Canton Vaud is a county in western Switzerland. It is bordered by Geneva, Fribourg, Neuchatel, Valais, Bern and the Romande region of France. It is the largest French-speaking canton and has one of the largest populations in Switzerland.
Vaud in numbers
- Surface area: 3.211 km2
- Population: 805.098 (December 2019)
- Expat population: 267.000 (33 percent, December 2019)
- Universities: 2
- Unemployment rate: 4,9 % (December 2019)
- GRP per capita: 68.102 Swiss francs (December 2019)
History of Canton Vaud
The early history of Canton Vaud is dominated by the Romans, who settled the area in large numbers after defeating the Helvetii tribe in 58 BC. The Romans settled the area and created the state of Civitas Helvetiorum, with its capital in Avenches, which became the largest roman settlement in Switzerland. You can still see the large amphitheatre and Roman walls in Avenches today.
After the defeat of Rome in the 6th century, the lands were fought over by Burgundians, Franks, Germans and Italians. Each faction wanted to control the Evian pass, the most reliable route for crossing the mountains at the time.
In 1218, the area was finally conquered by the counts of Savoy from modern-day Piedmont in Italy. It was during this time that many of the famous castles and landmarks that adorn the countryside were built in order to keep control of the mostly French-speaking inhabitants. Under the Savoyards, the barony of Vaud was created, the first time the name is mentioned in history.
After the decline of the Savoyards in the 15th century, Vaud was conquered by the Canton of Bern. The occupiers forced Protestantism upon the population and controlled the land with an iron fist.
During this time, the ruling class spoke German, leading to mass discontent from the people of Vaud, who mainly spoke French. In 1723 for example, Abraham Devel led a revolt in Vaud that wanted to gain political rights in Bern for French speakers. The Bernese managed to put down this rebellion but was severely weakened, with much of Vaud’s main industries destroyed.
Napoleon and the Lemanic Republic
In 1798, inspired by the revolution in France, the people of Vaud rose up again against the Bernese. This new rebellion, alongside other French-speaking areas, managed to drive out the Bernese governors. This led to the rebels declaring the Lemanic Republic, named after Lake Geneva. This republic was still part of Switzerland, but directly appealed for the French to intervene, which they did later in the year.
Napoleon’s Helvetic republic (1798-1803) was equally unpopular with the Lemanic republic, now called the Canton of Leman. This led to Vaud, once acceptant of French rule, rebelling against the puppet government in 1802. This instability led to the fall of the republic and the re-establishment of the old Swiss confederacy. In 1803, the new Canton of Vaud officially joined the Swiss confederation for the first time.
Independence and the cultural capital of Switzerland
Since its admission to the confederation, Vaud has taken centre stage in Swiss politics and culture. It was the people of Vaud, under the Genevese Henri Dufour that successfully put down the Sonderbund in 1848 during Switzerland’s last civil war.
In its modern history, the canton has been a loyal member of Switzerland. The canton is now a haven for the artistic and Avant-Garde, with regular arts, music and theatre productions taking place all over the canton. To Swiss citizens the Canton of Vaud is the most relaxed and laid-back canton in the country, and rightly so.
Geography of Canton Vaud
The canton has its borders on many of the main Swiss lakes. To the north it is bordered by lake Neuchatel and to the south it is bordered by the mountain ranges south of lake Geneva around the Aigle wine region.
Vaud is a canton of contrasts, famous for having the longest lake coastline in Switzerland, yet also having stunning mountain ranges to its east and south. The landscape is extremely hilly, with large hillsides permeated only by large lakes or cities.
Weather in Canton Vaud
Vaud sits to the north of the alpine range but below the Juran mountains. This leads to a temperate climate throughout most of the year. The high alpine ranges in Vaud have regular snowfall in winter, with snow being common above 600 meters.
During the summer, the cities around Lake Geneva are kept cool as the large body of water stimulates almost constant breezes through the cities. Outside of these microclimates, the weather is consistently warmer than eastern Switzerland, with temperatures often around 30 to 35 degrees.
Dialect in Vaud
The language of Vaud is know as Vaudois or Franco-Provençal. This is a French dialect spoken in parts of eastern France, Vaud and the Aosta valley in Italy. The language has some distinct differences from regular French, taking inspiration from Latin and German. Similar to Québéquois, French speakers will be able to understand it, but be sure to ask them to say things slower if you don’t understand.
Largest cities in Vaud
Vaud has many picturesque cities for you to visit, here are some of the largest.
The capital of the Canton of Vaud, Lausanne is a city steeped in tradition and history. Perched on top of a set of three hills, the city is a famous trade stop on the route between eastern France and Italy. To find out more about the city, see our guide to the city of Lausanne.
Scientists have confirmed that the area now known as Yverdon was settled over 5.000 years ago. Today the city is one of the old fortress towns of Switzerland and houses a selection of hot springs. The old town is dominated by the ruins of the Castrum, or stronghold which is the old Roman fort that used to supply Roman soldiers on their way to Germany. Today you can also see the new castle, designed by the same architect and designer who built Caernarvon castle in Wales.
The city of jazz, Montreux is a relatively new city, made after three separate villages combined in the 19th century. Today, the city is famous for hosting the Montreux jazz festival, the most prestigious jazz festival in the world. It is also the home to queen (Mountain) studios once played in by led Zeppelin and Freddie Mercury, a man whose birthday is celebrated each year by its inhabitants.
The great fire in 1971 at the Montreux Casino during the festival also inspired the band Deep Purple to write the song smoke on the water. Famous residents include Uri Rosenthal, Tchaikovsky, Zelda Fitzgerald, Noel Coward, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury.
The city of Nyon is a large medieval settlement that sits on the banks of Lake Geneva. Formerly a prominent fort for Romans and Savoyards, the city today is well known for its old town and waterfront. The city also boasts a beautiful monastery in a neoclassical style.
The city of Vevey is known throughout the chocolate world as the home of Nestlé. The town is dominated by the international company, who is the single largest employer in Switzerland. The town sits on the banks of Lake Geneva and was once Vaud’s second city, sitting between the capital Lausanne and the fort at Chillon.
Traditional food of Canton Vaud
When Swiss people think of Vaud they think of wine, cheese and small servings of meats. The cities themselves have the highest number of gourmet restaurants per capita than the rest of Switzerland.
A common Vaudois delicacy is Taillé aux greubons, which consists of crackling wrapped in puff pastry. For dessert you could have Carac, another pastry filled with chocolate.
Sites & Attractions in Vaud
There are many different sites and attractions that families and children can visit.
The most imposing part of Canton Vaud, Lac Leman of Lake Geneva dominates the city skylines of most of Vaud. Unlike most Swiss lakes, the lake itself is flanked by two large mountain ranges, leading to stunning lake and mountain views. Whether it’s having a cocktail on its shores or dipping a tentative toe in the water, Lac Leman cannot be missed.
Montreux jazz festival
The annual festival of jazz in Montreux is at the centre of Vaudois culture. The event itself has attracted big names over the years such as Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong and the Rat Pack. Today, the festival still attracts big names and is a must attend for music lovers.
In his later life after being deported from the United States, the actor Charlie Chaplin had his residence in Vevey in Canton Vaud. Today, the grand house and grounds where he used to live is a museum dedicated to his life and work. The museum contains real costumes and set pieces from his early films, alongside personal testimonials, and waxworks. Even to casual fans, the museum has a lot to offer.
Vinyards & Vaudois wine
The banks of Lake Geneva are ideal for the cultivation of different types of wine. The wine produced here is internationally renowned and beloved throughout Switzerland. Some of the most common types are Gewürztraminer, Aigle, Weissburgunder and Chardonnay.