Want to take home great memories and gifts for your loved ones after your very Happy Holidays in the Lake Geneva region of Switzerland? I know that you’ve seen those over-priced cheap looking little cow bells possibly made in other parts of the world that neither you nor anyone else would ever look at again. (On the other hand, the authentic cow bells that are now usually found on farms and in antique shops costs several hundred dollars and they’re gorgeous but heavy to pack). You’ve probably also seen the items made from the colorful flags from Cantons that you can’t pronounce and lots of black spotted cow motif items of all sorts.( Actually the local people really love those and buy them also). Cuckoo Clocks just aren’t what they used to be and rarely fit into 21st century décor. You’ve done the T-shirt thing although if it’s Swiss Made it will last for generations. If you’re returning to the US then you can’t take back those fabulous Swiss cheeses which are not allowed in by customs. Exclusive local Swiss wines make excellent Christmas and Chanukah presents but traveling with them these days in a suitcase is impossible.
However, there are some especially good tactics to Holiday souvenir and gift buying to consider if you’re here between Chanukah, Christmas and New Year’s. The first one is to head for Lausanne and the surroundings. You will find better bargains and lower prices than in Geneva.
For some very unique items and some good deals as well as a lovely experience, I recommend the Marchés de Noël (Christmas markets) in Lausanne and in particular, in Montreux. They are both magical and are open from middle of this week until December 24. There will be handicrafts, art, unusual toys, clothes and everything imaginable to eat and drink. Richly decorated chalets are set up and all the locals and tourists from the region congregate for some holidays cheer. Sometimes they’re open later on some nights.
The Marché de Noël in Montreux : image courtesy of otp.co.uk
Medieval Lausanne is beautiful when lit up and decorated for the holidays. The Place St. François will have the most chalet stands but there are happenings all over the center of town. The Lausanne Palace Hotel always outdoes itself every year in holiday décor. This year in Lausanne there will be a live nativity scene, choirs and gospel singing groups. The “Place de Palud” is particularly lovely during the Holidays until after New Year’s (there is still Epiphany on January 6 to celebrate here).
The Marchés de Noël in Montreux is going to be amazing this year . It will no doubt be the largest in the world because it will stretch from the lake to the top of the Rochers-de-Naye (6 709 feet) where Santa Claus and his reindeer are waiting as the kiddies ride up with Mom and Dad on the cogwheel train. There is also a stop at Caux Village for more Holiday festivities. In addition to the grand market place in the center of Montreux filled over 120 chalets stands and entertainment, there is going to be a medieval market in the Château de Chillon castle down the shoreline. I can’t wait to see what they will be offering in the way of medieval handicrafts for gifts. This is a guarantee that our loved ones will not get the same thing from someone else!
Château de Chillon. Image courtesy of Dominique Schreckling.
Souvenir shopping for Swiss items is not apparent in Lausanne and I can share a few addresses with you to help you out with your holiday gift list. For a reasonable selection of souvenirs in the generally understood sense of the word, you should have a good choice at the Grand Magasin Manor in the center of Lausanne (Rue Pichard 3). They also have a good selection of reasonably priced but excellent Swiss watches.
Cows, cows, cows. Everywhere cows. But they’re so cute: image courtesy of souvenirs-suisse.com
Another big store that usually has typical souvenirs of interest is the Coop City St. François (av. du Théâtre 4). Not just any Coop and they are everywhere but this one is in an area where tourists would be so they buy for the store differently. Along with a variety of Swiss items (lots of those black spotted cow motifs) are Swiss Calendars which my friends and family in the US love them and if I forget to bring them for Christmas it’s unforgivable. Personally, I buy my own calendar in the US because the Swiss start the week with Sunday and I just can’t deal with that. But it’s the pictures that they love.The week on Swiss calendars starts on Sunday. Image courtesy of cafepress.com
The iconic and eternally popular (and most useful) is the Swiss army knife, the authentic brand is Wenger since 1893. There are many shops selling them in Lausanne. Just make sure that you are getting the real thing. There is a huge variety.
Iconic and forever, the Swiss Army knife: image courtesy of The Toy Shop
For some serious authentic (and expensive) Swiss handicrafts, there is Boutique Art Suisse in the center of Lausanne not far from Hermès and Louis Vuitton (Rue Enning 8). They have a small but exclusive variety of ceramics, textiles appliqué work, and woodwork.
Authentic Swiss handicrafts: image courtesy of filonaturel
Even if person you are buying holiday gifts for is diabetic, there is always Swiss chocolate. It’s very hard to go wrong with Swiss chocolate of any kind. Even the industrial chocolate is delicious. If you’re looking for excellent handmade sugar free chocolate, you can find in Cully village at Sonja’s Dessert et Santé sharing with Raphaël Chocolatiere. No, it’s not me, Sonja, but I know her. She was a pastry chef instructor at the famous hotel school L’Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. Sonja has the specialized bakery section (color coded by allergy or preference) and Raphaël makes the sugar free chocolate as well as with sugar. All of their items are delicious whether you have health concerns or not!
St. Nikolaus by Wuthrich: image courtesy of Wuthrich
Other chocolatieres in Lausanne that I frequent are the Confiserie Mojonnier and Chocolaterie Tea-Room Wuthrich. Confiserie Mojonnier has 2 locations; one in the center of Lausanne and one in the Chailly neighborhood. I load up empty suitcases with boxes of Mojonnier’s mix of pralines and truffles when I go to the states (400 g is about $42).
The Chocolaterie Tea-Room Wuthrich is famous for their chocolate caramels that are named after former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing who raved about them during a visit to Lausanne. I know what he means. A friend of mine gives me a box every year for my birthday. It’s a tradition. And every year I finish them off in about 10 minutes. Try them. You won’t be able to stop eating them either!
Named after the French President who loved them: image courtesy of Wuthrich
For very serious specialized Holiday gifts for the sports person, Switzerland is the place. It’ not necessarily cheap, but it’s the best Alpine equipment that you can get. The real experts in any mountain activity from alpinism, rock climbing, hiking, ski touring, skiing, snowshoeing, are without a doubt, at Passe Montagne (also in Geneva and Monthey). In Lausanne, they are located near the center on Ave. de France 34. They will also rent you almost anything you need to participate in Alpine adventures.
Alpine equipment specialists: image courtesy of Passe Montagne
I hope that you have your list ready now and the Holiday Season begins! If you can’t make this year, mark your calendar for next year because Switzerland is magic during the Holidays right through and beyond New Year’s Eve.
Happy Holidays and if you need more information follow me on Twitter.
Image top right courtesy of Spruengli.