Geneva was our last stop on our road trip through the Alps, we had picked up our comfortable BMW from Sixt in Vienna 10 days ago and have been driving through Austria and Switzerland clocking almost 1500 kilometers so far. We left Zermatt after one last look at the looming Matterhorn before taking the train to Tasch where our car was parked. After a quick stop in Montreux, we drove through Vevey and Lausanne admiring the lake, wineries and small lakeside towns making a mental note to come back and spend more time in the Swiss Riviera next time. For now we were anxious to get to our hotel at Le Richemond in Geneva.
Luxury would be a understatement for Hotel Le Richmond. On arrival, the doorman took our bags, while the valet parked our car. The sunflowers and the Gin display that announced “I can resist everything but Temptations” in the lobby got me distracted from what the sweet girl at the check in counter was saying. Le Richemond is part of Dorchester Collection of Hotels, each one unique with its own history and charm but with the same excellent service that we love. From our room on the second floor, we could see the lake and the Jet d’Eau fountain, the symbol of Geneva at the end of the Eaux Vivres pier and the Brunswick monument across the street. We had a box of chocolate from Favarger, one of the oldest chocolatier in Geneva on the table for us along with some tempting information about Le Spa by Sisley, an acclaimed French skincare expert and their special treatments, and of course the hammam and sauna on property. The kids ran off to survey their connecting room and came back to report there was l’occitane bath products in the marble bathroom with a nice rain shower. What can I say the girl likes her Provence products!
Geneva lies on the most southernmost tip of Lac Léman, the largest lake in Europe. The crescent-shaped lake also called Lake Geneva divides France and Switzerland. Geneva is the official city of peace and the home of the Palais des Nations, the United Nations in Geneva. It is home to the headquarters of 34 international organisations, such as the World Health Organisation, the World Trade Organisation and the International Committee of the Red Cross. It was also in Geneva where The world wide web (Internet) was first created —at the CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) by Tim Berners Lee back in 1989. Right after we checked in, to get ourselves oriented we went on a quick stroll around the lake shore and got a better look at Jet d’Eau, which shoots up water 140 meters into the sky. We walked over on the Pont du Mont Blanc or The Mont Blanc Bridge, which connects the Northern part of the city to the Southern part. We made our way to the to the other side, to the English garden where the L’horloge fleurie was, another symbol of Geneva.
Luxury watch making
Not that we are watch snobs or anything, but hubby does like his Swiss watch, last time we were in Zurich, he bought his first Rolex and wears it all the time. Geneva is the birthplace of fine watchmaking, to pay tribute to this honor, Geneva created the biggest clock in the world, made from over 6000 flowers that are changed ever season. We started here and walked around window shopping in Rue du Rhône where you can find all the luxury brands and watch boutiques. Patek Philippe is one of the most prestigious addresses in the city and walking into its celebrated salon with velvet chairs and sparkly crystal chandeliers, feels like entering a ballroom all setup for an event. Dress to impress and make an appointment if you want the security to open those vaulted doors. The top floor on the boutique hides one of the nicest room with views over the lake and the mountain ranges towering over the lake.
Geneva’s old town
A little walk from the mecca of shops takes you to Geneva’s Old Town where the 850 years old, Saint Pierre (St. Peter’s) Cathedral dominates the center. It is Geneva’s main church, located up the hill overlooking the city. As it underwent rebuilt and transformed over centuries, it combines various architectural styles from Gothic to Ancient. Since the 16th century, the Cathedral is a place of Protestant belonging to the Reformed Church. The north and south towers are available to visitors, offering exceptional views over Geneva. St.Peter’s Cathedral is famous as a place where Jean Calvin, one of the principal figures in the foundation of Protestantism stayed and worked. You can see the triangular stool, where he reportedly used to sit, just next to the pulpit. Climb up the two tall towers with the long 157 step spiral staircase in the north tower to get an ultimate 360° panoramic view of all of Geneva and Lake Geneva with it’s monumental Jet d’Eau.
Situated in the center of the Old Town, the Maison Tavel is the oldest private residence in Geneva. It is a remarkable example of medieval architecture in Switzerland, having been rebuilt after a fire in 1334 to resemble its original 11th-century state. Since 1986, it has also housed the Museum of Urban History and Daily Life of Geneva, featuring in its permanent exhibition a number of relics from Geneva’s past, including engravings, paintings, and models.
The 500th Reformation Anniversary
2017 is a good year to be in Geneva as it marks the 500th Reformation Anniversary. I didn’t know what that meant when I woke up to the sound of fireworks on August 1st, which was actually National Swiss Day. Looking it up on the Internet that night lead me Bastions Park – at the heart of the Bastions Park, the main protagonists of the Reformation, John Calvin, William Farel, Theodore Beza and John Knox, are depicted in giant statues and bas-reliefs. Geneva’s Post Tenebras Lux motto is engraved in stone. This iconic monument was sculpted by Paul Landowski who is also known for his work on the Cristo Redentor, one of the most famous monument in Brazil. The Reformation Wall was inaugurated in 1909 for the 400th anniversary of Calvin’s birth and measures around 100 meters in length. There are many festivities planned around this great milestone.
From watch museum to Red Cross museum, Geneva has some unique museums that need to be on any family’s list of places to visit. The Red Cross was created by Henry Dunant, a Genevan who received the Nobel Prize in 1901. You can explore the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum to better understand the objectives and the work of this humanitarian organization. MAMCO, the biggest modern and contemporary art museum in Switzerland is also located in Geneva.
Behind its bank-vault door the Patek Philippe Museum hides more than 500 years of watchmaking history. There are watches made of wood, chronographs, chronometers, enameled watches with Taoist temples and pagodas, watches with Islamic motifs, watches shaped like harps and Spanish guitars and more. Upstairs, 8,000 books on the history of watchmaking and navigation are housed in an extensive library. This museum is a rare treat for anyone passionate about watches.
Geneva follows bank hours and lot of the museums are closed on Monday, take that into account when planning your itinerary.
Learn about the Large Hadron Collider and the Universe at CERN
No trip to Geneva is complete without a trip to CERN, for the Big Bang theory and Physics fans. Don’t worry the “Universe of Particles” installed on the ground floor of the Globe of Science and Innovation breaks it down in simple terms and takes you on a journey all the way back to the Big Bang. This is actually a bit outside of Geneva on 385 Route de Meyrin, but you can take the tram there. You can apply to go on a free guided tour via the website, and you should do this as far in advance as you can, which we had not planned for. Even without this though, the visit was fantastic – We started at reception with the Microcosm exhibition, and then went across to go inside the globe for other exhibits mainly to do with the Large Hadron Collider. All very hands on and high tech as you would expect. Most of it made sense and actually makes us ponder the creation of our Universe, it was fascinating to learn about cosmic particles, antimatter and Higgs Boson. If you don’t know what that means, check CERN’s website for all the details. — it is after all where the Internet was invented.
Where and what to eat
Geneva is considered the gourmet capital of Switzerland with 50 plus restaurants distinguished with awards by the Michelin and GaultMilau guides. You can find both local dish specialties and ethnic dishes, our family craves some Asian food after a few days on the road which was not hard to find given that Geneva has over 150 ethnic restaurants. On the last day before our trip back home we wanted to have one last Swiss meal of our favorite Raclette and a cheesy Fondue. Located in the heart of Geneva’s old town is the luxurious and historic Hotel Les Armures which dates back to the 13th century. Their restaurant of the same name boasts many Swiss specialties like Raclette and fondue among other items. The meal was as magnificent as the location in the shadows of ancient archways of Geneva. But another delicacy to try around Lake Geneva, is perch fillets that come directly from the lake’s fishermen. It is cooked with butter and served with French fries.
Don’t forget chocolates
Geneva is the paradise for chocolate lovers and offers a wide range of specialties such as Les Pavés de Genève. Created in the thirties, those little cubes of chocolate, dusted with the finest cocoa powder, melt in the mouth. Pavé De Genève, translating as “Geneva’s paving stones” is made in a thick slab of quality, rich chocolate. If you’re a chocolate lover then you’ll understand, they didn’t last long enough for me to get a photo though. Cut into perfect square blocks, these treats emulate the paving stones in streets of the city. Another favorite is Luxemburgerli – the light and airy mini macaroons from Spruengli. Made of natural ingredients with flavors that range from Champagne, passion fruit to Bellini. It is one of my favorite stops when in Switzerland. They don’t even last the trip back home regardless of how many I buy!
Get your Geneva Pass
Like most great inventions, the Jet d’Eau was actually created by accident. In 1886, the hydraulic factory, delivering water from the Rhône to the city’s craftsmen and watchmakers, having to install a safety valve designed to relieve excess pressure by letting water escape, created a 30m jet towards the sky : the Jet d’Eau was born. In 1891, Geneva City Council decided to turn the water jet into a tourist attraction and moved it to the end of the jetty in the port of Eaux-Vives. Connected to the drinking water network, the second water jet was born – climbing to 90m. In 1951, new waterworks built to use the lake allowed the jet to reach 140m. Interesting how an accident became a landmark!
Our last day in Geneva, we spent the day in the Old Town, wandering through the Bourg de Four Square trying to solve the Geneva mystery. We had picked up the book from the Geneva tourism office, it is a thrilling mystery game which allows you to discover Geneva in an original way. Switching back and forth between history and fiction, the mystery takes you to the Old Town’s historical and emblematic places to solve a thrilling mystery – disappearance of Professor Archibald Kymerion. My teenager who is a history buff enjoyed trying to work on the clues and hints outlined in the book. While at the Tourism office, pick up the Geneva Pass too. With the Geneva Pass, you’ll discover everything the city has to offer and the best spots. For 1, 2 or 3 days, the city is yours to explore, with its museums, cruises on the lake, Segway, peddle boats and more…over 40 attractions and activities that are free or discounted with your city card! Thanks Geneva Tourism for our passes.