With its tranquil lakeside setting at the foot of Mont-Blanc – the largest mountain in Europe – Geneva certainly makes a lasting first impression.
Having arrived at Geneva airport it took just half an hour to pass through passport control and catch a free train to the city centre. Taking just 7 minutes to reach the town centre from the airport with a train leaving every 12 minutes, this has to be one of the easiest cities to navigate around!
This ease of travel continued throughout our trip with every hotel and hostel offering guests a free public travel card that allows visitors to hop on and off any tram, train, bus and of course, taxi boat at leisure. Navigating around a foreign city can be a rather daunting task, especially when the language is an obstacle but thanks to Geneva’s free public transport system, and their excellent English, I found it surprisingly easy!
Where to stay
Geneva is divided into two halves, the old and new – both taking a side of the river. Whilst the old town and its cobbled streets host scenes of architecture and the surrounding Alps, the new town is home to an array of luxurious hotels – all close to the main shopping street and station – and many with breathtaking views of the lake. We stayed at the marvellous Le Richemond; this 5-star hotel is part of the Dorchester Collection and provided the perfect central base for a weekend in the city.
Staying in one of the lake view suites, my room was fabulous. With private balconies looking out over Lac Léman, the views stretched for miles across the crystal clear water and the Jet d’Eau. There really couldn’t be a nicer spot to sit out each morning with a fresh coffee. The room itself was fitted with a luxurious king-sized bed, refreshments and chocolates on arrival, fluffy white ropes and two beautiful bathrooms stocked with wonderful L’Occitane en Provence toiletries and a glorious bathtub. With a concierge service and exceptionally warm and welcoming staff, our stay and the Le Richemond was perfect.
Le Jardin Restaurant is situated on the ground floor where Head Chef Philippe Bourrel offers a menu of stylish French cuisine – a wonderful location for our first evening. Treated to a set menu, we were served a delicious menu of fresh dishes, each beautifully presented and our meal consisted of classic French tastes including a fantastic duck main and a scrumptious creamy raspberry dessert.
Alongside its well-equipped fitness studio with top of the range equipment and cold flannels and drinks in the fridge, Le Richemond is also home to Le Spa By Sisley. Set on the lower ground floor this aroma cave spa with a hydrotherapy room, relaxation area and sauna also offers a range of truly pampering treatments. The staff were exceptional and my 30-minute massage was wonderful. The use of hot flannels and the option to tailor the massage to me – including choosing my own music – was just another indication of Geneva’s never ending luxury.
What to eat
Switzerland is renowned for its precision with chocolate, cheese and wine so unsurprisingly Geneva is home to 59 gourmet restaurants and 30 master chocolatiers. Lunch a Café Papon certainly reflects upon this sense of quality. Set is an intimate cave style interior overlooking the Bastions Park, this is an ideal lunch spot for those on the Reformation tour. With menus changing every two weeks, Papon serves seasonally fresh food and takes great care presenting each plate. Here I was treated to an exceptional freshly caught salmon dish, followed by a trio of desserts – having to choose just one was too big a task – and accompanied by a glass of Geneva wine. Each plate that arrived at our table was outstanding and I would certainly be back to visit again.
For those in search of fine dining but in a more intimate and family friendly setting then Café Restaurant du Quai is the place. Either a 20-minute taxi ride from the city centre or a short boat ride across the lake – I would recommend the later, weather permitting – the Café Restaurant du Quai is right on the lake front. The three-story restaurant has a lovely relaxed ambience and the service staff were incredibly helpful and welcoming. Offered a set menu with an excellent Beef Carpaccio and fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and pesto to start, the dinner proceeded to get better and better with each course. The special of the day – Perch served with a salad and chips caught that morning – was heavenly and to follow, a lemon tart with a crispy base and almond ice cream. It was divine!
Stepping away from a traditional lunch setting, dining on a lunch cruise with CGN, is certainly the way experience Lac Léman for all its glory. Setting sail from the harbour the lunch cruise takes you on a leisurely tour of the lake right past the fountain whilst serving a delicious menu. Our three-course meal was incredible with lobster tail to start followed by a beautifully cooked sea bass fillet, crisp Geneva wine and a raspberry dessert, all finished by a round of coffees. Whilst the food was superb, the setting and lake views that accompanied it made for a truly memorable lunch.
Things to do
Geneva is packed with culture with its 40 museums on art, technology and history – many of which are covered under Geneva’s tour pass – spread across the city. A particular highlight is the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire. The building is magnificent with huge marble staircases and being the largest museum in Geneva, it holds a collection of painting from the Renaissance, archaeological artefacts from ancient Egypt, Geese and Rome and a selection of armour and weapons from the middle ages.
The main shopping street referred to as ‘the shopping street’, could not be more set apart from Oxford Street. The wide pavements and lack of rushing commuters allow for a relaxed meander through Geneva’s hundreds of luxury shops but it’s not all clothes. Sent amongst the more popular names are many specialist tea shops and not to be missed, of course, the chocolatiers.
Chocolaterie Rohr is a family run Chocolaterie now in its third generation. The chocolate served is of exceptional quality using raw materials from Switzerland. Selling a vast array of chocolates and truffles, the staff are willing to offer up samples to try but the real star of the show is their notorious Petits Calvin. Made to represent the leader of the Reformation in Geneva, John Calvin, the miniature praline versions certainly holds true to everything he stood for and reflects upon the craft, skill and creatively of Geneva’s people.
Just a short tram ride from the main shopping street in Geneva will have you stepping out into the town of Carouge. Although technically still part of the city, the small town of Carouge offers visitors something very different. This is a place where everyone knows each other and the community spirit is felt along every beautiful side street.
The Evangelical Baptist Church is well worth a visit, this beautiful church stands out from Geneva’s usual uniformity, the walls are bright and bold, painted with the nativity scene and the room is filled with marvellous wood carvings.
The Sunday food market in Carouge is not to be missed, the small market is popular amongst locals stocking up on fresh produce for the week ahead and the traders sell everything from delicious meats and cheeses to Geneva wines and sweet treats. With so much bustle, there is something so relaxing about sitting down with a coffee in one of the boarding cafés and watch the market goers past by.
Geneva is a city of many things, history, innovation and craft but after just spending the weekend exploring the shores of the lake, a trip to Geneva will leave you feeling rejuvenated and inspired – also full of chocolate.
Tel: +41 (0) 22 909 70 00
Le Richemond: Dorchester Hotels
Tel: +41 (0) 22 715 7000