10 Gems of Geneva
Shannon Skinner visits Geneva, Switzerland, a small city with a big heart.
Geneva is small city with a big heart. With a population of nearly 200,000, it is the world’s capital of peace. While many visitors come to Switzerland’s second largest city for business, there is plenty to offer travellers seeking a getaway vacation. This year, Geneva was voted Europe’s leading city break destination.
More than 20 years ago, I visited Geneva as a backpacker. So when I recently returned, I saw it through grown-up eyes. Geneva is small enough to walk around and see the sights, yet packed with shops, museums, galleries and other attractions. The transit is efficient and clean, it is easy to get from the airport to the city centre by rail (it’s free!), and it’s a jumping-off point for adventures in the mountains. In fact, there are many reasons to visit.
Here are some of my favourite Geneva Gems:
When you think of Swiss cuisine, cheese fondue and raclette probably comes to mind. However, because of its international community, Geneva is renowned for its international cuisine, and talented chefs. You can find culinary fare from traditional French to Italian to Indian. For a gastronomic adventure, some acclaimed restaurants with notable chefs to try include: Le Flacon (1-star Michelin), cuisine with modern flare and chic décor (located in Carouge district); Rasoi by Vineet ( 1-star Michelin), modern Indian cuisine at its finest (Mandarin Oriental, Geneva, centrally located); and La Cigogne, refined cuisine “dictated by the market, inspired by the seasons”, and staff who know everything about Swiss cheese and the 350 wines they list (La Cigogne hotel, centrally located in the Old Town).
A small industry, it is said Swiss love their wine so much they keep it to themselves, which is why they don’t export it. The wines from Lake Geneva Region, in particular, are excellent. While I generally like red wines, I prefer the whites from this region.
(You have to go to Switzerland for the wine! Christmas Market in Carouge district)
3. Bains des Pâquis
A unique city beach located on Lake Geneva, this is a favourite spot for locals from all walks of life, from bankers to students, to unwind. Open all year round, you can have a massage, sauna or hammam – and enjoy the view of the lake. During the winter months, enjoy a fondue at the restaurant. During the summer months, swim or sunbathe at the beach. Regardless of your budget, there is something for everyone.
4. Palais des Nations
The Palais des Nations, formerly the headquarters of the League of Nations, is a magnificent property that houses the United Nations European office, and is situated on a sprawling park with a magnificent view overlooking Lake Geneva and, in the distance, the Alps. Much peace-making and humanitarian history has been made here. Take a guided tour.
(Palais des Nations, flags of all the UN countries)
5. Chocolate Workshops
There is nothing like Swiss chocolate! After all, the Swiss invented milk and white chocolate. Try a chocolate-making workshop. I had the opportunity at Stettler Chocolates, a boutique laboratory, where I made a “chocolate pot” in special honour of Escalade, Geneva’s annual celebration.
(Chocolate making workshop at Stettler. I made the smaller chocolate pot)
6. International Red Cross & Red Crescent Museum
Breaking away from traditional museums, this one offers a unique interactive experience focused on humanitarian history and efforts. Geneva is the birthplace of the Red Cross movement, so this is an important museum for the city and for people to see. It is conveniently located across from the UN.
Geneva has had many firsts and the birth of the World Wide Web at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) is one of them. Located partly in Switzerland and France, CERN is also where the “God particle” was recently discovered. CERN gives special tours for the public, but they are in high-demand so you have to book months in advance. Or, just check out its Globe of Science and Innovation landmark.
(Me, surfacing after being 100m below ground at CERN)
(CERN collider, 100m below ground)
(En route to CERN in France from Switzerland.)
(Christmas market in Carouge district of Geneva)
(Strolling entertainers in Carouge during Christmas Market)
(Christmas market in Carouge at night)
An annual celebration of Geneva’s victory over the Savoyard soldiers on the night of December 11, 1602. There is a torch-bearing procession of locals dressed in period costumes through the streets of the old town. Many restaurants have special menus for the occasion and families get-together to celebrate over food and the famous “chocolate pots.”
(Escalade celebrations in the streets of Old Town Geneva.)
The locals, who are mostly French-speaking, were pleasant and helpful, even as I fumbled with my French. I felt welcomed. And, well, the best travel experiences are often about the people.
I took a piece of Geneva home in my heart.