Lausanne, where the Olympics never end
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Lausanne, where the Olympics never end
The Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, one of three museums in the arts district known as Plateforme 10, in Lausanne, Switzerland, June 13, 2024. The district is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Surrealist Manifesto — a series of 1924 publications whose authors include the French artist André Breton — with multiple exhibits. (Darren S. Higgins/The New York Times)

by Seth Sherwood

NEW YORK, NY.- Every year is an Olympics year in Lausanne, Switzerland, a city of stone buildings, tile roofs and historic church squares perched on a hillside overlooking Lake Geneva. As home to the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Museum, the city is involved year-round in championing the Games, long before and long after the official ceremonies take place. (This year, the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, mostly in and around Paris, run from July 26 to Sept. 8.)

But the Olympics are only one facet of Lausanne. In the city center, culture-loving visitors will find a new arts district that contains a trio of avant-garde exhibition spaces, while the Hermitage Foundation museum is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Throw in stylish new restaurants, chocolate boutiques and pastry shops, and you have a medal-worthy culinary center, as well.

Games: History and traditions on display

Long before the global fame of gold medalists like Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, ancient Greek runner Astylos of Croton was the top Olympic celebrity, thanks to victories in three consecutive editions of the Games, from 488 to 480 B.C. Even more impressive, he did it naked and barefoot (as was then the custom for runners).

His is just one of the remarkable stories recounted in the Olympic Museum (tickets, 20 Swiss francs, or about $22). From ancient vases to interactive touch screens, the exhibitions trace the history of the world’s most storied sports competition, starting with its Hellenic origins and ending with this year’s Paris Games, the subject of a special exhibition, “Paris Olympique.”

Along the way, displays delve into the finer points of stadium architecture, uniform fashions, opening ceremony performances, anti-doping technology and even cafeteria menus in the Olympic villages. Equipment and outfits belonging to noted Olympians are also on view, including a handmade track shoe worn by American athlete Jesse Owens at the notorious 1936 Berlin Games in Nazi Germany. (The cobbler was Adi Dassler, who later created the Adidas brand.)

An outdoor track and indoor interactive simulators allow you to test your own skills at everything from sprinting to slalom skiing. And if you happen to be in Lausanne during the Olympics, an outdoor giant-screen TV on the museum grounds will broadcast the Games live from Paris.

Also on the museum grounds, the free Olympic Park is open year-round. The vast green expanse offers spectacular views of Lake Geneva and is dotted with 43 sports-themed sculptures and installations by international artists such as Fernando Botero and Alexander Calder. Among the works is a statue of Baron Pierre de Coubertin — a French aristocrat who was central to reviving the Olympics in the modern era.

Museums: Man Ray, Monet and more

Alongside the train station, Lausanne’s new cultural district, Plateforme 10, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Surrealist Manifesto — a series of 1924 publications whose authors include French artist André Breton — with multiple exhibits devoted to that celebrated literary and artistic movement.

Pioneering works by Breton and his peers form the core of “Surréalisme. Le Grand Jeu,” an extensive exhibition of surrealist works, historical and contemporary, at the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts (through Aug. 25). The works are as strange and dreamlike as one would hope. A sculptural birdcage filled with sugar cubes, called “Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy?” (Marcel Duchamp, 1921). A shimmery canvas depicting elephants whose reflections become swans in a mystical lake (Salvador Dalí’s “Cygnes Se Reflétant en Éléphants,” 1937). A photograph of a woman with instrumental sound holes painted on her back (“Le Violon d’Ingres,” by Man Ray, 1924). And much more.

Man Ray is the subject of a solo show (“Man Ray: Liberating Photography,” through Aug. 4) across the plaza at the Photo Elysée museum, which occupies a jagged white cube resembling a futuristic iceberg. His stylized portraits — Picasso in his studio, Gertrude Stein in a smoking jacket, Igor Stravinsky looking bewildered — capture the cultural ferment of 1920s Paris, while hallucinogenic avant-garde films like “Return to Reason” (1923) represent groundbreaking visions for the then-new medium.

In the same building, the MUDAC design museum hosts “Objects of Desire,” an exhibition of furniture and household objects inspired by surrealism (through Aug. 4): a lips-shaped couch (by Studio 65), a life-size black plastic horse with a lampshade on its head (by Moooi), a teapot shaped like a pig’s skull (by Studio Wieki Somers). A ticket for entrance to all three museums is 25 francs.

Another commemorative show — celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first impressionist exhibition, in 1874 — fills the aristocratic 19th-century rooms of the Hermitage Foundation, a lovely manor with manicured gardens and commanding views of Lake Geneva. Titled “Masterpieces From the Langmatt Museum” (June 28 to Nov. 11), the exhibition rewards visitors with some 60 paintings — Renoir landscapes, Degas nudes and works by Matisse, Monet, Cézanne, Mary Cassatt and others — lent from the Langmatt, in Baden, Switzerland (currently closed for renovations), which is known for its excellent collection of impressionist works. Admission 22 francs.

Food and drink: Lausanne goes locavore

Already home to the Noz Chocolatier boutique and the Hotel Swiss Chocolate by Fassbind, Rue Marterey last year added Acarré, a bakery and chocolate shop where pastry chef Arnaud Dousse, a veteran of top Swiss hotels, makes finely wrought croissants (1.90 francs), pains au chocolat, lemon cakes and other baked goods, along with myriad chocolates. Opening most days at 6:30 a.m., the shop makes an ideal spot for a to-go breakfast.

Last year was an excellent vintage for restaurants, too. Breaking with long-standing tradition, the soaring Scandinavian-style private lunchroom of the regional parliament, La Buvette Vaudoise, opened to the public, allowing people who aren’t elected officials to savor the restaurant’s traditional Swiss dishes, from its award-winning crispy cheese puff (known as a Malakoff; 9 francs) to thick slabs of grilled trout in a cream sauce flavored with Chasselas white wine (25 francs). The lunch-only restaurant procures most of its ingredients from the surrounding Vaud region and serves several wines produced on estates owned by legislators.

The latest dinner hot spots are equally devoted to Swiss sourcing. Decorated in an eclectic, upscale vintage style, L’Appart feels like the sprawling home of a fun designer friend, with a closet — yes, literally a closet — full of wine bottles. (Guests poke around inside to choose their wine.) Chef Luis Zuzarte’s menu, notable for its lengthy list of local suppliers, might include crispy roasted Sbrinz cheese with garlic mayo and pickles, or juicy-meaty pulled pork smoked over hay. Four courses (Tuesday and Wednesday only) are 85 francs; seven courses (nightly) cost 145 francs.

Japanese flavors infuse the dishes at Jajaffe, an airy, minimalist year-old restaurant with an easygoing vibe and tattooed chefs. Old-school vinyl albums provide the soundtrack as young waiters deliver beguiling Japanese-Swiss mashups that have recently included whipped sunflower-infused cream topped with disks of Tokyo turnip and karasumi (dried fish roe) as well as raw chunks of red gurnard fish in mayonnaise flavored with Swiss-made sake. Set menus cost 75 francs (four courses) and 110 francs (seven courses).

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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