Winter in Switzerland’s Lake Geneva Region

Stuart Forster reports on things to do in winter in Switzerland within the Lake Geneva Region (the Canton of Vaud).

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The Canton of Vaud lies in western Switzerland. The predominantly French-speaking Lake Geneva Region offers much for visitors to do and see during wintertime.

Lausanne is the Canton of Vaud’s most populous city. The city of 140,000 people overlooks the northern shore of Lake Geneva. Looking at a map, the arching shape of the 73-kilometre (45-mile) wide body of water reminds me of a leaping fish. The missing tail would be somewhere around Geneva, the city at the southwestern tip of the lake known in French as Lac Léman.

Renowned for winter sports, the Lake Geneva Region has pistes suitable for skiers and snowboarders of varied  ability levels. On days when spending time outdoors does not appeal, the region’s indoor attractions include two state-of-the-art museums that opened in 2020.

Mountain scenery seen from Villars, in the Lake Geneva Region of Switzerland.
Mountain scenery seen from Villars, in the Lake Geneva Region of Switzerland.

Dinner at a traditional Swiss restaurant

On a chilly evening I enter a broad-roofed timber-framed building that looks as traditionally Swiss as any I’ve seen. Standing below jagged peaks in an Alpine hamlet near Gyron, the Refuge de Solalex offers dormitory style accommodation and has a popular restaurant.

My glasses fog as I feel the blast of warm air on entering the dining room. Before I’m able to see anything through the condensation I smell grilled cheese and hear the laughter of guests. Conversations are taking place in German, English and French and the wood of the fireplace cackles.

As my lenses clear I look around at the rustic décor; traditional snowshoes are displayed on the beams of the restaurant’s wood walls. An example of traditional decoupage artwork is framed above our table.

Decoupage in Switzerland depicting an Alpine farming scene complete with trees, a horse and a cow.
Decoupage in Switzerland depicting an Alpine farming scene complete with trees, a horse and a cow.

Eating raclette in Switzerland

Cheeses produced from the milk of cows that graze in Switzerland’s Alpine meadows are highly regarded for their character and flavour.

Consequently, it’s no surprise to see a choice of fondues on the Refuge de Solalex’s menu. Last night I ate fondue as part of a group. Anyone who lost the bread from their two-pronged fork in the bowl had to forfeit a round of drinks.

The house specials at the Refuge de Solalex include steaks. But it’s raclette prepared by the fireside and served with potatoes, salad, cold meats and pickled vegetables that appeals to me.

I watch as cheese melts from the wheel by the fireplace. A member of the restaurant’s staff expertly peels away layers of the appealing yellow goo, as if in slow motion. I salivate at the herby aroma when the raclette is brought to the table, say cheers with a glass of regional red wine and enjoy the hearty Alpine cuisine.

Ideal cuisine during winter in Switzerland. Raclette being prepared by an open fire in the cosy Refuge de Solalex restaurant near Villars, Switzerland.
Ideal cuisine during winter in Switzerland. Raclette being prepared by an open fire in the cosy Refuge de Solalex restaurant near Villars, Switzerland.

Dinner at Rougemont

Celebrated chef Edgar Bovier is now preparing food at the Le Cerf, traditionally furnished restaurant at Rougemont in Pay’s-d’Enhaut. The menu includes regional dishes, including a choice of fondues and dishes served with roesti.

Bovier was at the Lausanne Palace until the spring of 2020, where his restaurant was scored with 18 out of a possible 20 by Gault and Millau.

High cuisine in Switzerland

No dining venue in the Lake Geneva Region tops the Restaurant Botta. In a contemporary building designed by architect Mario Botta, the restaurant is at an altitude of 3,000 metres above sea-level on the Glacier 3000 up on the Col du Pillon above Les Diablerets.

Enjoy some of the best views of the region from the Peak Walk by Tissot. Suspended between two peaks, the walk closes only in extreme weather conditions. The Eiger, Jungfrau and Matterhorn mountains can be viewed on clear days.

The highest point in the canton makes the pistes above Villars and Les Diablerets ideal for experienced skiers and snowboarders.

Baked cheese served with roast potatoes in Switzerland.
Baked cheese served with roast potatoes in Switzerland.

Snow sports in the Lake Geneva Region

Thinking about freestyling in Switzerland? The only halfpipe in the Vaudois Alps is at the LeysinPark in the La Berneuse ski area. The area features parks designed for freestylers of varied ability levels.

Villars/Les Diablerets is ideal for sporty skiers and snowboarders. Glacier 3000 is the highest point in the Canton of Vaud. The panoramic views include the.

The countryside around Sainte-Croix – Les Rasses is popular for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Under optimal conditions, the frozen surface of the Lac de Joux, in the Vallée de Joux, is ideal for ice-skating.

Ideal for boosting energy after winter sports in Switzerland. Drunken pear served with cream and ice cream.
Ideal for boosting energy after winter sports in Switzerland. Drunken pear served with cream and ice cream.

Sleigh rides in Switzerland

At an altitude of a little over 1,000 metres above sea-level, Saint-Cergue is approximately 45 minutes’ drive westward from Lausanne. Saint-Cerge has won a reputation as a family-friendly winter resort.

Sleigh rides of up to five kilometres in length are offered on trails prepared around Saint-Cergue. It’s also possible to learn how to drive a sled pulled by team of dogs.

Snowshoeing and tobogganing also count among the winter activities offered on the slopes of La Dôle in the Jura Mountains. Illuminated pistes make night skiing a possibility until 9.30pm.

Illuminated walkways in a cavern within the salt mine at Bex, Switzerland.
Another underground attraction worth visiting. Illuminated walkways in a cavern at the salt mine at Bex, Switzerland.

Visit the Abbey of Payerne

The Abbey of Payerne, the largest Romanesque church in Switzerland, reopened in 2020 following a decade of restoration.

Founded in the 10th century, Payerne Abbey is a Swiss national monument. The history of the site is told via interactive audio-guide that highlights the likes of architectural details, murals and sculptures.

3D reconstructions convey how the abbey looked at various stages in its long history.

Capsule of the Breitling Orbiter at the Espace Ballon museum in Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland. The museum is dedicated to the story of hot air ballooning.
Another idea for a day trip. The capsule of the Breitling Orbiter at the Espace Ballon museum in Chateau d’Oex, Switzerland. The museum is dedicated to the story of hot air ballooning.

Enjoy time in the Muséee Atelier Audemars Piguet

Opened in June 2020, the Muséee Atelier Audemars Piguet tells the story of watchmaking by Audemars Piguet.

Located at Le Brassus in the Jura Mountains, the attraction tells the company’s story. Some of the company’s best-known watches are displayed, including the Universelle, made in 1899 by Audemars Piguet.

Integrated workshops showcase the watchmaking skills of the craftspeople now employed by Audemars Piguet.

Dusk in a Swiss mountain valley seen from the village of Solalex near Villars, Switzerland.
Dusk in a Swiss mountain valley seen from the village of Solalex near Villars, Switzerland.

Head inside the once secret Fort de Chillon

Constructed in a mountainside during World War Two, the bunker-like Fort de Chillon was used by the Swiss Army until the mid-1990s. The site remained a defence secret until 2001. It opened to the public as a museum in 2020.

Virtual Reality helps convey aspects of daily life in the fort, which is located between Villeneuve and Montreux. Set aside at least 90 minutes to experience the interactive, family-friendly museum.

Enjoy military history? Combine a trip to the Fort de Chillon with a visit to Chillon Castle.

The Château d’Aigle, in the Rhone Valley, hosts a Vine and Wine Museum and overlooks vineyards.

The Château d’Aigle, in the Rhone Valle of Switzerland.
The Château d’Aigle, in the Rhone Valle of Switzerland.

Wellness in the Swiss mountains

How about winter wellness? Spending time in saunas can complement winter sports, reviving muscles after time on the slopes, or be an alternative reason to travel.

The Centre Thermal is at Yverdon-les-Bains on the shore of Lake Neuchâtel. Unlike many saunas in Germany, swimwear tends to be the norm.

Les Bains de Villars features saunas, steam rooms and a heated outdoor pool with mountain views. Massages and treatments are available at the baths.

Les Bains de Levey has a sizable outdoor pool with views of the tooth-like peaks of the Dents du Midi.

Wisps of cloud under the summit of the mountain known as Dents du Midi (Teeth of the South) in Switzerland.
Wisps of cloud under the summit of the mountain known as Dents du Midi (Teeth of the South) in Switzerland.

Winter events in the Canton of Vaud

The Lausanne Festival of Lights, known locally as Lausanne Lumieres, takes place in the month before Christmas. Buildings are illuminated across the city.

Enjoy classical music in the Alps. Les Diablerets hosts an annual Music and Snow Festival from January into March.

Prefer rock and pop music? Nyon hosts its annual Les Hivernales festival late in February.

The MARA, the marathon of Les Rasses, is one of the sporting calendar’s principal cross-country skiing races. First held in 1971, the race takes place on the first Sunday of March, attracting hundreds of competitors.

Perch, a local delicacy, served at the Hotel de Ville (town hall) restaurant in Ollon, Switzerland.
Perch, a local delicacy, served at the Hotel de Ville (town hall) restaurant in Ollon, Switzerland.

Measures to combat Covid-19

Clean and Safe labelling, supported by Switzerland Tourism, is awarded to establishments who have put into place procedures and sanitary practices that help stop the spread of Covid-19.

A cow bell bearing the Swiss national flag hangs in a chalet in the Lake Geneva Region of Switzerland.
A cow bell bearing the Swiss national flag hangs in a chalet in the Lake Geneva Region of Switzerland.

Getting to the Lake Geneva Region

Many international travellers to the Lake Geneva Region are likely to touch down at the nearby Geneva Airport. Rail connections from the airport make it easy to get about by train, even in winter.

Thinking about travelling to the Lake Geneva Region by train? Lausanne railway station is served by international and regional trains. Montreux and Vevey count among the destinations overlooking the shore of Lake Geneva.

Lake Geneva seen from the window of a Swiss train travelling around the lake in Switzerland.
Lake Geneva seen from the window of a Swiss train travelling around the lake in Switzerland.

Winter in Switzerland

Discover things to do and see across the region on the Lake Geneva Region website.

The Switzerland Tourism website also has details about destinations, accommodation and experiences in the region.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning travel writer who speaks fluent German. He is a proficient skier and enjoys tasting regional delicacies while travelling. Stuart has visited Switzerland several times.

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