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Lausanne X Monocle

Right up your valley

The sun glinting on the shores of Lac Léman has given Lausanne more than just a leisurely, relaxed pace of life. It also ripens the grapes growing in its historical vineyards and informs this Swiss city’s charming alfresco culture – which plays out at its best when it’s time for apéros.

Head for the hills
With its elegant buildings, red roofs and charming streets, Lausanne is a pleasure to amble through. And if sometimes the road you’re on feels steep, embrace the incline: this city’s geography is what makes it unique. Perched on hills by the peaceful waters of the lake, this is a city that’s blessed with stunning views at every turn. This position is also what makes the city’s surroundings one of Switzerland’s best wine-making regions: the hills of Lavaux are a stone’s throw from the centre of this small, vibrant and very international city. A glass of its prized chasselas and a nibble of cheese taste even better on a terrasse with the water and Alpine peaks in sight.

1.
Lavaux vineyard terraces
Unesco world heritage site

Recognised by Unesco in 2007 for their beauty and value, the history of these fertile hillsides goes back hundreds of years to the 12th century when the area’s Cistercian monks built stone-walled terraces into the soil. Nowadays, 400km of those walls remain, lining as many as 40 levels of terraces that are some of the steepest in the world. About 250 different wine-makers produce their crisp wines from this terrain: because of the narrow plots, using modern machinery is challenging here – which means much of the planting and harvesting is still done the old-fashioned way, mostly by hand.

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2.
Walk on the mild side
Set out on foot to soak up the vineyard atmosphere

Extending between Lausanne and Montreux, Lavaux vineyards hug Lac Léman for about 30km. Getting here is an easy 10-minute hop on the train from the city centre to the village of Cully. Then make time to explore on foot, surrounded by the sweet smell of the vines with views of the shimmering lake and the Alps beyond. Plenty of trails wind through these hillsides, reaching picturesque villages such as Saint-Saphorin and Dézaley. When the going gets thirsty, pick one of the many wineries for a tasting. The wines produced here are very light – pleasant to drink with food or on their own. Take a seat on the terrasse of the Domaine du Burignon for a bite and stay the night in the historical, red-roofed building. Hop easily between vineyards on the charming Train de Vignes – and on the way back, kick back as a ferry gently transports you from the town of Vevey to Lausanne.

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3.
Clink a glass
Find plenty of bottles to fill your cellars in Lausanne

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The vast majority of grapes grown here are chasselas: planted into Lavaux’s sandstone soil, they yield a crisp white wine that’s pleasantly mineral and eminently easy to drink. The region is blessed with what the locals call “three suns”: the direct sunlight, the rays reflected off the calm waters of the lake and the heat that emanates off the stone walls of the terraces – something that makes this terroir unique. Geography also influences the methods of production: the steep hillsides mean much of the work is done by hand, using almost no chemicals for the production of small, high-quality batches. On a sunny day, a chilled glass of fresh, floral chasselas is ideal for an apéritif with a view to the lake (though it’ll work well with a hearty raclette too). If you’re looking for red, worry not: the area is also home to wonderful pinot noir and gamay grapes.

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4.
On the menu
Casual or haute cuisine, you know you’re in a gourmet city

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Replete with wine bars in which to enjoy the fruits of its vineyards, Lausanne is a joy for its gastronomy, too. From breakfast cafés to the finest experimental cuisine, the city caters to all tastes. Start the day at the Café des Artisans: with its 1960s-style geometric murals, this colourful bistro is as cheerful as they come. At the weekend, don’t miss out on Le Pointu: inside a pointy building that’s Lausanne’s answer to New York’s Flatiron, this restaurant serves a lip-smacking brunch. If you’re after something traditional, there’s nowhere better than La Pinte Besson. The oldest restaurant in town was founded in 1780 and its vaulted ceilings, stained windows and wood-panelled walls give it a storied atmosphere: this is the place to tuck into a pot of fondue. The refined dishes on the menu at the Brasserie de Montbenon are as much a draw as its stately ambience. The two-level restaurant, complete with ornate stucco ceilings and wide windows, looks out onto a verdant park. Should you want a bite on the go (or a few toothsome souvenirs) don’t miss the markets in Place de la Riponne and Place de la Palud every Wednesday and Saturday: they’ll give you a taste of a place to remember.

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Images: LT, www.diapo.ch, MontreuxRiviera.com, Urs Achermann, Laurent Kaczor 

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