My Kind of Place The Swiss city’s cultural events and glittering nightlife make it perfect for a short break.
Take off for a weekend of wonder in Lausanne
With the snow falling and the ski season in Switzerland finally underway, thousands of tourists pass through Lausanne by train from Geneva Airport, onto the slopes of Verbier and the rest of the Alps. But that really doesn't do this lively student town justice, as it's filled with attractions, nightlife and a general vivacity that puts neighbouring Geneva to shame.
Thanks to its geography, Lausanne receives comparatively mild weather, meaning that its perennially bustling streets and restaurants are as enjoyable to visit in the crisp winter sunshine as they are in summer, when the pace of the entire city palpably slows. The city centre is small enough to cover on foot but big enough to offer one of Switzerland's best cultural programmes, making it a perfect weekend break.
A comfortable bed
The best of Lausanne's hotels are to be found in Ouchy, at the edge of Lake Geneva. The five-star Beau-Rivage Palace (www.brp.ch; 0041 21 613 3306) is the undisputed grand dame, offering rooms with the best views in the city and featuring balconies that seem to stare down the mountains across the lake. The hotel is classically furnished, although the restaurants and bars are more contemporary, as is the stylish Cinq Mondes spa - and surfacing for breath in one of the pools and being greeted by an incredible Alpine panorama is an experience not to be missed. Rooms start from 540 Swiss francs (Dh2,116).
For a cheaper stay, the nearby Mövenpick (www.moevenpick-lausanne.com; 0041 21 612 7612) is a little farther along the shore and offers views nearly as impressive. It lacks the glamour of the Beau-Rivage, but with rooms from 205 francs (Dh803) a night, this bastion of Swiss hospitality is a pleasant, dependable and affordable choice, with helpful staff and plenty of dining options. In March, a new extension will add 72 ultra-modern rooms, complete with balconies.
Those who prefer to be in the centre of the action can check out L'Hotel (www.lhotel.ch; 0041 21 331 3939), which opened this year and offers 26 boutique rooms on Place de l'Europe in the city centre (doubles from 140 francs [Dh548]).
Meet the locals
In Lausanne, weekends belong to the outdoors year-round. Every weekend, les Lausannois descend the hills to Ouchy to spend the day on the long promenade, staring out across Lake Geneva to the Alps on the horizon. Diversions are plentiful, including cafes, restaurants and, atop the quirky Olympic Park, the Olympic Museum, a fascinating journey through the history of the world's most famous games.
As night falls, the pulse of the city beats from Flon, a former warehouse district that over the past decade has been reborn as a nightlife hub. The pedestrian-only streets buzz with revellers hopping from cinema to restaurant, bar to club until the early hours of the morning.
Find your feet
For most people, Lausanne's challenging topography means that the best walks start at the top and go down. Fortunately, the highest point in the city is the splendid Gothic cathedral, a medieval landmark that ranks among Switzerland's finest historical buildings. After admiring the view, take the 13th century Escaliers du Marché walkway down towards the heart of the old town, where you'll emerge in Place de la Palud. If it's a Saturday, the square will be filled by a country market and street musicians.
From there, follow the hill down, across Rue Centrale, and then back up again to Place Saint-François, another central square flanked by beautiful façades and the Saint-François church. From here, it's simply a question of continuing downhill for another 20 minutes or so towards Ouchy and the lakefront. Those in need of a break can hop on the metro for an eight-minute ride from the nearby metro station at Lausanne-Flon.
Book a table
Anne Sophie Pic at the Beau-Rivage Palace (www.pic-beaurivagepalace.ch; 0041 21 613 3339) is undoubtedly one of the best dining experiences in the city, serving French cuisine inspired by seasonal ingredients and with a lake view to die for. Be warned, though: Pic's two Michelin-starred cuisine doesn't come cheap - you'll pay 90 francs (Dh352) for a main course. A cheaper option, but still with a lake-view terrace, is to be found next door at L'accademia (www.angleterre-residence.ch; 0041 21 613 3434), which serves simple Italian-inspired dishes (main courses from 40 francs; Dh156) in a building where Lord Byron wrote The Prisoner of Crillon.
For a real Swiss dish, there are some excellent choices in the city proper. La Pomme de Pin (www.lapommedepin.ch; 0041 21 323 4656), on a quiet street behind the cathedral, was supposedly a haunt of Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill and offers traditional food in a cosy yet refined atmosphere (main courses around 50 francs [Dh195]). Pinte Besson (www.pinte-besson.com; 0041 21 312 5969), where tourists and locals share cheese-infused air and lively chatter, is Lausanne's oldest restaurant and the best place to enjoy a fondue (main courses around 30 francs [Dh117]).
The busy Rue de Bourg is home to most of the top brands, although it gets crowded at the weekend. For a more sedate shopping experience, head to the streets around Place de la Palud, where boutiques punctuate upmarket Swiss department stores such as Manor and Globus.
What to avoid
All but the hardiest walkers are likely to find Lausanne's steep territory demanding. Seemingly aware of the problem, many of the hotels offer guests free public transport cards - don't decline the offer until you've experienced the hills yourself.
Stand in the vicinity of the cathedral between 10pm and 2am and you'll hear the night watchman issuing his hourly proclamation across the rooftops, a ritual that dates from the 15th century but Lausanne is the only city in Europe to have kept the tradition, all year round, whatever the weather.