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Lausanne: Beauty And Brains

Dec 1, 2012
2012 / December 2012

If location is everything, then Lausanne has it all. The Romans noted this crossing point between the Mediterranean and the Rhine in the first century B.C., establishing a trading colony. In the Middle Ages, Lausanne’s cathedral was an important pilgrimage stop on the Way of St. James.

But for today’s business traveler, who can arrive from Paris in four hours on the TGV or by local trains directly from the airport in Geneva or Zürich, it’s the beauty as much as the convenience of Lausanne’s setting that will impress. Rising on three hills, from its elegant lakeside promenades and grand Belle Époque hotels to Switzerland’s finest early-Gothic cathedral perched on the highest hill, each level of the city opens onto views of the Savoy Alps across the shimmering waters of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). It’s hard to find a hotel room without a view.

Following its longstanding tradition as a commercial crossroads, Lausanne has been chosen as headquarters for a number of major companies including Nespresso, Philip Morris International, Medtronic, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, Bobst Group and others. Nestlé’s world headquarters is in Vevey, only 12 miles from the city center.

Central offices of the world’s third-largest financial brokerage firm — Compagnie Financière Tradition — are in Lausanne, and the five largest Swiss commercial banks are headquartered here, making it a leading financial and commercial center.

Lausanne also enjoys the benefits of the country’s top-level transport and communications: Trains, buses and boats integrate seamlessly under the Swiss Travel System, and excellent Internet and mobile network connectivity is found everywhere.

The city has encouraged and supported its position for business travelers with a modern and dynamic infrastructure: the World Trade Center; MCH Beaulieu Congress and Exhibition Centre; and the large meeting and event capacities of hotels, especially the centrally located Lausanne Palace. These facilities will expand even more with the 2013 opening of Swiss Tech Convention Center, a fully automated complex at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

This premier college is rated No. 1 in Europe for engineering and technology. Université de Lausanne has one of Europe’s top 10 business schools, and their Master of Laws in International and European Economic and Commercial Law is highly respected in preparing corporate counsels for the complexities of international business. These, along with Business School Lausanne, play a major role in Lausanne’s prominence as a business and technical center and prime location for startups.

Out of the rich environment of these prestigious schools have come several large companies, many found in Switzerland’s most important business incubator, the Science Park Ecublens on the École Polytechnique Fédérale campus. Among those multinationals created and still maintaining their management and research headquarters here are Kudelski, a world leader in television decoders, and Logitech, the dominant player in computer peripherals.

Although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union or the Euro Zone and the Swiss franc remained strong and stable throughout the world recession, the euro crisis has not left Switzerland untouched.

Last fall, the central bank, the Swiss National Bank, imposed an exchange rate floor to stop the franc’s alarming rise against the euro, caused by investors seeking a safe currency and threatening both exports and domestic prices. To defend that policy it had to buy large quantities of euros. But despite these challenges, the government raised this year’s growth forecast to 1.4 percent, citing “robust domestic demand.” The International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook projects it will strengthen to 1.7 percent gross domestic product growth in 2013.

The flip side of a stable currency and high living standard is high prices, which slowed Switzerland’s ability to sell its products abroad as the euro declines around it. Unemployment is low — 2.8 percent in August 2012 — but as Swiss manufacturers feel the export crunch, they’ll need to rely on stepped-up innovation as the solution. Lausanne’s leading edge in technological savvy might just be the saving factor.

As a colleague from Lausanne explained, “Whether it’s watches or water bottles, we have to make the very best; with our high cost of manufacturing and stable currency, it’s the only way we can sell Swiss products to the rest of the world.”

Vibrant public space in Flon © Mihai-bogdan Lazar | Dreamstime.com

CHECKING IN WITH FRANÇOIS MICHEL

Vice President, Lake Geneva Region Tourist Office

WHAT ARE THE STRONGEST BUSINESS SEGMENTS IN LAUSANNE RIGHT NOW?

There are several. Being the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee, Lausanne has a strong sports segment, with more than 50 other sports organizations located here. Another segment is Lausanne’s place as a center for education, with Université de Lausanne, the Polytechnique School and the Design School, which draw a lot of attention from abroad. And we have the Hotel School Lausanne, which also gets international attention.

REINVENTING FLON AS A TRENDY MEETING PLACE BROUGHT VIBRANCY TO THAT NEIGHBORHOOD. ARE OTHER NEW PROJECTS PLANNED?

We have a number of new projects taking place in Lausanne. First is a new subway line, our third and a joint project by the city together with the state. It will run from the central streets and the main train station and connect with the Beaulieu Congress and Exhibition Centre, then go north to the current site of the stadium, which will be torn down for a new residential area. But its major importance for business travelers will be to connect the train station with the Beaulieu Centre.

Another important project is the Swiss Tech Convention Center Lausanne. Its different configurations will enable it to host all kinds of events. The most outstanding feature is the ability to turn the main hall from a 2,200-seat auditorium into a flat floor for exhibitions at the push of a button and in only 15 minutes. This will open late in 2013 or early 2014, with its official opening in April 2014.

WHAT IS THE QUINTESSENTIAL LAUSANNE EXPERIENCE FOR VISITORS?

If you have a day to spare, I suggest going a little outside the city into the Lavaux vineyards, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Take a boat for a little ride and stop at one of the villages; from there, hike through the vineyards, stopping at little cafés and bistros. Perhaps begin at Saint-Saphorin or Lutry and from there take the wine train, really a train on road wheels.

WHAT ELSE SHOULD A BUSINESS TRAVELER KNOW ABOUT LAUSANNE?

Our other strong element is culture. In addition to our other museums, the Olympic Museum is reopening next year with a new concept. Lausanne is the home of the famous Béjart Ballet, and the city has its own orchestra. Lausanne is really quite small, and its cultural offerings are incredible, even when compared to major cities.

Diversions

Getting your bearings in Lausanne is relatively easy: Heading downhill eventually leads to the lake, with its parks and promenades — and the steady coming and going of boats to Vevey, Geneva and Montreux. Head uphill to the cathedral and Place de la Riponne, scene of a Saturday market. Midway is the rail station. The new metro line, with the steepest incline of any in the world, climbs from the lake to the bridge just below the cathedral, stopping at the rail station and other points and with lines branching to convention venues, the EPFL Science Park and commercial centers.

The top is a good place to begin, to see the cathedral’s magnificent medieval “painted doorway.” Opposite its main door, the covered medieval Escaliers du Marché leads to another stairway that drops along a steep street lined with old houses (stop for the city’s best hot chocolate at the Café le Barbare). Below, the winding streets of the old city, now reserved for pedestrians and lined with shops, converge on Place de la Palud, where an animated clock performs each hour.

Beyond is Lausanne’s newest district, Flon, reclaimed from old warehouses as a sparkling contemporary meeting place for art, design and nightlife. Lausanne is among Europe’s greenest cities, not only for its abundant parks and green spaces but also for civic dedication to environmental practices. An example is the Flon metro station’s green roof, best seen from the footbridge connecting the station to the Lausanne Palace.

Switzerland is famous for fine chocolatiers, and among the best is Durig, near the Grancy metro stop. Order beautifully presented custom corporate gifts (delivered worldwide), or just take home a box of superb chocolates.

Art and history are well represented in Lausanne’s museums, which include Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts for fine art; MUDAC for design and contemporary arts; and Collection de l’Art Brut, one of the world’s leading museums for outsider art. Lausanne-Vidy Roman Museum encompasses an excavated Roman villa.

Stroll the gardens bordering Lake Geneva and step aboard the century-old steamer La Suisse or one of its newer counterparts for views of the UNESCO-acclaimed Lavaux vineyards, which paint the sun-drenched slopes east of Lausanne in vivid shades of green. A paved path through the vines connects the lakeside towns, including tiny stone Saint-Saphorin, where Roman remains hide under its medieval church; vintners along the way offer tastings. Or ride the Train des Vignes through vineyards from Vevey to Chexbres, stopping for included tastings.

Vevey, only a few minutes by boat or train from Lausanne, is a historic and charming lakeside town that many business travelers prefer as a base. Among its attractions is the Alimentarium, a fascinating modern museum of food, sure to whet your appetite for a meal of lake perch at Les Négociants or atmospheric La Clef, located in a former home of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and a favorite of Charlie Chaplin, who lived in Vevey.

Escaliers du Marché © Mihai-bogdan Lazar | Dreamstime.com

INFO TO GO

Geneva International Airport (GVA) is 45 minutes from Lausanne by direct train. The rail station is on the arrivals level at the end of the terminal. Purchase tickets by machine or at the window; travel from the airport to Geneva’s main train station is free to arriving passengers. In Lausanne, a metro stop is in the train station, and taxis wait on street level. A Lausanne Transport Card is free to anyone staying in a hotel, valid from arrival to departure days for travel throughout the public transport system. A day ticket is about $9. The metro is often faster than taxis. Flon is the central meeting point of all metro lines, one stop from Lausanne-CFF, the main rail station where trains arrive from Geneva Airport. SwissPasses are valid on Lausanne’s (and other Swiss cities’) local transport, as well as on trains and lake boats.

JUST THE FACTS

Time Zone: GMT + 1
Phone Code: Country code: 41
City code: 21
Currency: Swiss franc
Entry/Exit Requirements: U.S. citizens must have a valid passport good for three months beyond travel dates. No visa is necessary, and U.S. citizens traveling for leisure or business may remain up to 90 days, either consecutively or combined within a six-month period.
Official Language: French
Key Industries: Financial services, education and research, tourism and conventions

LODGING

Lausanne Palace & Spa
The opulent salons and wide hallways of a Belle Époque grand hotel combine with contemporary in-room details, impeccable concierge services and a central location. Rue du Grand Chêne 7 $$$$

Château d’Ouchy The château dates from the 12th century, but guestrooms offer 21st-century style and comfort. The lakeside location is handy to the metro and the steamer landing; the restaurant is outstanding. Place du Port $$$$

Grand Hôtel du Lac The century-old hotel transformed into a boutique where 60 spacious guestrooms open onto balconies overlooking the lake. The entire staff is dedicated to guests’ convenience and comfort. Rue d’Italie 1, Vevey $$$$

DINING

Nomade This smart restaurant and vinothèque marks the gateway to Lausanne’s hippest new neighborhood, giving an international twist to well-conceived takes on traditional dishes. Place de l’Europe 9 $$$

La Table d’Edgard Forget trying to choose; relax in the lush setting and order the Signature Menu, letting Chef Edgard Bovier serve the evening’s most perfect dishes. Lausanne Palace & Spa, Rue du Grand Chêne 7 $$$$

La Veranda The slightly more casual little brother of Michelin-starred Les Saisons, the glass-walled restaurant surprises with dishes such as rabbit poached in lavender oil. Excellent for a business lunch. Grand Hôtel du Lac, Rue d’Italie 1, Vevey $$$

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FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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