From mountain views to Instagrammable meals, Switzerland is all its cracked up to be. On her first trip, writer, aspiring chef, former Fathom intern and quarter-centarian Tess Falotico discovers a few of its fancier charms.
Welcome to Switzerland: Neuchȃtel
My travel companions and I are on a terrace over Lake Neuchȃtel at 11 a.m., clinking champagne flutes. It’s my 25th birthday, and, to quote an Instagram cliche, I’m living my best life. We’re at Hotel Palafitte, which was built as a National Expo exhibition and, fifteen years later, remains the only over-water hotel in Europe.
I’m on my first visit to Switzerland, and thus far all of my preconceived ideas have proven true. Fresh, alpine air; endless views of lakes and mountains; rolling green hills — it’s all here.
At noon, we’re told that brunch is served, a stunning buffet of smoked and cured fish, sweet fruits, fresh cheeses, and house-baked pain aux noisettes et raisins (bread with nuts and raisins) — all of it as local as can be. The hotel’s restaurant is beautifully designed in mid-century style, but we’re sitting on the terrace, because who can resist this view? I devour my plate and go for seconds. More peak tomatoes, more cheese, more champagne. If this is Switzerland, I want it all.
Having taken a red-eye from New York the night before (in Swiss Air’s super-plush business class) and gone full steam ahead on the brunch buffet, I’m ready for a nap. I check into my room, a minimalist and cozy pod built on stilts over Lake Neuchȃtel. My room is all neutrals and shades of blue; the exterior is boxy, which belies softly curved walls and plush furnishings inside. There’s a chilled bottle of Swiss rosé waiting for me. After a shower, I throw on a fluffy hotel robe and collapse onto cloud-like sheets until aperitif hour.
We toast our trip with light, mineral-y chasselas, an indigenous Swiss grape, at the hotel bar, and switch to golden, herby pinot gris as we move to the restaurant. Dinner is perfect: a piece of Lake Neuchȃtel fish with a tomato-based sauce that I scraped off the plate; a flawless, rare filet of steak with chanterelles. Finally, the chariot des desserts, stacked with tempting sweets. My panna cotta comes with strawberries, “Joyeux Anniversaire” written in chocolate, and a sparkler on the side.
When I wake up the next morning, I get up only to raise the blackout shades — I want to watch the sunrise over Lake Neuchȃtel from under the covers. Once satisfied, I take the stack of New Yorkers that’s been piling up at home to read over breakfast: coffee (such good coffee!), muesli with homemade strawberry preserves, and more of that pain aux noisettes et raisins. Time to go to Lausanne.
Luxury in Lausanne
It’s a picturesque, 45-minute train ride to Lausanne — more rolling hills, more lakeside towns, more mountains in the distance.
Our final destination is the legendary Beau-Rivage Palace. The preferred hotel of Coco Chanel, Victor Hugo, and Charlie Chaplin is also where Secretary of State John Kerry met world leaders to discuss the Iran nuclear deal, Diana Ross got married, and Chanel buried her beloved dog.
And now, it’s where I get to spend the first few days of my 25th year, in a junior suite fit for a queen. There’s a king-sized bed with plush linens; a marble bath the size of my actual apartment; soft, silk carpeting; a fireplace — oh, and balcony with a view of the Lake Geneva and the Alps. I’m home.
The hotel itself is spectacular. The first half opened in 1861; the second, connected by a glass rotunda, in 1908. Beau-Rivage combines palatial design with well-concealed modern luxuries: An original door opens automatically, grand-looking curtains lift at the touch of a button, a heavy, brass room key opens a digital lock.
I need to make a quick change into a robe and slippers; my spa appointment is in fifteen minutes. I’m booked for a massage at Le Spa Cinq Mondes, which smells as good as it feels, thanks to a body oil that I inevitably end up purchasing. I’m tempted to go back to my room and never leave again, but find the willpower to explore Lausanne.
From Ouchy station, it’s a few metro stops uphill to the center of town. From Lausanne-Flon station, we walk to Cathédral Lausanne, which offers the ideal photo opp of the city, Lake Geneva, and the Alps. Our plan is to walk back downhill toward the lake, where we can shop and caffeinate on our way back to the hotel.
At Soda, a secondhand store filled with clothes and accessories the owner brings back from Japan, I buy a kitchy British Airways tote bag and a couple of patterned button-down blouses. At another vintage shop, Chabada, I leave with an insanely chic, black leather Bally bag for 100 euros. It’ll be perfect for tonight’s dinner at Miyako. Did I go to Switzerland to eat Japanese food? No, but I regret nothing. I like my Champagne flowing, my tempura crispy, my sushi fresh, and my beef Kobe. (Hey! I’m 25! This is how life should be!) Miyako checks those boxes.
The next day, we have plans to tour Domaine du Daley, where winemaker Cyril Séverin is working to get Switzerland’s seriously underrated wines the recognition they deserve. We sample their refreshing chasselas and juicy pinots noirs and admire the view — sloping vineyards that lead to Lake Geneva and the Alps behind it. This wine region, Lavaux, is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A little tipsy, we head to lunch at Café de la Poste in charming Cully, where they serve French-Swiss staples using (of course) hyper-local ingredients. From my seat, I can see the lake where my perch was caught before being poached in butter and served with potato cocottes. The real star, though, is the pate feuilleté with chanterelles, which are swimming in a creamy mushroom sauce.
It’s pouring rain, and I’m feeling homesick for my suite at Beau-Rivage Palace. I want nothing more than to read my New Yorkers, robe on and fireplace roaring, so that’s exactly what I do until our reservation at two-Michelin-starred Anne-Sophie Pic, where the trailblazing chef and her staff give Swiss classics the molecular gastronomy treatment. The “fondue,” for example, is really a ravioli that bursts in your mouth with cheesey goodness, balanced by a sweet, acidic green-tomato and verbena broth. Each plate is a work of art, so visually appealing I almost don’t want to eat, but it all tastes even better than it looks.
And that cheese situation! A cart filled with local and international varieties rolls up to our table, with options that are fresh and aged, mild and pungent, creamy and hard. It’s a four-hour affair, but I can’t go straight to bed. High on Madagascar vanilla and coffee broth (served with crayfish) and rose jelly (topping a mille-feuille for dessert), I need a drink. From the outdoor seats at the hotel’s swanky lounge, I can feel a breeze from Lake Geneva, sip a cocktail, and make sense of it all.
German in Zürich
About halfway through the two-hour train ride from Lausanne to Zürich, the conductor’s announcements inconspicuously switch from French to German. Less inconspicuous: our driver, who runs to us, grabbing our luggage, rushing us from the platform to the main station upstairs. We’re in German Switzerland now, where punctuality is a virtue — one that we, apparently, are lacking.
But Zürich is where my preconceived notions about Switzerland end. What I expected to be a cold, industrial town of bankers is actually a magical, charming city on a river, filled with fairy-tale architecture and warm, friendly people. Even on a cold, gray day, it’s beautiful. And so clean, both in the literal sense (not a single piece of litter) and the figurative (climate change rightfully prioritized here, with all kinds of preventative laws in place). From my suite at Baur au Lac, I can see the luxury shops and Lake Zurich below, while I settle in with a mug of the hotel’s homemade milk chocolate.
This being the German part of the country, lunch is sausage, potatoes, and beer at Zeughauskeller. It’s a bit touristy, but fun and delicious nonetheless. From there, we walk to the old town, past Cabaret Voltaire, the famed café and birthplace of Dada, to get coffee and pastries at Conditorei Péclard, a 150-year-old bakery with very Instagrammable wallpaper. Across the street at H. Schwarzenbach, I pick up house-roasted coffee beans and beautifully packaged cookies to take home.
It’s raining, but we walk back to Baur au Lac — we’ve just eaten sausages and pastries, and we’ve got another Michelin-starred tasting menu to earn, this time at Pavillon. The food and atmosphere are decidedly more relaxed than at Anne-Sophie Pic. Local vegetables, prime cuts of meat, fresh seafood — all simply prepared, flawlessly cooked, and expertly paired with Swiss wines.
It’s everything I’ve come to love about this country, perfectly encompassed in a meal.