Exploring the Unique Museums of Lausanne, Switzerland

Boat on Lake Geneva

Lausanne is an elegant town on Lake Geneva with a fine old town, towering cathedral, and charming lakeside promenade. While I was there this summer, I made a point of visiting its two main museums, the Olympic Museum and the Collection de l’Art Brut. Both are unique and worth a look.

The Art Brut Collection is like nothing else you’ll see in Europe: a museum filled with art produced by untrained artists, many labeled (and even locked up) by society as “criminal” or “insane.” Read thumbnail biographies of these outsiders, and then enjoy their unbridled creativity.

Collection de l'Art Brut

In 1945, the artist Jean Dubuffet began collecting art he called “brut” — created by untrained, highly original individuals who weren’t afraid to ignore rules. In the 1970s, he donated his huge collection to Lausanne, and it has now expanded to 70,000 works by hundreds of artists: loners, mavericks, people on the fringe, prisoners, and mental ward patients. Dubuffet said, “The art does not lie in beds ready-made for it. It runs away when its name is called. It wants to be incognito.”

About 800 works are on display at any given time. As you tour the thought-provoking collection and learn about the artists, ponder the fine line that separates sanity and insanity when it comes to creative output.

artist bio art

Known as the Olympic Capital, Lausanne has been home to the International Olympic Committee since 1915. The Olympic Museum celebrates the colorful history of the games, with a century’s worth of ceremonial torches and a look at how medals have changed over the years. Surveying gear from each sport (such as Carl Lewis’ track shoes and Sonja Henie’s ice skates), you can follow the evolution of equipment that was clearly state of the art — in its day.

statue with mountains

Back at my Lausanne hotel, my hotelier surprised me by pulling out a little stack of old Steves family Christmas cards. For nearly 20 years, we had a tradition of sending a family Christmas card to all our favorite hotels and restaurants in Europe. For Andy and Jackie, it was an annual chore they dreaded — signing their names to several hundred cards all spread out on the kitchen table.

Hotelier with Christmas cards

Thinking back on this tradition, it’s clear to me that this is a good example of how we have always enjoyed and stressed the people-to-people aspect of our work. To this day, we strive to build our huge gang of hoteliers and restaurateurs into an extended family of friends who understand that we are partners in helping our travelers enjoy the best possible experiences for the best possible price. If there is one aspect of our guidebooks that distinguishes us, perhaps it’s the esprit de corps between us, the legion of small businesses in Europe we recommend in our guidebooks, and our traveling readers.

(Next up on the blog, I’ll be bringing you along on a Mediterranean cruise…stay tuned!)