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Take your time (II)

The heart of Switzerland – Bern and Lausanne

After Zürich, Lucerne and the Bürgenstock resort (read the story HERE), our next stop was the city of Bern, the capital and political centre of Switzerland. We travelled there by train, which, as you’d probably imagine, run as efficiently as Swiss watches on an easy-to-navigate network. Bear in mind they don’t offer wi-fi, though, depending on your point of view, this could be considered a blessing. It certainly allowed me to just chill and enjoy the ride.

Bern prides itself in having a calming effect on visitors, and it worked a miracle on me. The City of Bears as it is known, spreads on both banks of the Aare river. The water is so clean here that open-air pools like Marzili – in the city centre – have become a popular spots with swimmers. If you want to visit the famous bears, they live in a 6,000sqm park by the river, opposite the Old Town.

Marzili is an outdoor swimming facility with several pools, lawns and direct access to the river.

Home during my stay in Bern was the Hotel Schweizerhof Bern & Spa, just across the road from the main railway station, and on the edge of the Old Town, which is a paradise for lovers of the individual and quirky. Independent fashion boutiques, jewellers, patisseries, stationery shops and book dealers populate its commercial arcades, which lead you all the way to the Nydegg Bridge, a UNESCO Heritage Site since 1983, which connects the old part of town to the new.

There are many lovely places to have dinner in Bern. They include the Kornhauskeller, an impressive vaulted space that houses a library, the Kornhaus Forum, a cocktail bar and a restaurant. The chefs there focus on seasonal, regional produce to create contemporary interpretations of traditional dishes and Bernese specialties. This architectural gem has been the meeting point of artists, literary figures and epicureans for several centuries. Another great option is Jack’s Brasserie at Hotel Schweizerhof, where hundreds of celebrities have dined over the decades. In fact, the names of many are engraved on the backs of the benches. The restaurant’s ultra-chic fin de siècle style, combined with a classic menu and impeccable service, make it an irresistible dining choice. Oh! And they serve the best schnitzels in Switzerland. After our gourmet dinner there, we visited the hotel’s Cigar Lounge, where you can choose from up to 100 different cigars and drinks. I am a bit of a classic, so opted for a Negroni and a Davidoff Signature 2000, rich in coffee and wood notes, with a touch of chocolate.

Jack’s Brasserie at Hotel Schweizerhof serves the best schnitzels in Switzerland.

As the Schweizerhof is so central, it was really easy to dip in and out of the city if you needed a rest. My Boutique Junior suite had everything I could have hoped for. Spread over almost 50sqm and created by London-based designer Maria Katsarou Vafiadis, it feels more like a small apartment than a hotel room. It has a separate living area, the bathroom is equipped with a rain shower and a Japanese bathtub (some with a TV), generous mini bar… and all kind of practical amenities (adaptors, wi-fi, mirror heating… that sort of stuff) to make your stay completely stress-free.

Living area of the Presidential Suite (left) and Boutique Junior Suite (right) both at the Schweizerhof hotel in Bern.

You shouldn’t miss the wonderful spa. Its whirlpool with bubble loungers, massage jets and fountain showers will give your muscles – which will be screaming out for a bit of TLC if you spent as much time as I did walking around the city – a thorough de-stress. You’ll also find a steam bath, ice fountain, experience showers and a relaxation room with water beds (an absolute must). The treatment menu is first-class: from facial treatments with hydration to soothing fascia honey massages. I opted for a Lomi Lomi Nui, which is an ancient traditional Hawaiian full-body massage that combines muscle treatment with flowing, harmonising strokes.

View of Bern and its impressive cathedral tower and the Rose Garden, overlooking Bern’s old town, with cherry trees, rhododendrons, irises & hundreds of roses.

During your time in Bern, you must visit its impressive cathedral, a magnificent example of late-Gothic architecture, which dates back to 1421 and boasts the tallest cathedral tower in Switzerland. Other unmissable places to visit are the Paul Klee Centre, which is home to almost half of all the artist’s works, and the Einstein Museum. Inspired by 15th and 16th-century castles, it was built in 1894 and initially served as the Swiss National Museum. Albert Einstein was living in Bern at the time he developed his famous formula E = mc2 in 1905. A favourite place among locals for picnics, lazy walks and romantic dates is the Rose Garden, which offers an unrivalled view over the Old Town all the way to the Alps. I brought a book here, laid on the grass and spent two hours enjoying the feeling of the sun on my back, the distant voices of passers-by, their laughter mixing into a pleasant soundtrack of birdsong and the buzzing of insects.

The hilly city of Lausanne lies on the shores of Lake Geneva, about halfway between the Jura Mountains and the Alps.

My final stop in this journey through the heart of Switzerland was Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva, a city that is often unnoticed but that has plenty to offer. It has a young and vibrant vibe courtesy of the thousands of students that flock here to attend some of the best schools in the world. The old part of town is postcard-pretty, a mosaic of colourful buildings and cobblestone-paved streets dotted with little shops, charming restaurants and lively bars. At its centre rises the majestic Lausanne cathedral, one of the most beautiful Gothic monuments in Europe.

Watching the sunset from the Skylounge terrace at the Royal Savoy in Lausanne is an unforgettable experience.

A stone’s throw from the lake is the Royal Savoy Hotel & Spa Lausanne. Dating back to 1909, this grand establishment was lavishly restored in 2015, bringing the building into the 21st century while respecting its Art Nouveau soul. The cherry on the cake is the 287sqm rooftop three-bedroom Katara Suite, an incredible penthouse with a most fabulous terrace. I was staggered by the beauty of the scenery that surrounded me. Views are truly the Royal Savoy forte. Its Skylounge bar, on the rooftop, enjoys 360-degrees panoramic views of Lausanne, the Alps and the lake. Apart from a fabulous cocktail menu, Skylounge offers light bites and snacks to soak up the alcohol as you let the hours drift by, while witnessing the change in the colours of the sky until sunset. This place is the ultimate venue for an all-afternoon lunch with friends.

The rooms in the Garden Wing at the Royal Savoy Hotel in Lausanne have their own balconies and are incredibly quiet.

My room was not lacking in views either, thanks largely to its generously sized balcony overlooking the hotel’s lush gardens. Designed with the principle of “less is more” in mind, the whole space is elegantly minimalistic, yet warm and welcoming. As part of the Royal Savoy’s efforts to make its guests’ lives as easy as possible, complimentary access to the spa and a public transport card are included in your room rate. I would advise against taking private cars in this town. It is is equipped with a very efficient underground and bus network, but given its small size, you can actually walk everywhere.

Left, exhibition room at the MUDAC. Right, view of Plateform 10, both in Lausanne.

What made Lausanne really special to me was how much it has to offer to art lovers. The modernistic new arts district, Plateforme 10, which was built on the site of a former railway locomotive repair shed, comprises the Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts (MCBA), the Cantonal Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts (MUDAC) and the Cantonal Museum for Photography (Photo Elysée). And an easy walk away from this is the splendid Château de Beaulieu, home to the Collection de l’Art Brut. This unusual museum displays the creations of self-taught artists, some of whom are prison convicts.

After such a thought-provoking visit, I took a walk down to the Elysées Garden, next to the Olympic museum. This hidden treasure enjoys a backdrop of the snow-capped Alps Savoyardes. I went on from there to enjoy a cocktail at Jetée de la Compagnie near the lake, where locals squabble for tables with the best views of the sunset.

Hidden behind the Elysée Museum, the park of the same name is worth a visit. It has the most incredible views of the Savoyard Alps.

Lausanne has a burgeoning reputation as a foodie destination, thanks to its wide selection of restaurants serving very different cuisines. Two of the local favourites are La Mamma Osteria, with its high- quality Italian food; and the stylish Monsieur 14, which specialises in creative fusion food. I was lazy though and opted for La Brasserie du Royal at my hotel. Spread across four different rooms, the restaurant oozes elegance and contemporary style from the alcove to the terrace and sunlit veranda. Local produce is transformed into spectacular dishes here by Ludovic Douteau (Executive Chef) and Paolo Principe (Brasserie Chef), accompanied by a superb wine list curated by sommelier Remi Torres.

Sole with black truffle and Perigourdine sauce and Chocolate cream and mousse, cocoa and Baileys’ sauce with coffee sorbet, both from La Brasserie du Royal.

Nightlife here is effervescent to say the least. Cool bars and clubs are dotted around the city, offering something for everyone: from cocktails at the smart Lausanne Cocktail Club, to a gourmet journey through Latin America at the lively Lucha Libre or dancing until the early hours at the recently opened Le Temple.

The morning after the night before, I just took it easy and spent most of the day at the hotel’s spa, rolling from swimming pool to steam bath, to ice fountain… to lounger, finishing with a CVS lifting treatment on my face. Using Dr Burgener Switzerland’s skincare products, the therapist started by exfoliating the skin of my face, neck and chest, before giving me a massage specifically designed to help reshape mature skins. Afterwards, I looked more relaxed, and my features were plumper, smoother and newly toned.

The indoor pool at the Royal Savoy Hotel & Spa in Lausanne communicates with the one outdoors, all part of the 1,500 sqm Spa du Royal.

With a heavy heart, I took the train to Geneva airport. On this trip, I had the time to explore the heart of this wonderful country, discover the warmth of its people, regale in its magnificent nature and admire its ancient heritage.





Words: Julia Pasarón

Opening picture: courtesy of @Bernwelcome

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