Small is beautiful, or so they say. And Geneva demonstrates this statement perfectly as a tiny yet enchanting city with an international outlook and a delightful lifestyle that revolves around its proximity to some of Europe’s most stunning scenery. And although it’s well known as the European headquarters of the United Nations, as well as for banking, watches and chocolate, its true charm lies in the multicultural nature of the residents, the majestic beauty of the lake, the diversity of the culinary offering, the modern art galleries, and all the exclusive shops and restaurants that create this distinctly relaxed and chic Swiss city.
The shopping is convenient in Geneva: the majority of the stores are located along two streets that run parallel to each other – the elegant rue du Rhône and the rue du Marché. You’ll find everything from fashion houses Chanel, Hermès, Dior and Louis Vuitton to watches and jewellery at Audemars Piguet, Cartier and Vacheron Constantin, where you need to book your appointment at least two weeks in advance. For more typical Genevan establishments, a visit to Bongénie – an elegant jet-set department store, family-owned since 1891 – is a must, as well as Globus, which is famous for its food court.
A quick tram ride from the centre of the city carries the eager shopper to Carouge, a smaller yet independent city that lies adjacent to Geneva. The streets of Carouge – gems of perfectly preserved 18th-century architecture – are teeming with appealing boutiques, offering fashion (Kenko Hoshi, Patricia D), household design (La Maison, L’Appart de Pat), and tempting bakeries and pâtisseries (Wolfisberg and Martel).
Geneva without its Jet d’Eau? Unimaginable! While it can be admired from most parts of the city, the best way to experience this unique fountain – and to savour the exceptional view of the lake – is to walk along the jetty, next to where it spurts out water 140 metres high.
For active types, and for those who are not afraid of heights, the only way to go is up – to the top of the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre in the heart of the Vieille Ville, or Old Town. The reward for climbing more than 150 steps to the top of the tower is an amazing 360-degree view and a close-up of the impressive cathedral bells. But Geneva in its entirety is best seen from neighbouring France. A bus ride through the countryside to Veyrier, followed by a cable-car trip up the Mont-Salève, leads to an impressive panoramic vision of the whole of the canton. The walk back down is worthwhile if the weather is fine, but good shoes are essential.
Heart of art
Contemporary art is booming here, particularly in the Quartier des Bains, which surrounds the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum, or Mamco. Stroll around this area to discover artists of international repute, or those on the brink of fame. Among the don’t-miss galleries are Charlotte Moser, Mitterrand + Cramer and Red Zone. A 20-minute walk away is the Barbier-Mueller Museum, which is dedicated to African, Asian and Oceanic art. And luxury watch fans can indulge their passion at the Patek Philippe Museum.
The Great Outdoors
The romance between the residents of Geneva and their lake is a never-ending one. Whatever the weather, whatever the season, a walk along the lakeside is one of the classic leisure activities in the city. Walkers (dogless or not), joggers, rollerbladers and amateur photographers alike are all to be found as you stroll down from the Jardin Anglais to the Parc La Grange, where a magnificent rose garden displays around 12,000 plants of more than 200 different varieties. There is always something going on – boats lie along the lakeside all year round while the ice-cream stands come out for the summer. On the opposite side, the lakeside promenade leads to the Botanical Gardens, with a compulsory stop for a drink at the popular Bains des Pâquis, a perfect example of Thirties rationalist architecture and the city’s former public baths. For nature lovers, 10 minutes on foot from the centre of town is enough to provide a complete change of scenery, with a hike along the cliffs of St-Jean affording exceptional views of the Rhône.
Offering everything from multi-starred dining experiences to bustling little exotic bistros, Geneva is a gastronomic heaven. Holding one Michelin star, Rasoi by Vineet at Mandarin Oriental, Geneva is the best Indian restaurant in town – its subtle and contemporary cuisine is a journey in itself to a country full of tastes and textures. The hotel’s Café Calla, meanwhile, offers a healthy modern Swiss/French menu inspired by local produce, which can be enjoyed al fresco by the banks of the Rhône on the Parisian-style terrace. Geneva is full of great pizzerias and some of them have become institutions, such as family-friendly Da Paolo and Luigia, which offers interesting and often quirky pizzas. Naturally, cheese fondue is part of the staple diet and can be tasted at its best at La Coulouvrenière, the Vieux Carouge, or Les Antiquaires.
On the town
Although Geneva’s nightlife can’t compare to that of Paris or New York, there are plenty of bars to choose from in the Vieille Ville, and the relaxed and friendly 22 Grand-Rue prevails at its centre. The more sophisticated Quirinale, which has a DJ during part of the evening, or the very glam Arthur’s Rive Gauche are the preferred haunts of the banking crowd.
Once cocktail hour is over, continue the night at the Java Club, Geneva’s most exclusive dance venue, where you’ll find an urban and sophisticated clientele dancing the night away. And when dawn threatens, the typical Genevese reaction is to ward off any potential hangovers with fresh croissants from one of the early-opening boulangeries. An extremely civilised tradition, for an extremely civilised city.