Felicity Long
Felicity Long

One of the last Europe trips I was set to embark on before the pandemic brought travel to a screeching halt was the Lake Geneva region of Switzerland, known officially as the canton of Vaud.

Situated in the French-speaking part of western Switzerland, this is a region that has it all -- the picture-postcard scenery for which the country is famous, fancy belle epoque hotels overlooking the lake, Michelin-star restaurants and even world-renowned vineyards.

With that in mind, until we can go in person, here's what's new in Vaud.

Starting with Audrey Hepburn -- who famously said "Paris is always a good idea" but, in fact, lived in the Swiss village of Tolochenaz for almost 30 years -- the actor and Unesco ambassador is the subject of a new walk that will take fans past her home, garden and other related areas of interest.

Fields of blooming narcissus in the Lake Geneva region.
Fields of blooming narcissus in the Lake Geneva region.

The walk, which also focuses on Ignacy Paderewski, a Polish pianist and statesman who lived  in nearby Morges, is available on the Morges:Guide app

Also in Morges: the annual Tulip Festival in the Parc de l'Independance overlooking Lake Geneva is running from March through May, showcasing more than 100,000 flowers.

Or, for those of us from North America who can't be there in person, the Narcisses website offers a tantalizing look at the wild narcissi that bloom above Montreux and Vevey from April through June in such profusion that the area seems blanketed in snow.

A feast for foodies

Meanwhile, in the world of gastronomy, the Michelin Guide awarded a whopping 15 stars among 11 Vaud restaurants for 2021. 

They include three stars for chef Franck Giovannini of Le Restaurant Hotel de Ville in Crissier and two each for Anne-Sophie Pic at her eponymous restaurant at the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne and Stephane and Stephanie Decotterd at Le Pont de Brent.

One Michelin star was awarded to eight restaurants, and nearly100 received accolades in the 2021 edition of the Gault & Millau guide.

Foodies with an eye for architecture might appreciate La Bavaria (French-only website), tapped as Historical Restaurant of the Year 2021 by Icomos, the International Council on Monuments and Sites. Located in Lausanne, the restaurant opened in 2019 after a major renovation of the historic building.

If transatlantic travel opens this summer, oenophiles will be able to experience the annual Caves Ouvertes Vaudoises, or Open Wine Cellars (website in French and German only) event this year via an a la carte version. The way it will work is that wine lovers can choose and meet a local winemaker, taste his or her wine and use a prepaid $32 to buy a bottle of wine. This start date is dependent on Covid regulations and is planned to run through August of this year.

In other Vaud news, the Beau-Rivage Palace has opened its new spa facility, Cinq Mondes. Designed by Alexandre Pierart of Suprem Architectures, the spa features a double spa suite, a relaxation space and a yoga and meditation studio. The spa is part of the Wellness Experience concept devised by Nathalie Seiler-Hayez, managing director of the hotel.

Tramps and forts

Looking to learn more about the history of the Vaud canton? The Fort de Chillon, a former military site built deep into rock in 1941 opposite the Chillon Castle on Lake Geneva, opened in December as a museum.

The facility uses a combination of augmented and virtual reality, designed by scenographer Francois Confino, to take visitors into the heart of the mountain to see what life was like in the fort 80 years ago. 

Finally, Chaplin's World, a 32,000-square-foot combination museum and interactive attraction in Corsier-sur-Vevey devoted to the legacy of silent film icon Charlie Chaplin -- who lived in the region for 20 years -- opened an exhibition called "Chaplin and the Great Dictator" to pay homage to one of the actor's most famous movies.

As always, when planning a visit to a European destination, consult Covid restrictions and regulations.

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