Southwestern Switzerland is the home of the Canton Vaud. The capital is Lausanne, and French is the official language. The French pronunciation is roughly "voh." The area around Lake Lausanne has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Later on, Helvetii, a Celtic people, moved into the area. In 58 BC, Caesar's troops defeated the Celts and Romans settled there. Both Lausanne and Vevey are towns that were established by the Romans.
There are still Roman remains to be found, particularly around the ancient capital of Avenches. Later invasions included Alemannic tribes, Burgundians, Merovingian Franks, and Zahringens in 1032. The counts of Savoy followed in 1218, and the area that is now known as Vaud coalesced into much the same geographic region it is today, except for some terrain that runs from the River Sarine to Attalens, which became part of the canton of Fribourg.
However, the land was held by troops that came from Bern, and in 1536 the annexation of Vaud into Bern. It was also during this time that the reformation began in earnest, with John Calvin's influence on the upswing.
However, the locals did not like the Bernese, and in 1723 a revolt against the Bernese protested the lack of political rights of Vaud residents who spoke French. The leader of the revolt was beheaded. However, inspired by the revolution that had recently occurred in France, the Vaudians did manage to get rid of the Bernese governor in 1798. French revolutionary troops entered Vaud and ended up taking over all of Switzerland. Bernese attempts at taking Vaud back were never successful after that.
Geographically, the canton of Vaud is bounded by Lake Neuchatel to the north, Lake Geneva to the south, the Jura mountain range in the west, and the canton borders with Fribourg and Bern to the east. In all, Vaud's area is 3,212 square km. The southeastern part of the canton is Alpine. Popular ski resorts in this area include Leysin and Villars.
The middle part of Vaud is hilly, but with glacial hills, which are more gentle and rolling than the mountainous areas. Near the lakes are plains. The northwestern part of Vaud has smaller mountains of the Jura range. Elevations generally reach about 1,500 meters. This is the area where many famous Swiss watches are made.
In the canton of Vaud, there are nearly 400 municipalities, the second highest number in a canton, behind Bern. While the French speaking canton has historically been Calvinist Protestant, the religious makeup of the area has made the canton just about evenly split among Roman Catholics and Protestants. Many southern European immigrants are Roman Catholics, with Catholics making up 34% of the population. Protestants make up 40%, and other religions make up the remaining 26%. Vaud's population is approximately 675,000. Foreigners make up approximately 195,000 (29%).
The largest cities are Lausanne and Montreux-Veuvy. These cities are located on Lake Geneva. Lausanne houses a number of light industries. The canton as a whole is one of Switzerland's top wine producers. Vineyards are located on the shores of Lake Geneva, and the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other agricultural areas produce sugar beets, fruit, and tobacco. Tourism is a major contributor to the Vaud economy, particularly around Lake Geneva.
Lausanne is bordered by Lake Geneva, Evian-les-Bains (in France), and the Jura range. The International Olympic Committee is located in Lausanne. As if Lausanne didn't have enough going for it, it is also in the heart of a wine growing region.
Lausanne played host to the Swiss National Exhibition in 1964. During the mid 20th century, Portuguese, Spaniards, and Italians moved to the area, and this had an effect on the local cuisine. The 1960s and 70s, turbulent eras in many parts of the world, were also periods of youth demonstrations, one of which protested the high cost of going to the cinema. Otherwise, Lausanne is a rather quiet area.
Geographically, the center of Lausanne used to be an ancient river called the Flon, which formed a gorge through that part of the city. The Rue Centrale roughly corresponds to the path the Flon used to take. It has a number of bridges crossing the gorge that connect the various neighborhoods. Because of the gorge, Lausanne spans a range of elevations. In fact, knowing the elevation of a particular destination is sometimes the key to finding one's way around Lausanne.
French speaking Vaud is one of the best parts of Switzerland to visit because it goes from one mountain range to another, with rolling terrain in between, and it is home to beautiful lakes and vineyards, and the cuisine is influenced by French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish immigrants.