FLast week we spent a beautiful three days in the French-speaking Vaud region of Switzerland. I’ve dreamt of coming here for ages, ever since I saw a postcard of Lavaux vineyards above Lac Léman. It’s the kind of place you see on the cover of a calendar and put on your bucketlist immediately. In real life, it’s even dreamier.
Here is how we spent our time and enjoyed a feeling of “les vacances”, Swiss-French style. All tips and locations included.
EXPLORING THE CITY OF LAUSANNE
It was my first time in Lausanne, the “Olympic City” (dubbed so because the International Olympic Committee sits here) but for me the city’s reputation preceded it. It’s well known as a vibrant student-town, with museums, culture and international events, friendly locals and a joie de vivre in the air.
The city sits on three hills above Lac Léman (that’s Lake Geneva officially in English, but locals prefer its Roman name). Because of this unique geographic location, it’s full of steep streets and curving roads, but the Swiss have figured out a way to make it easier to get around: three bridges connect the city for car drivers and Switzerland’s only metro line goes through the heart of it, from the lake up to the top, to make it easy for pedestrians.
Still, I recommend comfortable shoes, especially in the summer. The hot, steep, cobblestone streets are not for the faint of the heart.
Lausanne has two parts – a modern district with cool architecture (called Flon) and the traditional old town (photos below). While both are worth a stroll, Flon with its many bars and clubs comes alive at night, so if you’re there during the day, the old town is where you’ll get to feel the most charm and energy of the city.
Make sure you go up to Lausanne Cathedral, which in addition to being the biggest cathedral in Switzerland and a landmark with a rich history (learn about the Bernese invasion), stands next to a beautiful terrasse that offers panoramic views of the city.
Hop on the metro down to station Ouchy to reach Lausanne’s lakeside promenade. The stroll from the metro station to the Olympic museum is particularly pretty, and if you’re not short on time, rent a paddleboat along the way or visit the museum itself (tip it has a terrace with a nice view).
HIKING THE VINEYARDS OF LAVAUX
There is something so special about these neat green rows above a sparkling Lac Léman. The vineyards were my #1 reason to visit the region, and they did not disappoint.
We set aside a full day to explore them, starting at 9 in the morning and ending somewhere around 4pm. There are many different paths through the vineyards and the villages, all of them scenic in different ways.
We walked from Grandvaux to Epesses and then down to Rivaz. I’ve included a map below so you can visualize the way. The route from Epesses to Rivaz across Dezaley (marked in red) is arguably the most beautiful stretch (above photo is from there).
Below a few postcards from our walk
Make sure you also stroll through the cute little villages along the way like Riex and Epesses.
While hiking our guide told us about the local winemaking business. Here in the Lavaux region, everything is done by hand – the terrain is too steep and too compact to use machines.
A lot of work goes into protecting the grapes from pests. To ensure their AOC status (appellation d’origine contrôlée – or controlled destination of origin), winemakers take great care to only use several grapes per vine, adhering to strict standards.
The Chasselas grape variety is the star around here. I’m a “light wine” person, I can’t drink heavy reds and some whites also give me a headache, so I was delighted to hear that this grape creates the kind of wine that you don’t feel the next morning.
But the cool thing is that the same grape produces a different taste across the region because it absorbs the qualities of the soil, which creates a rich variety and a unique wine for every winemaker.
WINE TASTING AT A LOCAL WINERY
There are 200 winemakers in the Lavaux region and many of them offer visits and wine tasting at their wineries. You can check the full list and search by location at www.swisswinedirectory.ch
Make sure you call in advance to book your visit as many of them have a beautiful location and host private events. Also, note that not every winery is open on Sundays.
We did our tasting at Domaine Clos de la République in Epesses. It is the oldest winery (and business!) in Switzerland, run by the same family for thirteen generations since the 12th century. Just look at that gorgeous terrace…
Over the years it’s been popular and frequented by many international celebrities – a piece of trivia you learn when you tour their cellar (Charlie Chaplin, for example, was a longtime fan).
There is also a great story about this beautifully carved barrel bought at a market in 1897 (!), it’s absolutely huge in person and one can only imagine how difficult it must have been to transport it all the way up here over a hundred years ago (make sure you get a photo in front of it, like all the celebrities ;))
List of all the generations of the Fonjallaz family that have run the winery since 1531.
- Open every day of the week, including Sunday
- Wine tasting (4 wines) CHF 22 per person
- With cheese, CHF 30 per person
- Tour lasts around 1.5 hours
- Make sure you call ahead to reserve as they often host weddings and private events
SWIMMING IN LAC LÉMAN
An absolute must, if you ask me! The lake is so clear, it invites you for a dip every time you catch a glimpse of it. And on a hot summer day, well there’s just nothing better.
On Instagram, a lot of you asked me if the water is “warm”. I would say for me, it was absolutely pleasant and I could stay in for as long as I wanted.
But then again, I am trained by Lake Zürich and I start swimming as soon as the water is 20 C, so maybe I’m just used to it 🙂
This photo is from the beach in Cully, it was a short walking distance from our hotel. There is a small stretch of pebble access to the lake where you can walk in (albeit not very gracefully) and plenty of grassy areas with some shaded spots where you can relax.
But my favorite was this beach in Rivaz. As soon as I saw it from the train station, I knew we had to come here for a swim.
It has a wider pebble stretch for access and the water depth increases gradually so you can walk in slowly or just sit right at the entrance with your feet in the water.
The water, the views, the heat gave me absolute Mediterranean vacation vibes.
SUNSET PICNIC IN THE VINEYARDS
I find vineyards very romantic and I wanted to spend more time among them. This is hard during the day because it’s very hot and the sun is right above you, reflecting off the ground and the lake. But in the evening, it’s another story.
When the sun finally sets behind the hills, the temperature cools to pleasantly warm, the skies turn pink, and there is certain quiet magic up there, between the vines.
It was Sunday so all the stores were closed (except the one at Lausanne main station which was out of the way for us) but we were lucky that Cully has a Sunday farmer’s market.
As soon as we got back from our wine tasting we put the wine we bought in the fridge and headed to the market for a few simple supplies: baguette, cheese, and some fruit.
Around 8pm we started hiking up in search of a nice spot to sit and enjoy the sunset.
Since it was still really warm, our biggest concern was keeping the wine cold enough! 😀
We found a spot just outside Epesses and when the sun set it was exactly as I imagined it in my head – romance 🙂
Walking back down later was also really fun because the little villages you stroll during the day look different lit up at night, with locals enjoying their drinks and dinner on their outdoor patios, and France sparkling across the horizon.
VISITING AIGLE CASTLE
A 12th-century castle surrounded by vineyards and mountains, with its towers majestically rising against the horizon.. there are many beautiful castles in Switzerland but this one has haunted me since I saw a photo of it somewhere on Pinterest, and I was really happy to finally see it live.
It’s less well-known than its lakeside neighbor Chateau Chillon near Montreux, but for me, this is also part of its charm. I can’t speak for how busy it gets as we were there on a Monday morning, but the surrounding area is very scenic and peaceful.
Most of our visit to Vaud revolved around the lake – either enjoying its view or swimming in it. Lac Léman is so beautiful that it dominates its surroundings. But here, with no lake nearby, the atmosphere changes and mountains take over.
The castle itself is now a wine museum and also an event location. It’s worth going inside if not for the interesting history, then for the views from its towers. I felt like a princess strolling above the courtyard and looking out at vineyards from tiny medieval windows.
Isn’t the scenery just breathtaking? The train ride here from Cully is also a beautiful bonus.
WHERE TO EAT
In Lausanne, we had lunch at the trendy Café de Grancy, located just a few steps from the Lausanne train station. They have a small shaded patio and a bigger terrace with umbrellas and a bit of a view towards the lake.
In Cully/Lavaux region, we had dinner at our hotel restaurant Auberge du Raisin. It was a three-course meal with local fish and French-style dessert on their cozy patio, tucked in the back. No views, but a charming atmosphere and good service.
The next day we had lunch at Auberge du Vigneron, which was a perfect stop in the middle of our hike across the vineyards. It’s located in Epesses, perched atop a hill, and has a big terrace with beautiful views over the lake. I opted for a fish dish again and we did a bit of wine tasting (hey, when en vacances ;)).
For the second night dinner, we opted for a simple picnic in the vineyards because we wanted to stay out as late as possible on the beach (the sun stays hot till the last minute in Lavaux!) – see above for pictures.
In Aigle, we had lunch at Le Caveau du Cloître, a very welcoming restaurant that was full of locals and had a relaxed atmosphere. I ordered the Bavette à l’échalote and the chef came out to meet me and ask me how I liked the dish since it was her first time making it. If you’re visiting the Aigle castle, this restaurant is just around the corner.
WHERE TO STAY
If you want to have that vacation feeling but still be central to all the activities, I recommend staying in Cully. It’s a charming lakeside village just minutes by train from Lausanne and a lot of beautiful hiking paths through the vineyards start here.
You can also stay in Vevey or Montreux, both are bigger towns with more to do but still with direct access to vineyards, castles, and the lake.
We stayed at Auberge du Raisin in Cully, a 3-star boutique hotel, conveniently located between the train station and the lake so it’s just a minutes’ walk in each direction.
- TRAINS: If you’re coming for a day trip it’s worth getting the day pass (especially if you get a saver one): it will cover your trips to and from Lausanne and all the regional travel. If you’re staying overnight in the Lavaux region, hotels will give you a free travel card (valid for your whole stay) that covers the region.
- PACKING: Summer days are HOT in the area, bring a hat as there is not much shade in the vineyards and pack comfortable shoes for all the walking up and down the hills (and cobblestone in Lausanne)
- TOURS: If you love to learn more about the region and its history (especially winemaking is very special and revered here), book a tour guide to take you along all the scenic routes and tell you all the local stories. We had two wonderful English-speaking guides: Christine Seuret in Lausanne and Clare Keller-Marshall in Lavaux.
NOTE: Our stay was part of a press trip organized with Vaud Tourism. For more tips and ideas, you can check their website: https://www.region-du-leman.ch/en/
I hope this post helps you plan your vacation in Vaud!