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Geneva, serenity on the lake…

Geneva, serenity on the lake…

Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2009-09-08

In just a few years, the birthplace of Jean-Jacques Rousseau has become a top destination for holiday-makers, whatever the season. Geneva benefits from a natural setting which lends itself to all kinds of escapades and water sports, and the city is also lots of fun! ‘Of all the cities in the world (...) Geneva seems to me to be one of the the most likely to bring happiness.’ Jorge Luis Borges

Luxury, business and finance? Yes, and so much more... Those who discover Geneva for the first time are struck by its relaxed ambience, courteous spirit and good humour. With the biggest lake in the Alps (73 km/45 miles long, 14 km/8.5 miles wide and 310 m/1,017 ft deep), one tree per two inhabitants, and romantic countryside within easy reach, the city benefits from an exceptional environment and quality of life.
 
A laid-back country town
 
Compared with Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Rome, where prices have escalated in recent years, Geneva, which used to be considered very expensive, is now much more affordable than one might think. There are, notably, several quite reasonably-priced ‘Bib Hotels’ selected by the Michelin Guide.
 
As for the restaurants and gourmet bistros which proliferate along the lake and in the old city, many of them offer very good value for money. And for shopping, Geneva is not just a good place for watches, cigars, knives and chocolate; several ready-to-wear designers are really worth the trip.
 
Switzerland's largest city along with Zurich, Geneva still has despite its obvious modernity a country-town feel about it, which is what makes it so charming. The city is full of green spaces, and the municipality also allows Genevans to rent a few square metres of land on the edge of the city, which they can turn into a kitchen garden; however the waiting list is long and some have to wait for years!
 
Outside the city, there are plenty of attractive winegrowing villages scattered between Lake Geneva and the foothills of Savoy, which are great places for a stroll or a spot of wine tasting...
 
Ideal for cyclists
 
If you want to visit the surrounding area, first head for the harbour, which you can easily spot from afar thanks to its fountain. Every day, from 10 am to 11 pm in summer and 11.30 am to 4 pm in winter, it shoots up from the lake at a speed of 200 kph (124 mph), reaching a height of 140 m (459 ft). A real symbol of the city, this gigantic fountain is operated by pumps that draw water from the lake then discharge it at a rate of 500 litres per second. Watch out for spray when the wind blows!
 
At the Place du Rhône, you can borrow a bicycle for the day in exchange for a deposit. Then just follow the cycle path that runs along the south shore of the lake to the village of Anière, 10 km away. On the way back, make sure you take in the lush greens of the Parc des Eaux-Vives and Parc La Grange (Quai Gustave Ador), the city's oldest and most beautiful parks. Amid the ancient trees that dominate the lake, you will discover the Orangeraie summer theatre where Gérard Philippe and Rudolf Nureyev performed, and the Ella Fitzgerald stage.
 
Genevans also like to picnic on the lawns surrounding the rose garden in Parc La Grange. It was created in 1946 and is home to 12,000 rose bushes of 200 different varieties. Specialists can admire some famous creations such as the pink to white ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ (Béluze, 1843), cream white ‘Jardins de Bagatelle’ (A. Meilland, 1984), and velvet red ‘Ingrid Bergman’ (Poulsen, 1984)... One of the finest collections in Europe!
 
You can take other routes out of the city by bicycle and into the undulating countryside. To the southwest, the Chemin du Vignoble (path through the vineyards) between the villages of Sézenove and Confignon offers a panoramic view of the basin of Geneva. The winegrowing village of Lully, 11 km (7 miles) from the city, is one of the prettiest in the region; here you can taste wines produced by Jacques Dupraz (Domaine Les Curiades) and Jacques and Kathy Meinen (Domaine de la Roselle).
 
The most exciting circuit takes you to Le Salève cable car, 7 km (4 miles) southeast of the city. A cable car leaves every 12 minutes (no charge for bicycles), taking passengers up to the summit of the Plateau de Salève, at 1,375 metres altitude. Paragliding fans love this site, which has 3 different take-off points and allows them to launch themselves skywards at sunset. From here you can see Geneva's multitude of different districts: Carouge, created in the 18th century by city planners from Piedmont and today a town in its own right; the international district with its Palais des Nations and Musée de la Croix-Rouge (Red Cross Museum); and the old town with St Peter's cathedral and its picturesque medieval squares.
 
Cruise on the Rhône
 
A cruise boat departing from the Quai des Moulins en l'Île takes passengers down the Rhône as far as the Verbois dam (15 km west of Geneva) from 1 April to 30 September. This is a chance to explore the wild riverbanks, full of migratory birds, swans and foxes.
 
If you like walking, we recommend heading back to Geneva by foot (approx. 3 hours), following the signposted path along the bank. Beautiful meadows, bucolic villages, romantic residences and châteaux surrounded by vineyards...
 
On your way into the city you will see some of the Genevans' famous kitchen gardens before passing through the attractive Bois de la Bâtie. Since 1874, this wooded area at the meeting point of the Rhône and Arve rivers has contained a large pool, an island, and a sort of rustic zoo where goats, ibex, marmots, peacocks, turkeys and many other species of the region's wildlife live together.
 
The park has been extended on several occasions and now covers more than 20 hectares.
 
A sparkling alternative city
 
It was in Geneva in the late 18th century that the famous quinine-flavoured sparkling drink was invented by pharmacist Schweppes, Rue de la Croix-d'Or! In the unusual Grottes district, behind Cornavin station, you will find some of the vivaciousness that the Genevans are wrongly thought to lack. This quarter, with its distinct village spirit, has become an ‘institution’ of alternative culture with, for example, the ‘Maison Verte’ (Green House) where singers, poets and musicians mingle.
 
Les Schtroumpfs (’Smurfs’) buildings in Rue Louis-Favre look like they have stepped out of a comic strip, with their asymmetrical volumes, odd shapes and spiral staircases.
 
In the Montbrillant district, a group of buildings called ‘Ilot 13’ house artists’ ateliers, theatres and an organic market and restaurant (Lo'13'TO) renowned for its oriental products, such as dried lemons from Iran and red berries from Afghanistan.
 
Wild evenings
 
If you fancy a drink in the evening, the famous Place du Molard (near the Île Rousseau and Pont du Mont-Blanc) is where you will find the city's most fashionable terraces. The local jet set come to flaunt themselves here. The pretty Place du Bourg-de-Four in old Geneva, with its bistros, flower-covered fountain and small public garden lined by nettle trees, is less snobbish and more friendly.
 
If you have had enough of interminable disco nights, L'Usine is as its name suggests a former factory that has been converted into an alternative cultural centre: next to a bar (the Moloko) and a self-managed concert hall is a multiplex area, Le Zoo, demarcated by large black curtains, where underground rock music fans can dance to abrasive rhythms. Or try the Palais Mascotte - it is already a Genevan institution!
 
 
PRACTICAL INFORMATION
 
Switzerland Tourism
 
Geneva Tourism
  

In just a few years, the birthplace of Jean-Jacques Rousseau has become a top destination for holiday-makers, whatever the season. Geneva benefits from a natural setting which lends itself to all kinds of escapades and water sports, and the city is also lots of fun! ‘Of all the cities in the world (...) Geneva seems to me to be one of the the most likely to bring happiness.’ Jorge Luis Borges

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