There's no doubt you're in Switzerland - the walk from the train station to the hotel is straight up and the in-your-face view is of spectacular mountain peaks - but there's a Gallic vibe in lakeside Lausanne.
Locals are quick to point out that you're in the French part of Switzerland, and if you're up for a workout, strolling the steep streets is the best way to see the eclectic core of this compact Swiss city.
A youthful population, from two universities and the oldest and finest hotel school in the world, ensure there's a stylish modern edge to Lausanne, with great restaurants, public art and nightlife. But it's also headquarters for the International Olympic Committee, so there's a healthy, sporty feel about the place, the fit locals walk everywhere, and you'll never be out of place in comfortable shoes.
UP, DOWN AND ALL AROUND
Lausanne is small but vertical - start strolling the shores of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman), and the pretty park filled with public art at the Olympic Museum ( olympic.org/en/content/museum/), and work your way up to the best-preserved cathedral in the country, crowning the old medieval town.
It's a change in altitude of 3,000 feet but never fear, the smart Swiss have installed several outdoor public elevators - even outdoor escalators - in case you tire of the steep cobbled streets, stone stairways and covered medieval market steps, that wind up past funky Flon through the central pedestrian shopping district to the church spires where a town crier still marks the hour every night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Get a two-hour guided walking tour ( $11; lausanne.ch/visites), or use the free Podcast Cityscope Lausanne as your guide.
Fresh mountain spring water gurgles out into small stone basins or elaborate public fountains throughout Lausanne - if the water's not potable, you'll see a sign posted. Otherwise, fill your water bottle.
For something a little stronger, try the easy-drinking, and relatively cheap, local white Chasselas wine. A particularly stylish spot to sip is the street-side LP's Bar at the posh Lausanne Palace Hotel - lounge on a dark rattan chair behind a wall of greenery with a glass of wine or a cocktail made with the local absinthe, and watch the beautiful people wander by ( Grande Chene 7-9; 41-021-331-3131; lausanne-palace.com).
Otherwise, take the public elevator down to the Flon area right below, where a young, artsy crowd sits at the outdoor bar at Pur, sipping strawberry mojitos with their chicken tagine ( Freeport 17; 41-021-311-9933; pur-flon.ch).
The latest top toque to cross the border into Swiss territory is Anne-Sophie Pic, the only female chef in France to hold three Michelin stars. She has already garnered two stars for her new eponymous restaurant in Lausanne in the luxe, lakeside Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel - the menu features local ingredients, innovatively prepared with a hint of modern molecular technique. The prix fixe business lunch is a bargain at $81, with its three courses and amuse-bouche surprises - tiny tastes from a savoury macaron filled with trout mousse and dusted with smoky Lapsang Souchong tea to a mini mouthful of neon green apple gel and ginger cake. The elegantly spare room matches her light, simple approach to food - subtle textures in the modern white-on-white table settings, linens and single, ornately etched Baccarat stem ( 17-19 Place du Port; pic-beaurivagepalace.ch).
The French influence is in evidence in simpler dining spots, too. Even when you're eating tiny fillets of the famous perch from the local lake waters at casual Brasserie du Grand-Chêne ( 7 rue de Grand-Chêne) or at A la Pomme de Pin ( 11 rue Cité-Derrière), they're served in a lemony beurre blanc with a mound of melted leeks or a garlicky fricassee of wild local mushrooms.
MODERN ART AND COOL CLUBS
The Flon district, between the train station and the top of the old town, is the place for stylish restaurants, clubs and cool shopping. Just beyond the arches of the historic Grand Pont, you'll find an area of repurposed warehouses, where the wide streets are closed to traffic and offer large plazas for outdoor events, viewing public art installations and just hanging out.
A good place for the latter is on one of the modern moulded concrete benches and chairs outside the very cool transparent public toilet - a glass box that turns translucent (at least you hope it does) the minute you lock the loo door. It's a practical necessity when you're out clubbing and pubbing - and it's free.
Flon is the centre of Lausanne's club culture - in at least 30 spots DJs spin the latest music. You'll hear everything from rock to reggae and Latin beats at Atelier Volant ( 12 Côtes-de-Montbenon, ateliervolant.ch). For a more sophisticated wine bar scene, stop at Le Nomade ( 9 Place de l'Europe; restaurantnomade.ch).
And, from avant-garde theatre and contemporary dance, to Pinocchio or Mozart's Magic Flute, Theatre Arsenic is the spot for performance art ( 57 rue de
Comic artist Zep - the creator of Titeuf, the Mohawk-haired Bart Simpson of Switzerland - was feted during the annual International Festival of Comics held at the Museum of Design and Applied Arts ( mudac.ch) in Lausanne. Like Tintin creator Hergé, who also stayed in this area to draw his historic characters, Zep places his enfant terrible on the rooftops of Lausanne, climbing up the steep market stairs or hiding behind a plane tree in front of the cathedral in some of his 2010 sketches for Titeuf Lausanne. See the wide selections of comics and graphic novels in book and department stores - all part of the French/Swiss comic culture - and check out the toy store, Marelle, for all things Tintin, Titeuf and Asterix & Obelix (5 rue de la Mercerie; marelle-lausanne.ch).
Every Swiss city has its chocolate, but Lausanne has some particularly tasty choices. Stop at Chocolatier Durig near the train station for certified and fair trade bars and bonbons - pay particular attention to the house-made truffles, organic chocolate "spoons" for melting into cocoa, and 42-per-cent cocoa milk chocolate bars from Madagascar and Peru. Especially interested? For a small fee, you can tour the workshop ( 15 avenue d'Ouchy; durig.ch).
A more traditional spot to indulge is Blondel Chocolatier, a narrow, aromatic little shop on the pedestrian-friendly downtown shopping street, where you'll find 120 types of chocolates - thick slabs of white, milk and dark chocolate bark studded with all kinds of fruits and nuts ( 5 rue du Bourg; chocolatsblondel.ch).
WHERE TO STAY
The Lausanne Palace Hotel & Spa is among the city's swankiest hotels - and with chef Edgard Bovier's Michelin-starred restaurant, a comfortable brasserie, a garden patio restaurant overlooking the lake and a sushi bar, it's a great place to eat, too. La Table d'Edgard is especially elegant. You can see chef Bovier working with his team behind a glass wall, creating seasonal dishes such as peach carpaccio and fresh tomato salad, prawns crusted in Asian noodles and grilled venison loin. Basic lakeside rooms on the first level open onto a large shared terrace for lounging. From $484; lausanne-palace.com.
Special to The Globe and Mail