Circling the north part of Lake Geneva – or Lac Léman as it’s more accurately called given the lake encompasses both France and Switzerland – are a host of visitable and towns, cities and villages. Some are known for their arts and culture (hello Montreux), others for their Alpine skiing (like Villars), but foodies will find plenty to love in between.
Switzerland is of course home to world-famous chocolate and cheese – but some of their best gastronomical experiences, like their light, diverse wines and the charcuterie meat of saucisse aux choux vaudoise – are hidden gems, produced in such small quantities that it’s kept within Switzerland only.
Riding on beautiful panoramic MOB trains that shuttle passengers through primary-green valleys and undulating mountains of Alpine Vaud – surely one of the world’s most scenic train journeys – TLE visited the areas of Château-d’Œx, Rougemont and Lausanne for a taste of Swiss life. Here are some of the most delicious experiences to sample in this part of Switzerland.
Swiss cheese making
Swiss cheese might be known the world over for its holey-ness, but that’s just one type of its 475 varieties. You can how it’s traditionally made at Le Chalet fromagerie in Château-d’Œx.
In a quaintly decorated wood cabin in the centre of the village, the demonstration follows the process, starting with heating milk from Alpine cows in a copper pot under a wood fire (which is responsible for the slightly smokey taste), to separating out the curds and whey, to salting the outside of the cheese wheel, which will eventually form the harder rind. Le Chalet also serve simple Swiss fayre to complement the experience – most of which include cheese as an ingredient, naturally.
Wine tasting by Lake Geneva
Flanked the handy train station of Grandvaux on one side and the expanse of Lake Geneva on the other, you can stroll through the vineyards of Domaine Croix Duplex – but really, the star of the show is their south-facing floral terrace on which you can sit, enjoy a glass straight from the producers, look out over the UNESCO-protected vineyards of Lavaux, and watch the world go by on Lake Geneva.
You’d be forgiven for not considering Switzerland a wine-making country – after all, it’s rarely found on restaurant menus. But over a glass or two, you’ll realise that’s mostly due to the amount they make, and the cost of exporting it from this pricey country. Within Switzerland, it’s reasonably priced and impressively delicious, with light, mineraly wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir the most popular types.
Domaine Croix Duplex make those, as well as the locally favoured grape Chasselas, and Garamet, a hybrid grape found only in this region.
The fancy restaurants in Rougemont
In the gorgeous mountain village of Rougemont, hotel restaurants take centre stage when it comes to foodie experiences in the Alpine region of Pays D’Enhaut. It’s not just traditional Swiss food either. At Café Velrose, you can start with a traditional creamy fondue made from a mix of L’Etivaz, Pra and Fromage des Forts then move to a heavenly vegetarian burger: a big hunk of imitation meat that makes you twice question whether they’ve given you the beef version by accident (they didn’t). Save room for their dessert trolley, filled with indulgent choices like rich eclairs and berry tarts.
For a special occasion, their fine dining restaurant is also an option, or further down the road, Le Roc is the middle ground between refined and formal. In a warm and inviting cabin-style room, you’ll find innovative twists on classics – like a tomato and Kalamata olive tart, or a medallion of lamb served in a bean and sundried tomato cassoulet. Divine.
The Carac of Lausanne
The Lausanners take their sweet stuff very seriously – probably as a reward for the punishing inclines of the city streets. It’s difficult to not walk a block without spying a café or patisserie that serves up delightfully pretty treats, either in a café where it could be served with punchy coffee, or in a boulangerie-style place where breads take centre stage.
It’s practically mandatory to try the Carac, the specifically Lausanne tart made with a hazelnut shortcrust pastry, chocolate ganache and creamy fondant that’s green to represent the regional colour. You’ll find award-winning ones at Noz Chocolatier, from Nicolas Noz, who has been making artisan chocolates, cakes and Caracs for 30 years in the older part of the town. With the finest Swiss chocolate, Swiss butter and milk among its ingredients, and made with all the experience that 30 years as a chocolatier brings, Noz’s Caracs won a prestigious award last year declaring them the best in Lausanne. “Usually, we spend 45 minutes every morning making around 30 to 40 a day,” he says. “But when we won the award, we had to make 200.” Busy days in the office then.
The cheese cellars of La Maison de L’Etivaz
The first cheese to get an appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) in Switzerland was L’Etivaz, a ‘blind’ (unholy) hard white cheese that’s similar to Gruyère. Around 70 producers make it in the L’Etivaz area, and use co-operative cellars to mature the cheeses over the course of a year or two. A 15-minute bus ride away from Château-d’Œx, it’s possible to visit the L’Etivaz cellars to do some tastings, find out more about the history of L’Etivaz, and see how the 20,000 cheese wheels are looked after as they mature. It’s particularly fun to see the Johnny 5-esque robot that patrols the aisles of the cellars to pick up each wheel, wash it in a salt brine, and return it to its place on the shelf before moving onto the next one.
Browse the supermarkets
Hands up who loves going into supermarkets in foreign countries and browsing through their same-but-different shelves? Good, because with prices higher than we might be used to in the UK, you’ll get familiar with the inside of a Swiss supermarket quickly. And there’s loads of interesting stuff to peruse – from a tempting Lindt range, to an extensive charcuterie meat section that’s an aisle unto itself. There are also plenty of healthy and hearty salads – perfect for a value for money lunch on the go.
Partake in a night time food trail
Yes really. In February, the area of Château-d’Œx organise a three kilometre trail along its river, with stops along the way for artisanal food. The annual Rallye du Goût (‘taste rally’) showcases produce from the local area like cheeses, cured meats, honey, wine and syrups. Best of all, it takes place under the cloak of night time, so gourmands find their way to each stop using lanterns and the moonlight alone. The last stop is more of a social gathering where soup and desserts are served, with folk music adding to its convivial atmosphere.