Michael Edwards offers his insider guide to Geneva and challenges a few preconceptions
In many ways, Geneva is the world’s conscience and the world’s think-tank. Hosting over 10,000 conferences a year, Geneva is the clean, ethical and safe city where the world goes to talk, think, shop … and eat chocolate. So walk with me through my insider guide to Geneva.
As well as those short-term visitors, Geneva, building on Switzerland’s peaceful record for neutrality and stability, is home to over 150 international organisations.
That is thousands of articulate, intelligent temporary residents looking for a thriving arts scene, culinary excellence, music from maestros, opera, thoughtful theatre and … world-class chocolate. All this makes Geneva more than a destination for just a long weekend.
Hours and days just slip away by the time visitors have taken a yellow water taxi across the lake, perhaps to see the historic manuscripts at the Bodmer Foundation in Cologny. Perhaps enjoying a dinner cruise on the lake, passing by the 140 metres high Jet d’eau, a fountain which propels seven tonnes of water airborne at any one time. Maybe taking a trip along to CERN’s Universe of Particles.
Geneva, a compact city of just 200,000 inhabitants, is a place where many people are from somewhere else – 48% of them to be precise. No surprise then that English, after French, is the second most spoken language. Geneva stylishly wraps itself around its lake. Take a weekend stroll along those shores and you’ll be surprised at how many of the world’s languages you will hear.
Another benefit of Geneva’s cosmopolitan nature is that visitors can eat more than just fondue: high-profile, high-earning immigrants have created demand for an impressive array of ethnic eateries. With 100,000 French people crossing the border every day to work in Geneva there’s no shortage of good quality French cuisine.
Headlining the international presence is the United Nations. Although security is intense and queueing takes time, the UN’s European HQ is well worth a visit to watch the debates, appreciate its immense global influence, savour the politically nuanced art exhibitions and browse an astounding book-shop.
Since its formation in 1864, the International Red Cross has been based in Geneva and the city hosts a museum dedicated to the organisation’s history. In fact, the city even gave its name to the Geneva Convention attempting to look after humanitarian rights in war.
Switzerland’s desire for neutrality has helped preserve Geneva’s heritage. Not a shot in warfare has been fired on Swiss territory since the 16th century. At the heart of Geneva’s remarkably preserved Old Town peacefully sits the timbered 17th l’Hôtel Les Armures. Both George Clooney and the Clintons have made this elegant 5* boutique hotel their base at the heart of Geneva.
Although shots may not have been fired for half a millennium, Geneva’s history has been turbulent. Call in at The International Museum of the Reformation to understand Geneva’s role – and particularly that of John Calvin – in the tumultuous events of the early 16th century. With Geneva attracting some 13,000 religious refugees at the time, the compact city built upwards, putting an extra storey onto its houses to accommodate the influx.
When Genevans needed a break from puritanical clean-living they crossed the River Arve to let their hair down in the Italian-style village of Carouge. Today Carouge is no longer a riotous destination for wine, women and song but home to a remarkable collection of artisans: chocolatier, dress-maker, horologist, soap-makers, tea merchant and many more.
It’s worth timing a visit to Geneva to coincide with La Nuit de Bains. Three times a year in the Quartier des Bains, over a dozen contemporary art galleries simultaneously launch new exhibitions, often with the opportunity to meet the artists. On those evenings, MAMCO, (La Musée d’art Moderne et Contemporain), joins the party and grants free admission – just a taster for Geneva’s love of art.
Genevans feel privileged to host the world. The people feel a responsibility to be ethical, honest, punctual and welcoming – even if at times their sentences linger as responsibly, they ponder to find exactly the precise word for their thoughts. That’s my insider guide to Geneva for you.
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Virtual Geneva – For cultural experiences of the leading city break destination right from your sofa, Geneva’s cultural institutions have come together to create the mini-series #CultureChezVous in order to bring culture to the people of Geneva (and internationals) in these times of confinement. Each mini-series is made up of short videos lasting 59 seconds.
A representative from each institution presents an object, a work, an artist, technique or subject etc in connection with the institution.
The videos are transmitted three times per week- Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 11 am. The first video was released on Monday 23 March by Red Cross Museum, and most recently, key representatives from Foundation Martin Bodmer, Musée Ariana and Art Geneve. Also Conservatory and Botanical Garden has given a virtual tour around the secret basement! To view the videos, please click the hyperlinked text.