Lausanne tends to inspire hyperbole. In a country of spectacular natural beauty it is the most beautiful of cities, Switzerland's San Francisco – a city of incredibly steep hills that has developed tiered above the lake on a succession of compact, south-facing terraces. Vistas of blue water, glittering sunlight and the purple and grey of the white-capped Savoy Alps peep through between gaps in buildings or at the ends of steeply dropping alleys. Much of the city is still wooded, there are plenty of parks, and the tree-lined lakefront promenades spill over with beds of vibrantly colourful flowers. Attractive, interesting, worldly, and well aware of how to have a good time, it's simply Switzerland's sexiest city.
The comparisons with San Francisco don't stop at the gorgeous setting. If Switzerland has a counterculture, it lives in the clubs and cafés of Lausanne, a fact which lies broadly within the city's long tradition of fostering intellectual and cultural innovation. It remains a grand-looking city, full of shuttered foursquare mansions and ritzy shopping streets, and with its own glamorous lakeside resort of Ouchy; there are few cities in Europe that so actively value and support the pleasure principle. For decades, the municipality has subsidized art and culture of all shades, resulting in a range of festivals, live music, clubs, theatre, opera and dance to rival a more sluggish metropolis ten times bigger.
Aiding the dynamism, a defining feature of the city is its international population of students, attracted to the prestigious University of Lausanne, Switzerland's biggest, and the French-language arm of the Federal Institute of Technology. This youthful, outgoing spirit, and the city's hilly aspect, have also given Lausanne a new role as European blading and skateboarding capital: when the sun shines, every public space hisses with the spinning of tiny wheels, and the Ouchy waterfront in summer echoes to the clack of skateboards.