A Weekend Around Lausanne (with kids)

What do you get when you combine lush lakeside vineyards, scraggly mountain peaks, French-speaking Swiss and crystal blue waters?  NBC’s new dramedy Grape Expectations, debuting this fall?  No–even better–you get Lausanne and the Swiss wine country towns near it on Lake Geneva!

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View from train above Villette.

For Jana’s upcoming birthday, she (of course) wanted to find some nice beaches and pools to swim in near Basel.  I think she was a mermaid in her former life, perhaps she gave it up for Tom Hanks.  Beaches in Switzerland are not as ubiquitous as you might think.  We decided to give Lake Geneva a try and experience the beautiful Swiss wine country while we were at it.  We found an apartment on Airbnb that had the magical words “near train station” and “beach nearby” in the description in the tiny lakeside village of Villette, between Lausanne and Vevey.

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The view from our apartment in Villette.

Like most cities in Switzerland, Lausanne is just about two hours away from Basel, by train.  And, bonus, on one leg of the journey we had a train with a “family area”.  This is a small play area in one of the train cars (rightfully situated at the very back of the train) where kids scream and climb all over a slide and some of the other passengers.  Think of it as the opposite of first class.  Our kids loved it.

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The family car: In case you want your kids to pick up some immunity en route to your destination.

Shortly after checking in, we were back on a regional train down to Vevey (sounds real French-like when the lady on the train announces it – basically, remove all consonants after the first letter), which is in the direction of Montreux.  We found a nice park (Le Jardin Doret) near the shore with a public kids’ wading pool, playground and access to the lake. Jana jumped in the lake, the kids jumped in the pool and Barry got to keep his socks on–what could be a more perfect evening?

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Le Jardin Doret park in Vevey.

On Saturday, we took the short train ride into Lausanne and explored the Ouchy area near the harbor. The girls asked if it hurt to go there, but once we heard the French pronunciation we figured it wasn’t just a park full of broken glass and beds of tetanus nails.  There is so much to do in Lausanne for those with more adventurous travel companions – the Olympic Museum, art museums, a gothic cathedral, great restaurants.  We settled for another playground, a carousel ride and a picnic, right outside the Ouchy-Olympique tram stop.

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Ouchy carousel on the lakefront in Lausanne.

The main event of the afternoon was a visit to the massive Bellerive-Plage pool and beach complex, which was a five minute bus ride from Ouchy.  This is not, as spelling-impaired Jana might surmise, home to Mr. Belvedere’s evil cousin who is bent on breeding mice to spread the Black Death. What it is, is awesome. It has several splash parks and pools, a playground and a long sandy beach.  Jana would have pitched a campsite on the grounds for good, if they’d let her.  Even Barry, with his aversion to cold water, made an attempt to go in one of the pools (it was sooooo cold at approximately 74F) and made it up to his thighs before giving up.  For dinner, we had the best crepes ever at Le Creperie d’Ouchy.  The girls even got into them, devouring a Nutella and strawberry crepe.

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Skipping rocks into Lake Geneva. Note high dive in background!

In the evening, we walked down the road to the small public beach in Villette, practiced skipping stones and admired the sunset.  After dark, the sky on the French side of the lake lit up with fireworks displays celebrating Bastille Day, which was fun to see once we figured out what all those loud bang noises were.

We spent Sunday at a small kids museum (Space Inventions Museum) in Lausanne, which was good for about a half-hour of entertainment and then ended the day back at the small beach near our apartment.  The brave girls all swam a lot: Jana tried the high dive platform and H (4) even got a little too brave as she headed out swimming for mom with her floaties on while mom was still 20m off shore!  Editor’s note:  Barry went in the freezing lake that day, like a boss, despite risking hypothermia and death. [Note from the *real* editor: hmmm… maybe you’d think he did it ‘like a boss’ if you work for a cat. And, Barry, fingers off my italics! 🙂 ]

We made dinner at home that evening and Jana showcased how she is a real pro in the kitchen. I’ve never seen anyone put out a grease fire that quickly!

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The girls piling on Jana in the clear lake waters.

The focus of our trip, obviously, was pools, beaches and playgrounds, but there is so much more to explore in wine country, including the Montreux Jazz festival, Chillon Castle, wine tours and more.  The views of the vineyards next to the lake rival any natural setting in Switzerland, in my opinion.  And, it can all be done without a car–perhaps just avoid the “family area” on the train if you’re sans enfants.

 

Thanks to “editor” Jana for her contributions to this entry!

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