Sometimes there is nothing better than passing your vacation time by a pool, cocktail in one hand, book in the other. But when you’re spending your precious annual leave or a bank holiday weekend somewhere new, the call of adventure can be even more enticing. When you’re in a city as beautiful (and conveniently located) as Geneva, why not make the most of the opportunities that await you?
Geneva sits very close to the French border, and l'influence Française, is abundantly clear throughout the beautiful city, from the language, to the food and the fashion. Geneva is home to the United Nations and is a global centre for diplomacy and banking, which might explain why it’s not the cheapest holiday destination. Leading to our first point…
Where to (window) shop
Since the 1600s, Geneva has been a world leader in time-pieces and at the foot of picturesque Old Town is what can only be described as Watch City. From master watch-makers like Patek Phillipe and Frank Muller, to global favourites Swatch, Omega and Piaget, even if you’re just having a sticky-beak, the incredible designs should not be missed. Whether you’re looking for naval precision or Elizabeth-Taylor-level bling, you’ll find it in Geneva. And if you’re all set on the watch front, you’ll find beautiful clothes from high-street labels to haute couture, around Rue du Rhone, Rue de la Croix-d’Or, and Rue du Marche.
What to do
Once you’ve finished shopping (or working out how many months rent that white gold pen would cost) follow the sound of bells up the cobbled laneways towards Geneva's beautiful Old Town.
Take an early morning walk through the quiet streets toward Le Cathédrale de Saint Pierre. Construction began in the 12th century, but renovations and additions have taken place as recently as the 18th century. Because of this, the building’s architecture is beautifully eclectic, showcasing romantic, neo-classical and gothic style.
Perhaps the highlight of a visit to the cathedral is the clock tower. For just 5CHF, you can ascend the north and the towers for incredible panoramic views of the city.
(Please note: not an activity for those who don’t like heights, or small spaces! The stairwells are rather tight- watch your head!)
From the top of le cathédrale you can take in the breathtaking Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and spot what is perhaps the city’s most loved attraction, Jet d’Eau.
Le Jet d’Eau is a fountain situated at the point where Lac Leman meets the Rhone river, shooting water 10kms in the air at 200km per hour. It was originally positioned elsewhere, as a safety valve for a hydraulic power network, but in 1891, it was moved to its present location, so that locals could enjoy it’s impressive beauty. While it once reached a high as 90kms, le Jet d’Eau was downsized in 1951. Perhaps one too many soggy bankers got caught by a sudden gust of wind!
Other must sees include Maison Tavel (the museum of Swiss life), the Palace of Nations (the United Nations office complex offers tours to inform and inspire), and the Conservatory and Botanic Gardens.
If you’re tired from touristing you MUST visit Les Bains des Pâquis. In Spring and Summer, take a stroll down the man-made peninsula to visit the lighthouse, and soak up some sun along the pier. In winter, you can warm up by visiting the hammam, Turkish baths or sauna. Massages recommended all year round.
Where to eat
Also on Les Bains des Pâquis is the restaurant La Buvette de Bains. This large restaurant (seating approximately 200 inside by a fireplace in winter, and just as many on the deck in the warmer months) is un-pretentious and by Genevan standards, very cheap! There’s no need to worry about deciphering an extensive menu either. Les plats du jour are authentic and delicious, and complimented by fresh salads, and locally produced chacuterie.
But the star of the show has got to be the Swiss specialty- fondue. Its bubbly, garlicy brilliance is best enjoyed with a glass or two of wine by the fire or a beer in the sunshine. You’ll really feel like you’re getting a taste of authentic Geneva dans les bains!
If you’re a sweet tooth, we recommend A. Pougnier. It’s a bakery, patisserie and chocolatier with a history of satisfying Geneva’s cravings for three generations. Macarons, cakes and éclairs. Mousse, truffles and pralines. Get your Swiss chocolate fix! With five locations around the city, you’ll be able to find one in walking distance wherever you’re staying.
Where to go
Geneva sits in the shadow of breathtaking Mont Blanc and it’s proximity to the Swiss Alps and French countryside mean there are multiple opportunities for day trips should you feel like venturing out of the city centre.
The Swiss alpine village Gruyères is perfect for cheese enthusiasts, and lakeside Lausanne is a must-see for history buffs. If you’re a snow-bunny or après-ski fanatic, ski-resorts Chamonix and Verbier are both easily accessible. But if you’re short on time while staying in Geneva, you can’t go past beautiful Annecy.
Who doesn’t want to pop to France for an afternoon?
Only an hour away by bus, Annecy is one of the most beautiful towns in France. It’s cobbled streets wind their way towards canals filled with crystal clear water. Gorgeous flower boxes hang from pastel-coloured window frames, and super-chic locals accompanied by their super-chic pooches (seriously- so many cute dogs) sip rosé by the water.
If you’re feeling peckish, Lilas Rose Restaurant is absolutely wonderful. Attentive and welcoming staff bustle about serving red wine, roast chicken and frog’s legs. It would almost seem clichéd if it wasn’t so charmingly authentic.
If you haven’t had your fill of cheese just yet, you must order the Raclette. Sweet and firm new potatoes, crusty bread, pickles, cornichons and a selection of cured meats accompany an unlimited (that’s right… all you eat) supply of melted cheese! The waiters melt the large wheels of raclette and scrape them onto your plate. Once you’ve finished, it’s only moments before the waiters have replenished your supply. Take your time. This is a dish best enjoyed slowly, accompanied by good conversation and a bottle or two of vin rouge.
To work off your decadent lunch, wander up to Château d'Annecy or take a paddle-boat out on Lac D’Annecy and admire the stunning mountain ranges that surround this truly beautiful town.