I stumble on the balcony doorstep, my eyes as big as the moon, staring in the distance trying to understand if it’s reality or just a dream.
The view is breathtaking and almost leg-breaking. Beyond the rooftops of Lausanne’s Montchoisi neighborhood, Lake Léman stretches in all its splendour, guarded on the other shore by the French Alps. I try to calm my excitement seeing this perfect-postcard image as my host is showing me around the apartment. Here is the kitchen, there’s your bathroom…. ok, ok but can I go back to the balcony?! My mind is stuck outside. The balcony faces south, and the setting sun coming from the right side, throws a golden glow on the houses terraced on the hills. The lake in front is deep blue and calm. At least that’s how I see it from this perfectly set balcony. As the sunlight gets dimmer, lights start to appear on the other side of the lake, revealing the French village of Évian-les-Bains.
I had come to Lausanne for a couple of days with no plan but to go with the flow. I wanted to discover the city, but didn’t want to cram my schedule with all the must-see landmarks, so I’d always be running for time. Instead, I wanted to listen to its residents, walk its pedestrian streets, enter century-old coffee shops and let myself be inspired as to what sights to go after.
And my host’s balcony view made the choice easy.
I could have seen a dozen Lausannes: the Lausanne of the museums, of the parks, the Lausanne of restaurants where I could have tried all the typical dishes. But this time around – my first time in Lausanne – I chose to go in search of the panoramic views of this town.
Getting upon my arrival a rare preview of the city’s location, of the winding roads and hilly neighborhoods, I decided I wanted more of that. So I roamed around town in search for the perfect spot to relish in the views, and – at times – to take in almost more beauty than one’s eyes can handle.
My first stop was the Parc de l’Hermitage, a steep walk uphill from the University area, in what seemed like the deep forest outside the city. But we were still right within the city limits, with buses passing by and kids playing ball on the wooded streets. Arriving at the park, and passing by the 19th Century mansion, the promenade opens into a grandiose view of the cathedral of Lausanne and the lake below. This area is a like a peek into the past, especially watching the people having lunch in the exclusive restaurant near the mansion, or taking a walk in the trimmed park, having the cathedral and the lake in the background.
Hiking back towards the old centre, the steep roads offer a glimpse from high above of some parts of the lower city. Houses built on terraces, on multiple levels, allow you to see sometimes beautiful roofs, a few steps down old town squares, and in your roamings if you’re not careful you easily can end up on a higher level than you thought. You’ll be in the same spot looking on a map, but high up on a bridge instead of down on the street below. Make a stop in the heart of the old town and, passing by the charming Place de la Palud, climb up the stairs to the Cathedral. As you arrive to the top you’ll get another panorama of Lausanne’s old town, with the lake and the mountains in the background. A different angle than high up at Parc de l’Hermitage, here you’ll get more close-up views of the city.
The Grand-Pont bridge is another place where you can get a panoramic view and observe the town’s unique setting. Standing on the bridge, to your right you’ll see the massive cathedral on the hill, and all around the old town the buildings raised on the dried river bed of the Flon river. This part of the city is shaped like a bowl and filled with houses and shops in a city planning masterpiece of using up the entire space the dried river had left. The view from this bridge is purely urban, all around you’ll see the countless levels of the city, with stairs going up and down towards elevated roads and bridges.
Continue your roamings towards the lower part of Lausanne, and reach the Montbenon esplanade. Leaving the city behind and below you, all you see in front of your eyes is the blue Geneva Lake (as Lac Léman is also called) with the deep green mountain peaks replacing the horizon. A scenic view of this side of the lake, where you have to move your head like watching a tennis game, to catch the entire scenery. Take a stroll in the manicured park to see the lake from different angles or join the Lausannians for a picnic on the esplanade in front of one of the most spectacular settings you’ll see.
I surely haven’t visited many important sights of Lausanne, many places that define the city, that could teach me about the culture and get to know the people here. But I chose to travel slowly, to let myself savor a place, and this time around for the time that I had in this beautiful 2,000 year-old town, I let myself be guided by the stunning views.
When you plan the least, you have the best chance for nice surprises. Had I been busy with an over-scheduled agenda to check off all the sights in Lausanne, I might not have been so present to enjoy that special moment on that balcony. The moment that gave me the inspiration to hunt for panoramas in this eye-candy Swiss city.