Andy Mossack reveals his love affair with Geneva and offers up 6 reasons to visit Geneva for a memorable weekend break.
If you’ve ever travelled to Geneva, I would suggest you are either a diplomat, a businessperson or a holidaymaker making your way to somewhere else in Switzerland or France. But like many so-called ‘gateway cities’, opportunities lying right on the doorstep are often overlooked. And for me, Geneva is a perfect example.
This is, hands down, a gorgeous and very walkable city. Timeless even. But then again, time is the centrepiece here. After all, it’s where the wristwatch was invented and the home of the World’s greatest timepieces. Just one glance at L’Horloge fleurie, the beautiful flower clock made up of 18,000 floral parts moving with Swiss precision is evidence of that. But there’s more. This was where the Reformation Movement gained momentum, the World Wide Web was created here, and master chocolatiers create masterful chocolate. History seeps from every ancient brick.
And, of course, Lake Geneva, framed by the Alps and Mont Blanc is a stunning water feature to have in your backyard. Speaking of water, Geneva is dotted with free drinking water fountains, and there’s even one that dispenses carbonated water. Very apt considering Johann Schweppes, who created carbonated water, was Genevan. But the icon of the city, perhaps Geneva’s version of the Statue of Liberty, is Le Jet d’eau shooting out the 140-metre-high fountain from its lake perch. Not bad for something intended to be a simple safety valve.
I am hopelessly in love with Geneva, and hopefully will you be after I reveal my 6 reasons to visit Geneva.
1. Geneva Passes
Number 1 in my 6 reasons to visit Geneva list is to buy a Geneva City Pass. One of the best ways to see Geneva, the pass can be valid for 24,48, or 72 hours and includes 60 free or discounted attractions, and all public transport in the Geneva network – buses, trams, trains, and shuttle boats. Some of the best free attractions are the Geneva Harbour Tour Cruise (normally CHF 18), International District Open Bus Tour, the city mini-train tour, museums including CERN (home to the Hadron Collider), International Red Cross, Reformation Museum, Cathedral Tower and Basement, MAMCO (Museum of Modern and Contemporary art) Mont Salève Cable Car. And Stand-Up Paddle Boarding.
If you love chocolate, another pass to consider is the ChocoPass. 8 of Geneva’s 32 master chocolatiers have signed up to offer tasting plates. It is only valid for 24 hours though so gorge on Swiss chocolate from some of the finest chocolate makers in the world.
2. Old Town
Geneva’s chocolate-box Old Town is Switzerland’s largest historic city, full of medieval cobbled streets, hidden passageways, underground paths, and beautiful ancient architecture. Perched at the top of a hill on the Rhone’s left bank, the steep walk up is rewarded by the magnificent 12th-century St. Peter’s Cathedral, a key symbol of the Protestant Reformation. One of its foremost protagonists John Calvin is depicted in a painting inside and his well-worn wooden chair resides beside it. Climb the 157 steps of the tower for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Pop into the newly renovated International Museum of the Reformation in the former St. Peter’s Cloister just opposite.
Just a few steps away lies Place Bourg-de-Four, a glorious square lined with narrow houses, and the beating heart of the Old Town. Stop for a drink at one of the cafes and just people-watch.
The World’s longest bench the marronnier de la Trielle is close by. Built in 1767, it is 120 metres long (almost 400 feet) comprising 180 planks of wood. It overlooks Bastion Park one of Geneva’s 52 parks, and you can join with the locals playing giant chess and drafts. In the afternoons, a free mobile kids play area can often be found here with all kinds of gadgets and gizmos for kids to play with.
3. International District
On the Rhone’s right bank, the Quartier des Nations contains over 200 international organisations including the United Nations, International Red Cross and the World Health Organisation. Check out the giant chair in front of the Palais des Nations with one leg shattered, a moving tribute to victims of anti-personnel mines.
The International Museum of the Red Cross and Red is a must-see. It charts its humanitarian and conflict work throughout history since it was founded here in Geneva by Henri Durant in 1863.
Take a stroll past the right side of the Palais des Nations and you’ll arrive at another glorious Genevan park – the 200-year-old Botanical Gardens at Chemin de l’Impératrice. Twenty-eight hectares containing 12,000 species of plants and flowers. From here you can walk further down to reach the lake and simply stroll along the promenade, past grand lakeside houses, small marinas, and places to fish and swim.
Keep going and eventually, you’ll arrive back at the centre passing by historic lakefront grand hotels including the Beau-Rivage and Hotel d’Angleterre. You can walk across the bridge back to the Old Town or why not jump on a frequent water taxi instead?
Considered to be Geneva’s version of Greenwich Village crossed with Little Italy, this district has a fascinating past. Once a small hamlet of ill repute, accessed via a bridge over the River Arve, the land ended up being purchased in the 1400s by the King of Sardina, a descendant of the Dukes of Savoy and became a fancy ‘royal city’. Cue striking Italian architecture and hidden gardens.
Today, this 3K square district is now part of Geneva, but it has a distinctly bohemian vibe, the colourful Italian houses now home to fashion designers, artists, galleries, and restaurants. It has a Mediterranean commune feel while at the same a welcoming touch of the alternative. There’s a farmers market every Wednesday and Saturday, and you can spend some time exploring the hidden gardens behind the houses.
5. The Vineyards
Just 20 minutes outside downtown Geneva you’ll find wide open countryside and vineyards. Geneva’s vineyards are the third biggest wine producers in Switzerland after the Valais and Vaud and many of the producers offer wine tasting sessions. One example is Domaine Les Perrières in Satigny, – a beautiful family estate since 1794 and now run by the 8th generation of the Rochaix family. There is certainly something special about tasting wines surrounded by the vines they came from.
6 The Beaches
Yes, it’s true, there are beaches with real sand in Geneva. Along Lake Geneva’s waterfront promenade, you’ll find public beaches and jetties where you can join the locals to hang out and swim. Some of them even have barbecues set up and ready to use – just bring your charcoal and food.
Geneva will surprise you, entertain you, and best of all, welcome you with open arms. So next time you arrive at Geneva Airport, don’t just drive away, stay awhile longer and be seduced by my 6 reasons to visit Geneva.
All images (C) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about these 6 reasons to visit Geneva
For more information on Andy’s 6 reasons to visit Geneva and many other activities on offer, please go to Visit Geneva
The Geneva City Pass is available as 24 hours for CHF 30, 48 hours for CHF 40, or 72 hours for CHF 50.
The ChocoPass is valid for 24 hours and offers a tasting plate of chocolates from 8 master chocolatiers for CHF 30 for adults and CHF 6 for children up to 12. If you have a Geneva City Pass you get 20% discount.
Recommended restaurants in Geneva
Cottage Café an Excellent lunch venue in a small park on the right bank of the lake.
Restaurant Les Amures great restaurant offering traditional fare including delicious fondues in the heart of the Old Town.
La Potiniere is another lovely lakeside park restaurant, this time on the left bank.
Café des Negociants A well-known dinner haunt for meat lovers in Carouge.
Café de Peney if you’re out Satigny visiting vineyards, this is a delightful lunch venue.
Restaurant de la Plage des Eaux Vives is right on the water next to the beach, an inexpensive informal place with outstanding views of the lake.
Kiosque des Bastiones Lovely shaded spot for lunch inside Bastion Park.
Recommended Hotel in Geneva
Hotel Les Amures beautiful boutique hotel right in the heart of the Old Town in a former 17th-century residence.
Domaine Les Perrières a family-owned Domaine since 1794 offers wine tasting sessions for CHF 20 per person.
Valet parking at Heathrow Airport.
Airport Parking and Hotels offers a wide range of parking and overnight hotel stays at all major UK airports. One week of Meet & Greet airport parking at London Heathrow Airport costs from £130. For the latest prices and to book, call 01342 859442 or visit APH