HOW far away am I from a bar? I’m talking chocolate.
The best OMG Swiss chocolate in the galaxy.
The reassuring answer is very close. I needn’t have panicked. In Lausanne I can get a square on almost every corner.
With the city sitting on the shores of Lake Geneva and at the foot of the Alps, I want to just eat and stare at the view.
A trip to Switzerland is long overdue. It’s a country that’s been whooping it up for years and I’ve only just come to the party. And that’s because the whole world is here – it’s the Olympic Capital.
The sporting giant moved from France exactly 100 years ago in 1915. There’s a must-see museum which covers anything you might want to know about the Games including how they began in ancient Greece to the history of the torch and even what athletes pack into their suitcases. There wasn’t much choccie though.
This city is also home to 30 other international sports organisations plus it’s the HQ of Nestle. It’s hard to pick out the genuine locals as everyone is speaking a variety of languages. And while there are no skyscrapers or the hum of a global hub, it’s very businesslike. The clean and calm streets make it easy to get around and find things.
There’s also a fairytale feel to this dreamy French-speaking city, which grew up around the cathedral. The 800-year-old Gothic Notre Dame dominates the skyline sitting on a hilltop looking out on to the silent blue water and across to Europe’s largest mountain range.
After dark but before morning the night watchman climbs the stairs of the church tower to shout out the hour from 10pm to 2am. This practice is a real black and white snapshot of the past. The tradition has been going since 1412.
If you prefer a less eerie night out then you should head to Flon where open-air bars emerge during the summer. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see people drinking Prosecco with a slosh of neon Aperol.
The crowds aren’t glam or dressy and at Les Arches, the bar is laid back as you sit at high tables or grab a spot on the pavement watching the sunset. You can later move on to the nightclub MAD – ranked in the top 100 in the world and frequently the best in Switzerland.
After a day wandering the city centre stopping at Café du Grütli for their traditional roast pork sausage for lunch, I head to this trendy and noisy quarter for dinner at Le Nomade. I opt for an outside table and enjoy the huge portion of paella served with black rice, huge prawns and even a lamb chop. This was followed by an impressive crème brûlée. I then sit back and watch the evening go by.
You don’t need a car to get around or to rely on taxis. The driverless Metro system is easy to use and there aren’t great distances between stops. Everywhere is pretty close to everything else. The train is made even more tempting as every hotel provides guests with a free Lausanne Transport Card for each day of their holiday.
I stayed at Château d’Ouchy – pronounced ooh-chie – right on the waterfront. It’s very central – at the end of the train line in Ouchy and next to the big clock counting down the days to the Rio 2016 Summer Games. You can’t miss it.
Once a medieval castle, today it’s a four-star hotel with a pool and spa. While the outdoor has the original turrets, the vibe inside is sleek with black and white furniture brightened by a splash of red carpet.
The outside restaurant is filled with important people with a chef conjuring up banquets from courgette stuffed flowers to veal burgers.
This was my starting point the next day. Over a pain au chocolat or two for breakfast, I decide to continue my chocolate research. At La Chocolatiere, I listen to owner Mercedes Assal explain how they follow only traditional recipes using handmade methods. They make 40 different styles of chocolate using cream, fruit, nuts and nougat.
Slurping on a hot chocolate made from melted chocolate, milk, spices and topped with cream and flaked chocolate put me on a natural high and time slowed down. The tasting session moved on to a plate filled with truffles, meringues and treats filled with caramel.
I then follow precariously down the narrow stairs to the kitchen where the smell of sweet heaven rushed up my nose. There stood two choccie making supermen in tall white hats stirring pots of the dark molten mixture.
In this small space they each make 3,000 perfect little pieces each day. They should win a Nobel Prize. Having lined my stomach, my next quest is to get out on Lake Geneva to the wineries in nearby Lavaux.
I catch a paddle steamboat from outside the hotel across to the harbour of Cully.
When we dock after the 30min crossing its steep vineyards for as far as the eye can see. I jump on the “little train” that meanders along the terraces taking tourists to the top for the spectacular view below.
Looking down, it’s a sheer drop. I wouldn’t like to be picking the grapes during the harvest. Then I head into Les Frère Dubois to try their wines aged in the deep 300-year-old cellars in their mansion Petit Versailles. As soon as I walk in, I’m handed a glass and asked if I want to try a white.
I drop any further plans for the afternoon and settle into another kind of bar.
A big cheer goes off inside me. Lausanne deserves a medal for its Olympian hospitality.