Tom Irwin snubs Switzerland's larger cities for the charms of Lausanne and Basel
Zurich and Geneva are undeniably beautiful, but they aren’t the only Swiss cities worth a visit.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll find smaller options with distinctive personalities and beautiful surrounding areas to explore.
Direct flights from the UK are available to Bern and Basel as well as Zurich and Geneva, but wherever you touch down, the clean and well-organised Swiss rail network makes accessing almost any city a piece of cake. And if clients would rather not fly at all – well, it’s easy enough to make the whole journey from the UK by train, as I did.
In terms of pocket-sized places to love, there are none more charming than Lausanne and Basel. Here’s the lowdown.
LAUSANNE: CITY ON THE LAKE
At the northernmost edge of Lake Geneva sits the pretty and compact French-speaking city of Lausanne (pictured above).
Getting around: It’s the smallest city in the world with a metro system; a welcome initiative for tourists is the provision of a free public transport card for anyone staying in a hotel, which removes the hassle of trying to work out how to buy one yourself. However, due to its size it’s also an easy place to explore by foot, although parts are quite hilly.
What to see: Head to Ouchy to see the view across Lake Geneva, and, if it floats your boat, take a trip on La Suisse paddle steamer out on the water.
The city’s Gothic cathedral is the best-preserved in Switzerland, but for something a bit more outlandish, head to the Collection de l’Art Brut, a dramatic gallery featuring bizarre works, many created by artists with psychiatric problems.
Nightlife: A bustling university city, Lausanne has a thriving nightlife with plenty of restaurants and bars. Clients will enjoy the warm atmosphere and traditional Swiss favourites – such as fondue and rösti – at Pinte Besson, which is popular with locals and visitors.
Most nightlife centres around the Le Flon area, where you’ll find a number of chic eateries, wine bars and clubs.
Out of town: However, Lausanne’s position in an area of outstanding natural beauty means it’s quick and easy to leave the urban life behind and explore the surrounding countryside.
Recommend taking the short train ride to Grandvaux, a quaint village where vineyards blanket the hillside down to the shore of Lake Geneva. Beside Grandvaux station is Auberge de la Gare, a charming restaurant offering simple, tasty meals – it’s a very pleasant spot for lunch, and the views across the lake are stunning. From the village there’s a two-hour walk through the vines to the town of Cully.
BASEL: CITY OF MUSEUMS
Cosmopolitan Basel lies at the junction of the ‘dreiländereck’ (three countries corner) at Switzerland’s border with both France and Germany, and is in the German-speaking area of the country.
Getting around: As in Lausanne, visitors receive a public transport card when staying in a hotel, and the city is served by an efficient tram service, though it’s easily walkable too. The tourist office offers guided walking tours as well as a pamphlet containing suggested routes that allow you to discover the city on your own.
What to see: Must-sees in the town include the magnificent Münster, a towering cathedral that boasts a very worthwhile view of the city if you don’t mind a bit of a climb, while the cobblestone alleys of the Aldstadt (Old Town) area offer a fascinating glimpse back in time to medieval Europe.
The real draw in Basel is its cultural offering. Despite its small population, it claims to have the highest density of museums of any city in Europe (more than 30) and they attract more than a million visitors annually.
The Kunstmuseum (Museum of Art) is the pick of the bunch and contains the largest and most important art collection in Switzerland. Truly world class, it features works by an illustrious list of artists including Picasso, Cézanne, Gauguin and Renoir.
Nightlife: Restaurant Löwenzorn in the Aldstadt serves Swiss dishes including a glorious meat fondue. Classier – and much pricier – joints include the intimate Cheval Blanc and Brasserie Le Trois Rois, which offers fine dining overlooking the Rhine.
Out of town: For incredible views of the countryside, send clients 30 miles south of Basel to Reigoldswil, where you can take a cable car up the mountainside at Wasserfallen. At the top, the Gasthaus Hintere Wasserfallen serves a hearty cheese fondue.
Return on the cable car, or the adventurous can take a white-knuckle scooter ride back down the mountain.
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