Escape to the Swiss countryside this autumn. An immense canton with dramatic landscapes at every turn, Vaud is one of Switzerland’s premier destinations. With France on its western border, it is one of only four cantons where French is the official language. It is also recognised as a centre of gastronomy — this is where to savour sublime cheeses, meats and wine from vineyards on the steep slopes above Lake Geneva. And for devotees of Switzerland’s unmatched high-end watch-making, Vaud is the core of the industry.
Canton of Vaud: Enchanting autumn escapes in Switzerland’s most beautiful region
Autumn presents travellers with 12 hours of light during bright days and balmy evenings, and attractions free from summer crowds, making the canton ideal for outdoor exploration. An easy 11-kilometre walk starting at Morges features fields and forests along the valley of the river Aubonne, the vast park areas of the National Arboretum, as well as the vineyards above Lake Geneva. The 130-hectare National Arboretum is unique to Switzerland and has 3,000 tree and bush species and varieties from all continents.
Equally stimulating is the new Plateforme 10 in Lausanne, a reimagining of the museum space through an urban project located next to the nine platforms of the city’s train station. The collections of photography, fine arts, design and contemporary arts are enhanced by their remarkable architectural surroundings, bringing together five cultural institutions, including the Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts (one of Switzerland’s oldest museums, owning about 10,000 works), and the Museum of Design and Contemporary Applied Arts, with exhibitions on fashion, graphic arts, and glass art, as well as Ancient Egyptian and Asian collections.
Taste the very essence of Vaud
To complement these visual treats, Vaud is also a gourmand’s paradise, with local specialities, traditional dishes, and world-renowned restaurants. This part of the country features many restaurants with Michelin stars, as well as lesser-known, more intimate eateries that promise a meal to remember.
With a view of the famous wine terraces of Lavaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the hotel/restaurant Baron Tavernier also serves up breathtaking views of the Alps and Lake Geneva. Meals here use wines and products from the region — locavore in the true sense — melded to create scrumptious cuisine. For a more in-depth tasting experience, the property invites its guests to visit the Le Bon Sauvage wine-tasting bar and organises activities in the vineyards upon request.
Vaud is also home to the municipality of Crissier, near Lausanne, where the three-Michelin-star Hôtel de Ville is a pinnacle of French gastronomy. Also a holder of Michelin stars, Anne-Sophie Pic’s restaurant in the park-like Beau-Rivage Palace is one of the finest restaurants in Lausanne, with gastronomic dishes adapted to Swiss tastes and products. Here, large bay windows offer a breathtaking view of Lake Geneva and the French Alps, and when the weather is warm, tables are set up on the terrace, in the shade of the century-old cedar trees.
Find the best food and wine pairings in the canton Vaud
The canton is also home to gastronomic hotels, comforting refuges that mine the region’s vast trove of food and wine specialities, offering a three-in-one stay that combines accommodation, gastronomy and fine wines. At Hotel Victoria, near Montreux, the manager personally travels to wine estates to purchase wines with his sommelier or accompany guests on a wine-tasting session. With its 14,000 bottles, the hotel’s selection is one of the canton’s most prestigious. To highlight these great wines, gourmet meals include chateaubriand, roast spring chicken, delicate trout, breast of duck and crisp golden potatoes.
The manager of Romantik Hotel Mont-Blanc au Lac hand picks exceptional Swiss wines with a focus on the vintages from Morges and La Côte. At the hotel’s Pavois restaurant, seasonal high-quality products such as crunchy vegetables from a seller in Villars-Ste-Croix, tender beef fillets and breast of chicken from a butcher in Le Chenit, and creamy cheeses from Dufaux are strongly represented.
Le Rive Hotel in Nyon uses 15 kilograms of fresh perch from Lake Geneva per day in its 100-seat restaurant to produce lightly browned fillets in melted butter served with matchstick fries and lentils.
At Eurotel Victoria Villars, Alpine pastures aren’t just enchanting landscapes, but giant pantries of wild plants, with mountain carvi, wild spinach, geranium and meadowsweet (a flower that tastes like almond paste) all used in dishes.
Find your perfect relaxation & wellness spot in Vaud
When it’s time to unwind, Vaud boasts spa and wellness options that forge moments of pure relaxation for the whole family. The five-star property Chalet RoyAlp welcomes children aged two and older in its wellness facility, with toys and buoys among the types of entertainment to delight toddlers. The hotel has even formed a partnership with Toofruit, a vegan, organic French products brand for children, to offer rituals for youngsters from three years: One is a face scrub based on fruit purées like pineapple and coconut.
Spa Cinq Mondes at Beau-Rivage Palace was completely renovated in 2020, with curved and round spaces the settings for soothing therapies, including some based on Chinese and Ayurvedic rituals. The Royal Savoy hotel’s modern spa opened in a purpose-built facility in 2016, and features a sauna, hammam, and jacuzzi area reserved for women only, as well as a hairdressing salon.
Beyond hotel spas, Vaud has a number of thermal centres. Lavey-les-Bains and Yverdon-les-Bains are two locations where the thermal waters have attracted patients and travellers since the 19th century. Lavey offers Switzerland’s hottest thermal waters, with an average temperature of 62°C; for those that like it hot, this spot is unmissable, though thankfully the water is cooled to more manageable levels of 33C and above.
Discover a paradise of horology in Vallée de Joux, the watchmaking valley
Lakes, meadows, forests of spruce and fir, and the highest peaks in the Jura make the Vallée de Joux a wondrous place to explore and decompress. The Lac de Joux, at an altitude of 1,000 metres above sea level, is the biggest water surface in the Jura Massif, attracting bathers, windsurfers, sailors, and other water sports enthusiasts.
In the Park Jura Vaudois nature preserve, hikers find extensive pine forests and the biggest ant colony in Europe. Yet this pretty part of Vaud has a deep culture separate from nature — a wealth of watchmaking expertise, an almost 300-year-old tradition that still practised today by farmer-watchmakers.
Travellers can learn about this through objects exhibited at the innovative museum Espace Horloger. Interactive tables, films, touch screens and historical watches, curated in collaboration with the Vallée de Joux Technical School, present the watchmaking profession in an immersive, original way, detailing how watchmaking has flourished in Vallée de Joux.
Two famous local brands, Audemars Piguet and Jaeger-LeCoultre, have recently opened their doors to visitors with museums, workshops, and tours of factories to help visitors discover the brands’ many innovations. To get an in-depth overview, and buy a memento or two, customers can visit the Helvetica Horlogerie Shop, which displays about 100 brands across different price ranges, ensuring there is something for everyone.
Vaud’s Unique experience with a view to remember – Stroll through Lavaux during the Grape Harvest
Another unique experience in Vaud is to stroll through Lavaux during the grape harvest. On a 10-kilometre walk, visitors will be able to explore one of the most beautiful vineyards in Switzerland on a circuit starting from Chexbres, Saint-Saphorin, Rivaz or Epesses. The yellow-orangey hues of the vineyards form a lovely contrast with the blue-grey reflections of the water of Lake Geneva, its surface as smooth as a mirror. Along the way, walkers can enjoy a break at one of the numerous vineyard cellars for wine-tasting or enjoy a meal in a traditional pinte vaudoise.
In addition there are a host of other gourmet-themed opportunities nearby. These include weekly winemaker and cheesemaker train trips, inviting travellers to talk with winegrowers and cheesemakers of the region, along with a meal and refreshments. Sundays also mean public tours on Lavaux, accompanied by a heritage guide armed with stories, anecdotes and historical and natural facts on this exceptional cultural landscape.
Other area visits include the wine cellars of Cave Gaillard, vineyard walk and fondue at Domaine Bertholet, tasting of dairy products at Praz-Romond farm, learning the secrets of artisanal soft cheese at the Vacherin Mont-d’Or Museum, and the wine festival at Nyon, a free event in front of the bright white castle taking place from September 30-October 1, 2022.
Luxury escape today: Historic hotels in the Canton of Vaud
With so much to do, Vaud is also blessed with a healthy stock of historic hotels, some built more than a century ago. Hotel Masson is the oldest guest house still open to tourists, first welcoming travellers in 1829, and some of its lamps are almost two centuries old.
One of the first Swiss Grand Hotels, Hôtel des Trois Couronnes was inaugurated in 1842, a classical structure partly built on the city’s medieval walls and centred by a light-filled atrium. The Belle Epoque period informs the Grand Hôtel des Rasses, which debuted in 1898 as a mix between a grand hotel and mountain inn.
For full-blown Belle Epoque splendour, it would be hard to top Fairmont Le Montreux Palace, an ornate property on the banks of Lake Geneva. Another notable architectural gem is the Neo-gothic Chateau d’Ouchy in Lausanne.
Away from the cities, the Swiss chalet is celebrated worldwide as a national emblem. Built in Leysin in 1896, the Sylvana guest house changed its name to Grand Chalet in 1992 and retains the feel of a typical chalet through the old wood in rooms and shared areas.
Even new, high-end buildings such as Hôtel de Rougemont & Spa combine large balconies, terraces and contemporary materials with the familiar characteristics of a Swiss chalet — wood, stone and, above all, a warm atmosphere, one that has travellers from across the world returning to Vaud time and time again. ◼
© This article was first published online in Sept 2022 – World Travel Magazine.