Travel

This Adorable City Is an Emerging Cultural Capital Near the Swiss Alps

Backdropped by mountains, lakes, and artists.

Michal Ludwiczak/Getty Images
Michal Ludwiczak/Getty Images
Michal Ludwiczak/Getty Images

Let’s be real: Switzerland sometimes suffers from a bit of a snoozy reputation. But Lausanne, the country’s fourth-largest city and the capital of the French-speaking side of the country, should not be slept on. In recent years, the lakefront town has carved out an unlikely new reputation as an arts and cultural powerhouse, giving cool-kid capital Basel a run for its money. New on the scene is a just-opened cultural district, Plateforme 10, home to three ultra-modern museums, plus a crop of creative businesses dreamed up by a young generation of artists-from funky tailoring shops to a hip café that doubles as an artist residence.

As cool as the cultural scene is, we can understand coming to Lausanne and not wanting to spend any time indoors. The hilltop city is seriously breathtaking, with a cobbled Old Town, panoramic views of Lake Geneva and the Alps, and Gothic landmarks like the Cathedral of Notre Dame. It’s no wonder 20th-century European intellectuals, including T.S. Eliot and Percy Shelley, spent their OOO here.

Of course, plenty of visitors come to Lausanne-the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee since 1915-to tour the Olympic Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Garden. Personally, I can think of, like, 100 things I’d rather do than read about the history of sport, but hey, legends are there to be remembered. Among other top contenders: go on a sailboat ride on Lake Geneva, take a brisk walk through the picturesque Parc de Mont Repos, and-a personal favorite-hike along the UNESCO-protected vineyards that flank the city.

If you get hungry, there are plenty of tasting rooms where you can pop in for a refreshing glass of Chasselas, the region’s signature grape variety, along with a couple slabs of gruyère and some smoked duck terrine. Plus, through the city you’ll find gooey vats of fondue, since melted cheese is perfect for warming yourself up on a cold day.

Whatever you choose, here are the best things to explore in Lausanne.

Platforme 10
Platforme 10
Platforme 10

Check out the city’s new cultural district

Strolling around Plateforme 10 is like entering a whole new part of Lausanne, with nary a medieval spire or stained-glass window in sight. The brand-new cultural district is a playground for the city’s most daring art and architecture, with three of the city’s top museums-MCBA, Mudac, and Museé de l’Elysée-housed inside ultramodern buildings designed by international architecture studios Barozzi Veiga and Aires Mateus.

The compound’s pretty esplanade is scattered with outdoor sculptures, along with various galleries, art studios, and dining hotspots Arcadia restaurant and Le Nabi bar. To see Plateforme 10 at its peak, visit in summer, when the site is taken over by the open-air Locarno Film Festival and the live music and dance performances of the Festival de la Cité de Lausanne.

Café du Grütli
Café du Grütli
Café du Grütli

Warm your soul with melty fondue

Lausanne may be the capital of French-speaking Switzerland, but it still takes the Swiss tradition of fondue seriously. In the winter, countless restaurants fire up their caquelonswhich are traditional fondue pots. Most offer the traditional moité-moitié version (typically made with equal amounts of Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois cheese) or else creative iterations like curry fondue or even variations served over steamed potatoes and topped with olives and sun-dried tomatoes.

At Le Café de l’Évêché, there are 13 different options on the menu, including a 100% Vacherin Fribourgeois fondue served in a “hat” of bread. For an experience straight out of a postcard, head to the atmospheric Café duGrütli, where you’ll dine under 14th-century exposed beams while listening to the chime of the old clock on Place de la Palud. Le Chalet Suisse is just as quaint, with its sylvan setting in Park Hermitage and its crackling wood fireplace and cow bell décor.

Sole Savaz
Sole Savaz
Sole Savaz

Chill with Lausanne’s new creatives

Lausanne is having something of a creative renaissance-and it’s all thanks to a young generation of artists and entrepreneurs who are making the city their canvas. At Sole Savaz, a former gas station turned “sneaker barber” on Avenue d’Échallens, artists Tyson Lewis and Olukorede Aiyegbusi use vibrant paints, rainbow-hued laces, and other materials to transform worn-out sneakers into practically new again, as well as personalize collectible pairs.

Just as innovative is the new Deli Social café and cultural incubator on La Place du Tunnel, where founders Emily Groves and Rhys Williams have dreamt up a multidisciplinary space where you can order drip coffee and a scoop of Jamaican ginger soft serve, flip through a selection of indie magazines, and attend workshops on ceramic-making and knife-sharpening. At the back of the café is an experimental test kitchen that functions as a creative residency for culinary artists and chefs.

For a unique souvenir, swing by La Trame-a tailoring shop founded by three fashion-loving, environmentally-conscious friends-to sift through racks of vintage clothing, enroll in a free sewing or darning class, or simply chat about textiles over coffee.

Beau-Rivage Palace Lausanne
Beau-Rivage Palace Lausanne
Beau-Rivage Palace Lausanne

Sleep in a lakeside palace

In a city as pretty as Lausanne, we’d expect nothing less than castle-like accommodations. For out-of-this-world opulence, there’s the Beau-Rivage Palace, a grand dame dating to 1861 and decked out in elegant interiors by French designer Pierre-Yves Rochon (who also did the George V in Paris and the Savoy in London).

Just as aristocratic though a touch more accessible is the Hôtel Royal Savoy Lausanne, an Art Nouveau icon where the Spanish royal family hid out in “exile” for many years (hey, beats prison camp). Apart from a seriously blissful spa, the hotel’s crown jewel is a 360-degree panoramic rooftop terrace-the dreamiest in the city-with a drinks menu and décor that change with the seasons.

In the centre of town is Lausanne Palace, the last of Switzerland’s high-end palace hotels from the 19th century. While it doesn’t have a lakeside perch, the Belle Époque beauty has a Coco Chanel suite and the atmospheric Brasserie Grand Chêne restaurant, where you can get your fill of French classics like escargot and steak frites, washed down with the best local wine.

Didier Marti/Getty Images
Didier Marti/Getty Images
Didier Marti/Getty Images

Get a taste for Chasselas grapes and the oldest wine in Switzerland

Thanks to a flourishing student population, the wine-drinking culture in Lausanne is hip and pretension-free, and usually comes with a side of local culture. Sample wines pulled straight from the vat at Street Cellar, where the walls are covered in murals by local artists. Or enjoy traditional Swiss hot wine and DJ-spun tunes at the year-round Le Perchoir, an all-seasons rooftop bar and music venue located on the top of the city’s iconic Vortex building. Head over to the Arsenic Museum to discover why the female-run cafe has become a hotspot for low-intervention wines. The team behind the city’s Vins Vivants collective has also started Switzerland’s first “living wines festival,” now entering into its third year, which brings together the best natural Alpine winegrowers every spring.

Lausanne is also a 20-minute car ride from the vineyards of Lavaux, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the source of Switzerland’s Grand Crus, where you can go on e-biking and driven tours through terraced vineyards that were built by Cistercian monks in the 12th century. Get in your steps by walking along the region’s hiking trail, the Swiss Wine Route, or enjoy pampering treatments at a travelling spa that moves between the area’s wineries. Lavaux is also home to Domaine Clos de la République, the oldest winery (and business) in Switzerland, as well as the Instagram-famous Le Deck restaurant, which offers sweeping views of the lake and the hillside vines. With Swiss wines slowly gaining international acclaim (less than 3% is exported), Lausanne is the place to discover what the hype is all about.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Siobhan Reid is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.