Discover Vaud: The Swiss Canton that Attracted Ancient Romans and Audrey Hepburn
If you’re looking for a Lake Geneva weekend getaway with a dash of classic Hollywood, many homages to history, and culinary delights to suit all diets, read on.
Indeed, the canton of Vaud’s waterside attracted the Romans and – 20 centuries later – stars like Audrey Hepburn and Charlie Chaplin.
I had the wonderful opportunity to explore the towns of Morges and Nyon on a press trip and came home with my camera roll bursting. You’ll soon see why!
Where is Vaud?
Vaud, set in Romandy (French-speaking Switzerland), is the 3rd most populated of the country’s 26 cantons. It begins just a stone’s throw from Geneva, with many of its towns bordering the eponymous lake.
Vaud is further known among the Swiss to offer a wide range of gastronomic and cultural highlights but remains somewhat of a hidden gem on an international level.
My Lake Geneva Weekend Getaway to Vaud: Itinerary
I spent 3 nights in Vaud and was charmed to discover everything from privately owned castles with public gardens to waterfront dining with distinctive Mediterranean flair.
In this blog post, I’ll share my trip chronologically, so that you can gather practical, structured tips for your own Lake Geneva weekend getaway.
While I personally had 72 hours in Vaud, the itinerary I followed is perfectly adaptable to a 2-night stay, should you need to stick to the stricter definition of a Lake Geneva weekend getaway.
Day 1: Morges & Surrounds
On day 1, I took the train from Geneva to Morges quite early in the morning. I always enjoy my train rides in Switzerland, since more often than not, these are a great way to admire the scenery. On this journey, I was not disappointed, as much of the 40-minute ride provided prime lake views.
I was met at Morges’ train station by my guide, a representative from the local tourism office. The adventure could begin.
Moulin de Sévery
Our first stop of the day was at the Moulin de Sévery, a family-run mill producing artisanal nut oil – and indeed, the last remaining mill to do so in Switzerland.
The Moulin de Sévery has been in business since 1598, creating a variety of oils and mustards that even made official town records.
Owner Jean-Luc Bovey, whose family has operated the mill for 7 generations, kindly showed us the process of producing walnut oil by employing century-old techniques. Afterwards, I had the chance to sample the fruits of this labour – and I must say, I’m a convert!
Visitors of the Moulin de Sévery can also watch production or simply browse the boutique’s offerings to find a unique – and edible – souvenir of their Lake Geneva weekend getaway to Vaud.
Lunch at Restaurant de Vullierens
Seeing all this food prep made us hungry, so we next headed to lunch, with a little detour through the rolling hills of Vaud’s countryside. I was amazed at just how charming every tidy little village seemed to be.
Our meal was served on the patio of the charming Restaurant de Vullierens. I opted for an ardoise de boeuf alongside fries and seasonal vegetables. For those who don’t know, your slice of beef comes to you sizzling on a still hot slate. You can then choose for how long you’d like to cook it.
I can highly recommend both the restaurant and my main.
Château de Vullierens
After lunch, it was time to head to the next stop on our itinerary: the Château de Vullierens. Like the Moulin de Sévery, this privately-owned castle has been in the same family for generations.
The owners, who still live on-site, were gracious enough to open their expansive gardens up to the public. The castle grounds encompass a forest, sculpture park, vineyard, and a number of themed, manicured gardens. The estate also produces its own wine, which you can sample at the bistro or even order online.
It wouldn’t be difficult to spend an entire day at the Château de Vullierens!
Fête du Dahlia (Dahlia Festival)
The next activity of the day took me back to the lakeshore, which plays host to Morges’ iconic Dahlia Festival from July to October. Indeed, Morges is well-known in Geneva and beyond for its floral events.
This is all thanks to a local, independent organization called Morges Fleur du Léman, which sets up two major festivals per year, one dedicated to tulips and the other to dahlias. The organization is mostly volunteer-run, and you can see locals’ commitment in the flawless floral displays!
As the afternoon faded to evening, there undeniably was something special about strolling alongside Lake Geneva, surrounded by these beautiful flowers. I could definitely see why Audrey Hepburn chose to call Morges home for 30 years!
Dinner at Le Jardin (Romantik Hotel Mont Blanc au Lac)
During a Lake Geneva weekend getaway, you need to eat waterside at least once.
I was immediately charmed by Le Jardin, one of the restaurants at the Hôtel Mont Blanc au Lac. The ethereal venue provides prime views not only of the lakefront but also of the iconic Mont Blanc summit, some 80 km in the distance.
I indulged in a simple yet delicious chicken and truffle dish. This was followed by a cheese course, providing me with the opportunity to try local Vaudois varieties.
After dinner, I went for a little stroll along Morges’ picturesque waterfront promenade and harbour, then was ready to call it a day.
Day 2: More of Morges
If you’re lucky enough to have a second day in Morges, you’ll be able to discover so much more of this charming little town.
Guided Walking Tour of Morges
Morges has many secrets, some of which I was fortunate enough to discover on my guided walking tour, which began bright and early on the second day of my Lake Geneva weekend getaway.
My guide and I wandered the streets of the old town, ducking into churches, heritage buildings and the town’s famous castle.
But I must say that my favourite part of the tour was being shown beautiful inner courtyards, hidden from unknowing eyes behind seemingly unassuming facades!
My guide knew exactly where to go, and several times he led me along cobblestoned entrance halls to bright and airy Tuscan courtyards, which I never would have expected in Switzerland!
In Audrey’s Footsteps
As my guide and I were chatting, I came to learn a bit more about Audrey Hepburn and her life in Morges.
The famous Hollywood actress had not only taken up residence on the banks of Lake Geneva, but had also taken part in much of daily life. Many of the town’s older inhabitants remember her fondly as mingling with locals at the weekly markets, for example.
As my guide was of a certain age and had lived in the area for years, I asked him if he had ever met Audrey. His response was something along the lines of “Oh, perhaps. Back in the day, there were many distinguished ladies in town.”
If you’d like to pay homage to Audrey, make your way to the city hall, where she married Andrea Dotti in 1969. Furthermore, the Expo Fondation Bolle (to become the Musée Bolle this fall), hosts a temporary exhibit dedicated to the Hollywood actress each summer.
Lunch at the Casino de Morges
Hungry again, I ventured over to the Casino de Morges for lunch. This historic building saw the light in 1900, and while it no longer operates as a casino, today’s patrons can sit down and enjoy wonderful meals with incredible water and pier views.
I chose a delicious fresh tuna salad and took my time, soaking up the early 20th-century ambiance.
Morges’ Waterfront & Pier
I used my last couple of hours in Audrey’s town to amble aimlessly by the waterfront.
I took another look at the gorgeous dahlia displays, explored the geranium-lined pier and headed back towards the quaint marina – from which one can get a great view of Morges’ castle, I should mention!
Then it was time to hop back on the train and discover Nyon, the next stop on my Lake Geneva weekend getaway.
Day 3: Castles & Culture in Nyon
Waking up in Nyon is something else, especially when you’re staying at the Ambassador Boutique Hotel!
My room not only came with a private terrace, but also prime views over the Château de Nyon, a majestic 13th-century castle which has attracted countless writers, artists, and aristocrats over the years.
I was so enthralled with this view that I could have stayed on my terrace all day, but of course, Nyon’s attractions called!
Nyon Roman Museum
My first stop of the day was at the Roman Museum. If you have ever wondered what it would have been like to live in an ancient Roman colony, look no further than Nyon! Julius Caesar founded the Colonia Iulia Equestris between 45 and 27 BC with Noviodunum, present-day Nyon, as its urban centre.
In 1979, the current museum opened its doors, 5 years after the discovery of the basilica in the ancient Roman forum. In fact, this one-of-a-kind museum is located below ground level, at the site of the remaining foundations of the 1st century AD basilica (or public administration building – not a religious centre as the modern-day term would imply).
Architectural excavations continue in our century, too, as more and more of the earlier town’s aqueduct is unearthed.
After a visit here, one can easily imagine an ancient international market where local blacksmiths, tanners, weavers and potters sold their wares alongside vendors of exotic products from far away such as olive oil, wine and spices.
A short walk from the museum to the Esplanade des Marronniers (Chestnut Square) rewards visitors with amazing views of Lake Geneva, the Alps, and three ancient Roman columns.
Although originally found under what is now Rue Delafléchrère, these columns were placed at this strategic lookout point in 1958, as a fitting way to commemorate Nyon’s founding 2,000 years before.
They once reached a height of over 7 metres and were part of the cryptoporticus of the second forum dating to about 50 AD. Don’t forget to snap a few photos while here and make friends and family guess just where in the ancient Roman empire you might be!
Sunsets over the mountains, free summer Sunday mid-day concerts and strolling in the nearby gardens are all enchanting reasons to visit this iconic Nyon spot, too.
Léman Museum and Aquarium
It was then time to visit the Léman Museum and Aquarium. Founded in 1954, a part of this museum’s mission statement is ”to protect and showcase Lake Geneva (called Léman in French)’s natural and human heritage.”
Indeed, with anywhere from 200-300 fish and crustaceans in 5 different aquariums representing 31 species which live in and near Lake Geneva, the museum meets its objective.
Put another way, everything that is ”in, on and around the water” is championed by the museum. It should come as no surprise to first-time visitors that this museum faces both the lake and the port.
Lunch at Restaurant de la Plage
After an active morning, I met my contact from the local tourism board at an absolutely delightful lunch spot next to Nyon’s beach.
Aptly named Restaurant de la Plage, you could virtually dine with your feet in the water. And locals did take the opportunity to go for a quick dip on their lunch breaks!
Sitting less than a metre from glistening Lake Geneva, looking out at France on the other bank (6 kilometres across the water), I thought to myself that I didn’t have to go to Greece or Italy for Mediterranean flair – I could simply holiday in Switzerland!
Nyon Castle and Museum
After lunch, a visit to Nyon’s castle was in order. A top and easily visible sight in Nyon, the castle sits on a promontory, majestically overlooking Lake Geneva.
Once a mid-12th century fortified house, the building evolved into a Romanesque fortress, first under Savoy then Bernese control, before going to the town of Nyon in 1798.
Since 1888, Nyon’s castle has had the distinction of housing one of Switzerland’s first history museums. The collection traces over 2,000 years of local heritage.
One of the highlights is porcelain from the Nyon Porcelain Manufactury, which produced beautiful pieces between 1781-1813. While here, you can also catch a glimpse of the former prison.
As one would expect, there are wonderful views both outside the castle and from inside when looking out the windows.
Dinner at Restaurant Ulivo
The last dinner of my Lake Geneva weekend getaway took place at Ulivo, an Italian fine dining experience oozing modern sophistication.
With the first bite of my spaghetti marinara, I could understand why this chic venue was awarded 13 Gault-Millau points. I would definitely go again!
Nyon’s Waterfront Sunset
I couldn’t leave Nyon without witnessing one of the town’s legendary sunsets over Lake Geneva, so after dinner, I made my way to the waterfront. As you’ll see from the photos, it was definitely worth it!
Bonus Half-Day: Alpine Escape to St-Cergue
If you have a bit more time in Vaud and wish to experience the canton beyond the lakeshore, make sure to visit the village of St-Cergue.
An hour’s twisting train ride from Nyon takes visitors to this alpine settlement 1041 metres above sea level, at the foot of La Dôle. This is the starting point for numerous Jura alpine sports during both winter and summer months. In all seasons, guests are assured of fresh mountain air and pine-scented forests.
In summer, mountain bikers and fixed cable climbers meet in St-Cergue. Many people also come for the meadows full of colourful wildflowers.
St-Cergue is surrounded by 80 km of cross-country ski tracts, 20 km of easy alpine skiing, and ample snow shoe walking areas.
Serious hikers may opt to climb to the summit of La Dôle while less trained hikers can pick from a handful of other well-marked walks, like the Sentier de la Ballade Beatrix (a 45-minute adventure) or the Fruitières de Nyon trail (taking 2.5 hours to complete).
Final Thoughts on My Lake Geneva Weekend Getaway
My time in Vaud came to an end all too soon, leaving me with a kaleidoscope of memories.
Sun-soaked views of dazzling Lake Geneva, Mediterranean flavours, incredible floral displays and romantic chateaux – these are now things I associate with the towns of Morges and Nyon, and they were on replay in my mind as I took the train onto Basel, my next destination.
One thing is certain – this wasn’t my last Vaud or Lake Geneva weekend getaway!