The official City of Peace - Geneva is arguably the most underrated in Switzerland - but there is a wealth of treasures hidden in its wide boulevards, lakeside promenades and medieval neighbourhoods.
Geneva has often been brushed aside as a hub of commerce and the headquarters of the United Nations. But there is much more to this tranquil lakeside city occupying a prime position in a valley on Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), fringed in by the snowy Alps and Jura. Dive deep into this sophisticated Swiss stopover, which a thriving community of expatriate polyglots call home.
The 140-metre-tall column of misting water, Jet d'Eau, dominating the vastness of the glassy Lac Leman, is an enticing introduction. Consider its transformation from a relief valve for pipes supplying pressurised water to the jewellers' machinery to an emblematic Swiss landmark, which shoots 500 litres of lake water per second at a speed of 200 kilometres per hour. Second glances, guaranteed.
Glide past Geneva's glamorous lakefront on a private yacht, spotting the grand private townhouses and mansions, including the historic Hotel Beau Rivage, the legendary hideaway of Austrian Empress Sisi in the 19th-century.
Then head to the Palladian villa of philosopher Voltaire, the Institut et Musée Voltaire, to read the letters and manuscripts that ignited the French Revolution. Contemplate the city's intriguing history as a refuge for freethinkers, liberalists and religious reformers, including Jean Calvin, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and Mary Shelley.
Ambling pleasures come to life in Geneva's Old Town, a national heritage site, which occupies the higher part of the city on the Left Bank of the River Rhone. Stumble upon hidden courtyards, linger at terraces with lookouts and step into fondue bars as you trail along the winding maze of medieval streets. Charming historic houses still grace Geneva's oldest square, Bourg-de-Four, a former cattle market site.
3D models at Maison Tavel will offer you the chance to imagine the 19th-century city, complete with ramparts and fortifications. Challenge yourself with a climb of 157 steps up the central tower of the gothic Cathedral of St Pierre to be rewarded with a wide-angled panorama. For an utterly contrasting specimen of architecture, hunt down the glittering gold onion domes of the Russian Church.
Descend from the Old Town into the neighbourhood of Plaine de Plainpalais to partake in a weekend flea market. Go berserk with Swiss Army knives, model cars, paintings, old posters, glassware, sculptures and many more collectables.
Surprises await you in the suburban district of Carouge. The Italian side of Geneva, dressed with Sardinia-style stone archways, galleried courtyards, painted shutters and red roofs, is a wanderer's dream. Browse through the second-hand bookshops, artisan markets and antique shops before stopping by at the outdoor Olympic swimming pool. Catch your breath in an atmospheric bistro and drift some more.
Your love for flora and fauna will pull you to the Botanical Gardens, where you can stroll through massive conservatories and get green-thumbed at the world's largest herbarium. The flag-lined entrance of the UN Headquarters is a short walk away in the same vicinity if you intend to catch a furtive peek. Finally, a pilgrimage to CERN is in order, whether you are a science nerd or not. Secure bragging rights of having seen the world's largest particle physics laboratory, where the World Wide Web (WWW) was invented in 1989.
Rue du Rhône: The city's most glamorous shopping address is synonymous with prestigious international designer boutiques that cut across fashion, accessories and fine jewellery. This is a true mecca for fans of luxury goods, with chic stores of legends from Chanel and Dior to Bottega Veneta and Gucci. After splurging on fine jewellery, fulfil all your fantasies for elegant watches at Chopard, Omega, Patek Philippe, Montblanc, Bucherer, Piaget, Breguet and Rolex. You can also spend hours browsing for your favourite labels at the Globus department store.
Rue du Marché: The hub of high street fashion, this shopping precinct offers trendy brand labels from Mango and Benetton to Massimo Dutti and Hugo Boss, as well as electronics and bookshops. The seven-storey Bongénie department store, Victorinox flagship store and the Swatch shop are popular pitstops for retail addicts. The tram running through the car-free strip adds to its quaint appeal.
Rue du Mont-Blanc: This wide boulevard on the other side of the Rhone river is a charming and peaceful area to shop. Think jewellers, watch boutiques, chocolatiers, exclusive cigar shops. You can also stock up on tasteful Swiss crafts for gifts or keepsakes, like cuckoo clocks and porcelain cows.
Museums & the Arts
Patek Phillippe Museum: Spread over four floors, this Art Deco-inspired museum in Planpalais is a treat for lovers of watches, jewellery and design. Linger over the rare Patek Phillippe watches displays, some of which date as far back as 1839. The collection of antique timepieces dating from the 16th to 18th century includes an astronomical watch dating from the 1660s.
Musée Barbier-Mueller: Head to the historic district of Geneva to admire a private collection of African and Oceanic artwork. The section on late 19th and early 20th-century artwork by European masters like Picasso is remarkable.
Musée Ariana: 27000 exquisite ceramic, glass, pottery, stoneware, earthenware, porcelain objects covering twelve centuries of craftsmanship from the Middle Ages to the current era. Switzerland, Europe and the East are represented in this unusual museum, housed in a grand palace with colonnades and vaulted ceilings.
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire: Geneva's largest museum is located in the city centre, a haven for connoisseurs of archaeological, applied art and fine arts. Go to pore over the creations ranging from the Middle Ages to the 20th-century. The collection of European masters like Rembrandt and Cézanne is unique.
The Musee d'Art Moderne et Contemporain (MAMCO): The largest museum devoted to contemporary art in Switzerland is housed in a stylish space revamped from a former factory. Apart from the permanent collection, temporary exhibitions are curated regularly to reflect the diversity of Swiss and global art.
Restaurants & Bars
Le Chat-Botté: A culinary institution in its own right, this sophisticated restaurant in Hotel Beau-Rivage, has been awarded one-Michelin-star for its reinvented French cuisine with distinct Mediterranean influences. Enjoy views of the Jet d'Eau and Mont Blanc while relishing an artful four-course set menu along with skilful wine pairings.
L'Aparté: Minimalist interiors with naturally coloured cotton, linen and wood welcome you into this intimate restaurant at the Hôtel Royal. The creative menu stands out with its top-quality ingredients, focusing on seasonal availability. Be prepared to be floored by the flavours of dishes like Stiffened langoustines and Dry bacon.
Bayview by Michel Roth: Book a table at this elegant lake-facing restaurant in the Hotel President Wilson for a gourmet French dining experience. Order classical yet contemporary fare like Potato Cappachio with Truffles or Warm Lobster Salad, based on seasonal products.
Le Flacon: This cosy restaurant in Carouge has a warm atmosphere with an open kitchen and stone walls. The 5 or 7 courses menu is decked with inventive dishes like Beef cheek gyoza, Line-caught sea bass, and Poularde de Bresse.
Le Cigalon: This diner is the first choice in Geneva for delectable fish, shellfish and crustacean specialities. Recommended favourites include the Wild Meagre from Brittany and Special Roumegous oysters from Charente Maritime. Accompany your meal with some of the finest Geneva wines and local vintages.
Be a master watchmaker for a day in an intriguing watch-making tour, where you will learn the secrets of a traditional Swiss craft. Disassemble and reassemble a timepiece at the workbench with your screwdriver and tweezers, pick the components of your choice, fit the dial, attach the hands, carry out the final inspection and craft a Swiss-made watch, to take home with you.
Fill your bags with the most luxurious and sought-after skin care products in the world. Made from the purest water from the glaciers of the Swiss Alps and packed with the natural goodness of Edelweiss, Alpine Rose, Sea Buckthorn and Calendula flowers, Swiss cosmetics come with a promise of being pesticide-free. Start with La Prairie and Valmont, and then keep going till you're all goggle-eyed.
Feel like a million Swiss Francs with a private helicopter transfer to Chamonix. Eagle-eye views of serpentine runs of Europe's most rugged skiing destination and the continent's highest mountain, Mont Blanc, sprawl beneath you in a steep valley where France, Italy and Switzerland meet. The diversity of the ski terrain, with glacial runs, pistes, woodlands and slopes, offers something for pros and novices alike. The ultimate challenger here is the 20-kilometre powder-white wild glacier in the Vallé Blanche.
The Black Cat in the Carouge district is a lively hub for live music, well-crafted cocktails and a good selection of tapas. Jazz, soul, French chanson, hip hop, DJ nights, jam sessions and comedy nights figure on the calendar most nights, so plan to stay on till the early hours of the morning.
Geneva is one of those cities that must be visited. In Winter, it’s a wonderland, sporting magnificent vistas and in Summer, you can swim in the Lake ! Surprisingly the city features only five Michelin-starred restaurants – all with just a single star. But the hotels are sensational.
The BusinessClass.com guide to the best hotels in Geneva:
Geneva Airport is 4.3 kilometres from the city. It is a hub for Swissair and as such, is a conduit to the rest of the world :
BusinessClass.com review of SWISS Business Class:
Geneva airport is located just 4 kilometres from the city. You can easily reach downtown by taxi, train, shuttle or bus. The city is spread over 16 square kilometres and lends itself to pleasurable walking. Taxis are readily available, but hiring a car is not recommended due to limited parking and traffic congestion.
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