To France by Lake Steamer
With its scenic beauty, it's hard to beat Switzerland. But for a change of pace, you can visit Evian-les-Bains in France. It lies on one of the southern shores of Lake Geneva and is the leading spa resort in eastern France, its lakeside promenade fashionable since the 19th century. Bottled Evian is, of course, one of the great French table waters.
Lake steamers to Evian are operated by CGN (Compagnie Générale de Navigation; tel. 0848/811-848; www.cgn.ch). They depart from the lakefront quays of Lausanne every hour in summer (mid-May to mid-Sept), and about three times per day in the dead of winter. Transit takes only 35 minutes each way. Once you get to Evian, you can wander, lunch, and kibitz on your own, as there are no guided tours available. Round-trip cost of passage from Lausanne to Evian is 31F in second class or 42F in first class. Note that the midsummer departures that leave either city around noon (there's usually a 12:30pm departure from Lausanne) offer more comprehensive restaurant service than what's available at other times, when there's just a snack bar operational.
A dramatic Ascent to Les Diablerets
For a high-alpine view of Switzerland's highest heights, consider a day trip from Lausanne to the high-alpine village of Les Diablerets, which is the geographical and spiritual centerpiece of a high-altitude and rocky Les Diablerets region. To reach Les Diablerets, you'll take a conventional train from Lausanne to the town of Aigle (30 min.; 30F per person round-trip), then transfer onto a narrow-gauge train that takes you to Les Diablerets (46 min.; 24F per person round-trip).
There's an attempt to maintain old-fashioned aesthetics in this village, and it does have some alpine charm. Les Diablerets village is the centerpiece of three distinct regions: the D'Ifenau ski region, Le Meilleret ski region (which funnels into yet another ski region known as the Villarf region), and the Glacier region (Les Diablerets Glacier 3000). It's also the site of a 7.2km (4 1/2-mile) bobsled ride (piste de luge) that's among the most thrilling (terrifying?) in the region.
After visiting Les Diablerets village, you can return to Lausanne or continue on to see the Glacier des Diablerets at 2,997m (9,830 ft.). In winter, a free minibus hauls you to the door of most of the hotels in Les Diablerets Village. Then continue to the base of one of Switzerland's newest (inaugurated in 1999) cable cars at Col du Pillon, which will carry you on to the Glacier des Diablerets. The minibuses take 15 minutes for the ride. In summer, there are no free minibuses; instead, you'll board any of five daily departures aboard a Swiss Postal Bus for the 15-minute ride to the base of the cable car at Col du Pillon, and pay 15F per person each way. Or if you want to walk through the village, it will take you about 90 minutes from the railway station to the base of the cable car.
Once you reach Col du Pillon, departures on the cable car to the glacier are continuous between 8:30 and 9am, and ending between 4 and 5:30pm (times depend on the season). The 15-minute uphill ride (very steep, very dramatic) requires one change of car at a midway point up the mountain. The cost is 77F per person round-trip. For cable car information and confirmation that the car is running, call tel. 024/492-09-23.
The summit is the site of a futuristic-looking aerie designed by Mario Botta. Inside are a self-service restaurant and a more formal sit-down restaurant. The aerie is also the departure point for winter skiing (Dec to mid-Apr), summer skiing (late June to late July), and lots of hiking trails on or near the edges of the glaciers. There's also a snow-bus excursion, priced at 18F for a 30-minute outing, in a vehicle with very big snow tires and big windows. The entire site, including the cable car, is closed during May for annual maintenance.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.