fisherman in the 19th century.
The Vaud spring water has a long journey behind it: it flows underground from the Rhone Valley to a depth of up to 3000 meters, where it warms up and rises to the surface in the village of Lavey-Morcles. In the future, this geological feature should not only be used for the thermal baths, but also as a renewable energy source for the entire region.
Freddie Mercury immediately fell in love with Montreux
Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Cash, David Bowie: numerous stars honored the music city of Montreux and its famous Jazz Festival. So did Queen singer Freddie Mercury (1946-1991). When he came to the Vaud Riviera with his band in 1978, he immediately fell in love with the city. The band decided to record the LP “Jazz” there.
Namely at the Mountain Studios in the Casino of Montreux, location of the festival. It burned down during a Frank Zappa concert in 1971 (Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” is about it) and was rebuilt. Queen then acquired the recording studios, and from 1978 to 1995 the band recorded six studio albums in Montreux.
Mercury, who initially stayed in villas and hotels, bought his own apartment overlooking Lake Geneva in 1991 and lived in the city for several years. Queen’s last album, “Made in Heaven”, was also recorded there, on the sleeve of which Lake Geneva can be seen.
Montreux dedicated a larger-than-life bronze statue to Freddie Mercury on the waterfront in 1996. His fans still lay flowers there to this day. In the rooms of the former recording studio you can now experience the exhibition “Queen: The Studio Experience” and discover Montreux on the “Freddie Tour”.
“In the proud and independent atmosphere of Lausanne, Olympism finds guarantees of the freedom it needs to advance”
This is how Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863–1937), initiator of the modern Olympic Games, justified his decision in 1915 to locate the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in neutral Switzerland – namely in the capital of Vaud. In 1994, Lausanne was the only place in the world to be named the Olympic capital.
Today, more than 40 international sports federations and organizations are based in Lausanne. It was important to IOC founder Coubertin not only to relate the Olympic idea to sport, but also to extend it to basic ethical principles such as education, respect, artistic appreciation and social responsibility.
The well-done Olympic Museum of Lausanne shows its legacy and the fascination of the Olympic movement with audiovisual and interactive elements, with original sportswear of well-known Olympians such as Jesse Owens running shoes and with the medals of all games since 1896. In the park of the museum on Lake Geneva you can see Visitors can even measure the speed of the world record runner Usain Bolt with a light animation on the 100-meter track.
Bizarre, record-breaking, typical: You can find more parts of our regional geography series here.