Vaud, a welcoming place

Its history

It’s in the canton of Vaud that you’ll find the oldest Neolithic sites in Switzerland, dating back to around 5,000 BC, on the shore of Lake Geneva. The Romans founded the small town of Lousonna, which was to become Lausanne, the present-day capital of Vaud, on the banks of the lake.

The region has been coveted by several kings and emperors over the course of its history: from Charlemagne, whose Holy Roman Empire included the territory of Vaud from 1302, to Napoleon Bonaparte, who liberated Vaud from the domination of its powerful neighbour, the canton of Berne, in 1798 while crossing Switzerland during his conquest of Europe. In 1803, Napoleon gave the canton of Vaud its first constitution at the same time as it joined the Swiss Confederation.

Whilst under the rule of Berne, Vaud adopted the Reformation from 1536 and started welcoming numerous Protestant refugees fleeing their home countries, most notably the French Huguenots. These people brought with them their know-how in industry and finance, which helped the economic development of the region.

This tradition as a welcoming place has continued to this very day, along with industrial expertise and innovation. In 1867, Henri Nestlé established a firm in Vevey to manufacture powdered milk, which revolutionised children’s diets. Today, Nestlé is the biggest food and beverage company in the world and one of the mainstays of the Vaud economy.

From the end of the 19th century, the “Vaud Riviera” between Montreux and Lausanne on the banks of Lake Geneva, has attracted millions of foreign visitors, captivated by the mildness of the climate and the beauty of the lake and mountain scenery. A number of palaces that still adorn the Riviera date from this era. The capital, Lausanne, became an important railway junction, and in 1915 the city was chosen to host the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee. In 1923, the last treaty of the First World War was signed in Lausanne, between Turkey and the allied forces, settling the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire.


Its famous people

The pleasures of the canton of Vaud have never ceased to attract celebrities and famous people for longer stays or to make their home here: Voltaire, Napoleon III, Igor Stravinsky, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Henri Bergson, George Byron, Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Lindbergh, Audrey Hepburn, Georges Simenon, Peter Ustinov; and more recently: Freddie Mercury, Phil Collins, Barbara Hendricks, David Bowie, Yannik Noah, Alain Prost, Jean Alesi, Michael Schumacher, Paloma Picasso, Henri Verneuil and Ingvar Kamprad, founder of the furniture giant IKEA.

But Vaud itself has also given birth and welcomed some world-famous people: the industrialists Henri Nestlé and François-Louis Cailler, the inventor of milk chocolate; the conductor Ernest Ansermet, who conducted Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky; the writers Charles Ferdinand Ramuz and more recently Jacques Chessex. The new wave cinematographer Jean-Luc Godard is a native of Vaud; as are footballer Stéphane Chapuisat, who has won several German championship medals and was a Champions League winner in 1997; the aviator Bertrand Piccard, co-pilot with Briton Brian Jones on the first non-stop flight around the world by hot air balloon in 1999; and the astronaut Claude Nicolier, one of the few non-Americans to have flown in the space shuttle. And not forgetting the most famous adopted Vaudois of all, the French dancer and choreographer Maurice Béjart, whose famous ballet company was warmly welcomed to Lausanne since 1987.

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The canton of Vaud in 2015
Basic data about geography, history, economy and institutions