The international business hub of Geneva might not strike you as particularly high on the list for a must-visit mini-break, but there’s more to this slick city than meets the eye. A bastion of lakeside elegance, it’s not only the gateway to the Alps but a handsome cosmopolitan mixing pot with some fantastic food and unrivalled luxury shopping.
It’s easy enough to tack a couple of days on to the end of a late-season ski trip and enjoy the spoils of springtime in this lakeside haven, this is a city that comes alive in the summer months. Lisa Haynes gives us our must-pack edit for a Spring weekend in Geneva.
What To See
Take in the unrivalled views of the city from the Cathédrale St-Pierre, where CHF5 (£3.50) will buy you a ticket to the top, high above the Old Town. If the weather is in your favour you may even catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc in the distance.
It’s fairly impossible not to see the city’s infamous 140m high fountain, it’s even visible when flying over Geneva at 33,000 feet. The fountain marks the point where Lac Léman empties into the Rhône and jets five hundred litres of water into the air every second. Be warned however, unsuspecting lakeside tourists have often found themselves drenched after a sudden change in wind direction…
The Red Cross Museum
While it’s no surprise this isn’t the most uplifting of locations, The Red Cross Museum provides a fascinating insight into the global work of the Geneva-based humanitarian charity and an important reminder of their ongoing battles. From an exhibition of items made by prisoners in captivity to the millions of personal records stored from the First World War it’s a fascinating, if deeply sobering, experience.
Palais des Nations
A superb building from the beginning of the 20th century, is the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. Considered one of the world’s most important diplomatic centres, it is also home to many international political, economic and scientific institutions.
L’horloge fleurie, or the flower clock, is an outdoor flower clock located on the western side of Jardin Anglais park in Geneva, Switzerland. Around 6,500 flowering plants and shrubs are used for the clock face, changing as the seasons change.
Geneva Old Town
The largest historic centre in Switzerland, is where you will find some of the most emblematic places to see during your visit to Geneva, including The Bastion Park, The Reformation Wall, Place du Bourg-de-Four, fountains cafes, restaurants, and plenty of people watching.
What To Do
This is a place that knows its food. The second most expensive city in the world, dining out in Geneva isn’t cheap. With a plentiful supply of fine dining restaurants around every corner it’s not hard to find a spectacular meal, though these quaint and cosy classics will serve you up some Swiss classics that won’t break the bank.
Chez ma Cousine
Situated conveniently in the gorgeous part of the Old Town, Chez ma Cousine is famous for its chicken. The must-try feature at this restaurant, which will only cost you about 15.90 CHF (15.90 USD), is the half grilled chicken served with Provencal potatoes, salad and gravy. It’s not reservations, so avoid peak times when the restaurant may get crowded.
Eating out is par for the course in Geneva and Café Papon is something of a dining institution of the city, having first opened its doors in 1808. Since reopening in 2005 under the watchful eye of two local chefs, its menu features modern Swiss dishes, while the outdoor terrace overlooking Bastions park is a must-book for the summer months.
Rue Henri-Fazy 1
Auberge de Saviese
You can’t leave Geneva without indulging in a fondue or raclette and there’s only on place to tick off the best. The scent of cheese permeates the air the moment you cross the threshold of the wood-panelled chalet-style Auberge de Saviese and while it may seem slightly naff and pandering to the tourists with its Swiss flags and gingham tablecloths, their plates of sizzling raclette, served wit hot new potatoes, pickled onions and gherkins, are so good we’re inclined to forgive them.
The newest restaurant from the luxury Four Seasons Hotel is this Japanese-fusion affair from Nobu. Drawing on Nikkei cuisine, a selection of beautifully prepared sashimi, tuna tartar and tempura gives way to larger fusion dishes such as lobster and foie gras kadaifi, and a mouthwatering black cod miso zuke, followed by a chocolate bento box with matcha ice cream. Intimate and cosy for winters. However the real draw is the serene rooftop terrace that looks out on to Lake Geneva and the jet d’eau.
For a swift cheap (by Swiss standards…) eat that doesn’t compromise on taste, this cosy creperie in the shadow of the St Pierre cathedral offers a delicious array of sweet and savoury French buckwheat crepes paired with some excellent people watching; despite only being there for thirty minutes I heard at least half a dozen accents, proof that this little gem is a popular choice no matter where you hail from.
Place de la Taconnerie 6
It’s a bit of an institution. A pocket of Paris tucked incongruously in a commercial shopping centre in the middle of Geneva. Classic black and white dressed waiters dealing with daily hordes of lunch and dinner guests. Classic French brasserie with Swiss specialities, consumed in a Parisian setting, chandeliers, ornate mirrors and a befitting outdoor summer or winter terrace. Open everyday, until late.
Where To Stay
The smallest luxury hotel in the city, Hotel D’Angleterre showcases the best of British charm with Swiss hospitality. Grab a cocktail and soak up the atmosphere of live music in the stunning Leopard Bar, voted one of the best in Geneva, dripping in leopard print everything, courtesy of the interior styling of the hotel’s South African owner Bea Tollman.
Rooms from CHF700 (£550) per night
An icon of Geneva, Le Richemond has graced the shores of Lac Léman since for more than 140 years. Discover a haven of peace and tranquillity at the stunning spa by Sisley, renowned for its exceptional skincare, while restaurant Le Jardin, recognised in the prestigious Gault & Millau guide, offers a quiet retreat from the city, with an al fresco terrace facing Brunswick Gardens.
Rooms from CHF495 (£380) per night
Grand Hotel Kempinski
An oasis in the heart of the city, the Kempinski is home to three exclusive gourmet restaurants, a cosy lounge and bar, an elite spa and fitness centre and the largest private indoor pool in Geneva, not to mention an array of luxury shops.
Room rates from CHF490 (£375) per night
What To Do
Shop ’til you drop
Albeit given the strength of the Swiss franc this may be resigned to windows only, but for those with money to burn Geneva boasts many of the most prestigious luxury brands in the world, not least if you’re in the market for a new timepiece. Before even leaving the airport you’ll have been bombarded with adverts and given it’s home to brands including Breitling, Breguet, Jaeger-LeCoutre and Patek Philippe you’ll be spoilt for choice. If you’re keen to clue up on your horological history, the latter also opened its temple to watchmaking in 2001 in the form of The Patek Philippe Museum. Located in a stunningly restored Art Deco building in the Plainpalais, the museum houses an extraordinary antique collection, starting from the 16th century.
Gorge on some of the world’s finest chocolate
This one goes without saying; it is illegal to visit Geneva and not buy chocolate (well…not exactly…but it should be…). There are chocolatiers on every corner, many famed for specialities. Auer – one of the oldest in the city – is renowned for its chocolate-covered almonds, Stettler offers workshops in its factory, while Confiserie Arn boasts over 40 types of pralines. It completely feasible to spend 48 hours in Geneva and consume nothing but chocolate, though if you’re planning on keeping diabetes at bay it’s not necessarily recommended.
Revive yourself at a lakeside spa
Come summertime, the public Bains des Pâquis will be heaving with bathers enjoying the sparkling crisp waters at their ‘beach’, while from September to May the baths offer saunas, a Turkish bath and hammam, reserved exclusively for women on Tuesdays. The Bain Bleu Hammam and Spa features five areas to explore, from the Bain Mythique with its high ceilings and Moroccan lamps, massaging water jets and jacuzzis, to the aromatic steam room, rooftop pool, solarium and hammam.
Attempt The Geneva Triathlon
If you happen to be the sort who enjoys a punishing sporting endeavour as part of one’s holidays, July’s Geneva Triathlon undoubtedly ticks the box for a beautiful setting, with competitors swimming in the crystal clear waters of Lac Léman before pounding the pavements of downtown Geneva. Plus with five different race formats its wholly possible to tailor yours to your preferences, should that float your boat…
Get your groove on at the Montreux Jazz Festival
For two weeks in the summer follow the mellow sounds of saxophones drifting down the shoreline to the Montreux Jazz Festival, a short train ride along the lake. With dozens of live music events across three main venues, plus an abundance of free concerts across the fortnight, it’s a must for any music lover. While you’re in town, pay a visit to Mountain Studios; formerly owned by Queen and the location for the recording of seven of their albums, including their final swansong.