Highlights of Geneva, Switzerland
By Deborah Grossman
Once you land at Geneva Airport, it’s easy to start enjoying the city. How many cities possess an airport within city limits and a free train to downtown that takes exactly seven minutes?
After a sunny walk from the Gare Cornavin, Geneva’s Central Railway Station, we registered at the beautiful Beau-Rivage hotel and were enchanted with stunning views of Lake Geneva.
We soon walked across the street and took a short mouette boat ride across the lake to the Vieux Ville or Old Town. “Mouette” means sparrow in French, and the small boats literally zipped across the water affording a lovely view of the Jet d’Eau, one of the tallest water fountains in the world at 460-feet high. Built with the practical function of releasing steam pressure to power Geneva’s watchmaking factories, the fountain has evolved into a symbol of the city.
Geneva is a modern commercial city with a storied history and many activities for travelers of all ages and abilities. With an abundance of lake and mountain outdoors activities, Geneva captured our hearts for scenery and hospitality.
The city’s geography makes for a great stopping off point during a European tour. Day trips for skiing or hiking to Chamonix-Mont Blanc are easily arranged. Towns such as Lausanne and Montreux along Lake Geneva are a quick train or boat ride away.
As Lars Wagner, General Manager of the Beau-Rivage explains, Geneva is a rare place where you breakfast in Geneva, have lunch in France, and then travel the Alps tunnel for dinner in Piedmont, Italy.
Old Town Geneva
We became fans of Old Town after our quick mouette run. The large, iconic clock covered in flowers has kept time since 1956 and harkens to the city’s watchmaking heritage. A signature Victorinox knife store is located nearby. Here you can manually make your own pen knife at an original 1960s machine. Or, create a customized knife—pick the skin (covering), style, color, and engraving for your favorite handyperson or hunter. Artisan boutiques and major brands abound on the Rue du Rhone in Old Town.
Stately St. Peter’s Cathedral holds what are believed relics from St. Peter himself. With an unusual polychrome steeple with stone from Burgundy, the cathedral spots a neoclassical portal and elements from the 12th century.
Geneva’s museums are exceptional and are included in the reasonably priced Geneva Pass—which covers transportation.
Hopping on a city bus, I visited the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum with three sections of stunning and diverse design. The three areas represent the Red Cross core values: Defending human dignity, restoring family links, and reducing natural risks. The Red Cross was founded in Geneva and hosted the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, commonly called the Geneva Convention. I found the altruism and dedication of the founders and current organization to be inspiring.
Other museums on my list for the next visit are the Ethnography Museum Geneva (MEG) which delineates the heritage of the area. The Patek Phillipe Museum highlights the watchmaking traditions of the company and general history and artifacts related to horology, plus musical automata and enamel miniatures. Another worthwhile stop is the Palais des Nations—the European headquarters of the United Nations which is larger than the one in New York City.
The sites and neighborhoods offer diverse pictures of the international city. The Carouge section is the “Greenwich Village” of Geneva, with many bistros such as Le Flacon, shops, and an excellent Farmers Market. The Quartier des Bains is home to many art galleries and exhibits, especially for modern art. The event “Vernissages Communs”, held three times a year, brings art from around the world. But at times during our summertime stay, we walked to the beach and simply relaxed at the café to enjoy the view.
On Quai du Mont-Blanc there are fun stopping off points. The Cottage Café, located in the park next to the hotel, offers a varied menu and convivial ambiance with outdoor seating in the warmer months. In the summer, the Bains des Pâquis offers swimming and winter saunas for only two euros for an inexpensive, funky experience at the lake. Summer cafés also pop up on the beach where you almost forget you’re in Switzerland.
Geneva’s history and culture: A few high points
The Romans were attracted to the Lake Geneva area. There are many mosaic elements exposed in buildings from the Roman era. There is evidence that the Romans planted vines in or near wineries around Geneva and eastern areas of the lake—yes, there are wineries to visit here.
Geneva has a strong religious history. Here’s one vignette: Calvin came to Geneva and opened a university, now housing a high school. But given his policy that the saints should not be worshiped, the locals kicked him out of the city. After the Reformation, Geneva was an area which emphasized armed neutrality, a tradition which exists today.
Due to the political influence in past centuries by the French House of Savoy, the canton (region) of Geneva is the hub of French-speaking Switzerland.
The culture of the Genevans includes hard work, good education, and an appreciation of art. The city offers free museum entry every Sunday.
Where we stayed
The Beau-Rivage opened in 1865 when Jean-Jacques Mayer, whose family came from generations of hospitality experience in Germany moved to Geneva. The hotel remains in family hands with five generations at the Beau-Rivage. The fourth-generation president of the hotel, Jacques Mayer is especially proud of the gastronomy program at the hotel. Chef Dominique Gauthier who has been honored an Michelin star for the hotel’s boutique restaurant, Le Chat-Botté. La Terrace, open in the warmer months, offers a beautiful view of the lake. There is also an excellent Thai restaurant, Patara, located within the hotel.
In 2017 the hotel opened the renovated upper floors into 17 Celestial Suites. Many of the rooms and suites offer elegant, palatial appointments. However, one suite manifests a modern Asian sensibility with warmth and style.
Staying at the Beau Rivage enables you to experience art where you stay with an excellent collection of paintings and artifacts.
History trivia: Eleanor Roosevelt wrote an early draft of the U. N.’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights, known as Geneva Convention, during her months-long stay at the Beau-Rivage.
A must-see destination
We found Geneva to be a small safe city. From its neighborhoods and its location cradled by the lake and mountains, to its status as an international hub, Geneva is a must-see European destination.
- Consider the Geneva Pass which offers admittance to museum and free transport.
- Visit a winery just outside the city. Call ahead for appointments at Domaine des Alouettes and Stéphane Gros.
The author appreciates the support provided by Geneva Tourism and the Beau-Rivage Hotel.
About Deborah Grossman:
Deborah Grossman is a San Francisco Bay Area food, drink and travel journalist. Her specialty is writing gastronomic travel articles focus on experiences at global dining table. She writes for publications such as Santé, Drink Me magazine, Las Vegas Magazine and Napa Valley Life. You can follow her on her blog and Instagram.