Bank holiday weekends are a great excuse to take a mini break: a three night stay in an exciting new city without having to use up any annual leave? Yes please. With the rest of Europe on our doorstep (and EasyJet offering the cheapest flights, like, ever), it's pretty easy to book a spring break without having to travel far (anything more than a couple of hours is such a kill joy). But, before you automatically start searching for cheap breaks in classic tourist-heavy spots (Paris, Rome, Barcelona), why not consider an alternative, less obvious location?
Switzerland is a country that is almost always associated with skiing and snowboarding trips because of The Alps and fabulous conditions (think soft, powdery snow and clear blue skies) but it's actually a beautiful place to visit in the spring and summer months too. I recently visited the cities of Geneva and Lausanne; Geneva is a vibrant, bustling European city with amazing shopping, easy-to-use trams and outdoor dining, while Lausanne is somewhat mysterious and magical and, partly because of the architecture, feels as though you've stepped right into the pages of a fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm.
We took the early EasyJet flight from Edinburgh to Geneva (during which I finally got hooked on Downton Abbey), landing mid-morning. The flight was simple and quick and when we arrived at Geneva airport, we stored our shiny, new Samsonite suitcase (so easy to manoeuvre on public transport) in a locker* and took the train to Geneva city centre courtesy of the free tickets being dispensed at the airport.
On arrival, we took a short walk down Rue Du Mont Blanc and found ourselves beside the lake. Much like London and Paris, Geneva is a busy, waterside city with traffic and pedestrians and cyclists and tourists all battling to make their way across the water quickly and safely. You'll be glad to know we made it to the other side via the bridge where, oddly enough, we stumbled upon Geneva's shopping and jewellery district (think Elie Saab, Dior, Celine, Hermes, Louboutin, Piaget and Patek Phillipe along with high street giants H&M, GAP and Zara). Not at all planned. We took a stroll past the shops and chocolatiers, turning into a cobbled, uphill street lined with fascinating boutiques and galleries. We spent a good fifty minutes investigating the nooks and crannies, including a fascinating bookshop with shelves on the outside of the shop. We reached the top to find the Cathedrale Saint Pierre. Set upon the hill, behind the cathedral we discovered a panoramic rooftop view of the city, where we spent time gazing out over the skyline and listening to the church bells ring before making our way to the Jardin Anglais, Geneva's urban park.
Of course, all this walking worked up an appetite so, being Brits Abroad, we found a pizzeria and ordered a small beer to enjoy in the sun. If you love to people-watch, then Geneva's al fresco dining is perfect for serious people-watching activity. A cobbled square surrounded by shops and restaurants, the Place du Molard was a thoroughfare for tourists and locals alike, whether they were browsing the shops, enjoying lunch like us, or rushing from one appointment to the next. It was rather fun eating pizza and drinking beer from the comfort of our seats, while super stylish men strode across the square, well-heeled women navigated the cobbles and groups of tourists debated where to head to next.
After lunch, we headed back to the lake to take a closer look at the famous Jet D'eau that, at 140 metres high, is the world's tallest water and Geneva's most iconic landmark. I only got so close to it (you have to walk out on a jetty to get near it) before the spray hit my Dolce sunglasses, so my husband continued while I sat on the jetty with the locals (enjoying their lunch in the sun) to admire the view of the marina, before we made our way back to the train station to go on to Lausanne.
A forty minute train ride later we arrived at Lausanne. After a long day walking around Geneva, we hopped in a taxi to our hotel, the Beau Rivage Palace (it was originally a real palace, and as a hotel, famous guests have included Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin and Nelson Mandela). The hotel is undergoing a high-level refurbishment, taking it from traditional to modern without compromising on quality or personality. It's a hotel that reminds me of Sex and the City's Charlotte York; pre-refurb, the hotel resembles the New York apartment shared by Trey and Charlotte - all dark wood and understated style - but post-refurb it's like the apartment sans Trey - feminine but neutral, classically chic furnishings and a modern colour palette. It's right up my street and I felt completely at home there! (If only it actually was home...)
The view of Lake Geneva from our room was breath taking, the picturesque mountains and lake an eternal shade of pastel: in the morning, everything was a soft dove grey; by lunchtime, pale blue, and by evening the two had blended to create a heathery purple, complemented by the sugary pink reflection of the setting sun. It was a real-life water colour and I could have stared out of the French doors for hours.
We did eventually tear ourselves away from the Beau Rivage (after some fabulous food and a much needed spa appointment) to admire the grounds and surrounding area. Where Geneva is a bustling city, Lausanne is busy on a smaller scale. Couples stroll hand-in-hand, friends gossip over afternoon espresso and locals go about their business but in a much more relaxed, less formal way than those in Geneva. We walked through town, admiring the Gothic architecture, until we reached the grand, palatial hotels at the waterfront. We enjoyed a stroll along the lakeside, where the water was clear and a hazy mist gathered over the lake, creating a somewhat romantic but slightly eerie atmosphere. I was smitten with the notion of being in a parallel world, where the sun was hot on your face, but the air so cold it seeped through your skin to kiss your bones. I could have lost hours by the lake at Lausanne, imagining a world of fairies and water dragons and wicked witches, all helping and hindering a Prince Charming gallantly searching for his Swiss princess.
In reality, we were packing as much as we could into our two days, so we took two hours out of my daydream to visit the Olympic Museum (conveniently located right next to the Beau Rivage). The museum houses various Olympic memorabilia, from original artefacts from the Greek games to the torches and sportswear worn by the athletes from the early 20th century to the present day. A huge plasma screen plays the Opening Ceremonies on repeat and proved to be a rather emotional experience. It was easy to lose half a day in the museum: part educational, part interactive, it's is the perfect combination of information and fun, great for adult and kids alike. Afterwards, we simply had to have a crepe - banana and Nutella - and a latte to refuel our energy for another night at the Beau Rivage before our return trip to Edinburgh.
If a minibreak is on the cards this Easter weekend or beyond, why investigate a trip to Geneva or Lausanne? Geneva is perfect for a long weekend shopping with the girls, while Lausanne is better suited for a romantic getaway. However, the public transport is so easy and simple to navigate that it would be easy to see both cities in one trip but, if I had to choose just one city, it would be Lausanne, a city I might never have come across if it weren't for the Beau Rivage Palace. What can I say? I'm a romantic at heart.
*A large locker at Geneva train station costs 9 Swiss Francs (like the UK, Switzerland has also retained its own currency)
Images copyright: Christina Miller