I had an aptitude for foreign languages and a passion for travel from an early age, so when my dad was offered a fabulous promotion to his company’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, I was keen to seize the opportunity to experience life in another country.
Four very happy years were spent there, firstly in study and subsequently working at the Auberge de Jeunesse, Geneva’s youth hostel and my very first job in travel. I met some fabulous folk along the way, some of whom are still very dear friends.
Fast forward to 2019, when my girlfriends and I decided that it was time to return to Geneva, but as responsible adults, and with the advantage this time of a little more money in our pockets.
Our flights were with BA out of Heathrow and we decided to overnight at the Thistle Hotel, connected to Terminal 5 by an unmanned pod transfer which has a distinct ‘Bladerunner’ feel and provided an interesting dystopian type start to the trip.
Geneva Airport, Cointrin, is a short 15 minute taxi ride into the city centre but can be eye-wateringly expensive (60 euros) if you hail a cab on arrival. We had pre-booked private transfers and asked our driver to take the route past the United Nations and its iconic Broken Chair monument by Swiss artist Daniel Berset. Our excitement mounted as we got closer, oohing and aahing as we fondly recognised old haunts.
There are some elegant hotels gracing the shores of Lac Leman, but I had identified Hotel Warwick as the perfect choice for us. Located just two minutes from Cornavin, the central train station, it’s a short walk to the lake and I believe is the only four-star option in the city to offer a penthouse suite with terrace and views over Mont Blanc and the Jet d’Eau.
Geneva isn’t a large city, making it perfect for a gentle walking tour in beautiful surrounds. La Vieille Ville, or Old Town, is a popular tourist attraction with mostly pedestrianised streets, picturesque squares with boutique bars, cafes, galleries and shops. Founded in the 4th century, Cathédrale Saint-Pierre is hard to miss and a must-see, and the Promenade de la Treille provides an awe-inspiring panoramic view of Geneva.
The public transport system is easy to use and comprises the usual buses, trams and trains but also the rather charming ‘mouettes’, shuttle boats that operate on Lac Leman. Most hotels provide public transport passes upon check-in and we took full advantage by extending our complimentary mouette into a lengthy boat trip.
The Jet d’Eau dates back to the 19th century and its enormous plume rises 140 metres into the air from the middle of the lake. It was originally created to release a build-up of pressure from a hydraulic plant but was moved to the quayside in 1951 and is now Geneva’s most famous landmark. Visitors can walk along the stone jetty and get close enough to feel the spray, which is refreshing on a hot summer’s day but be aware it doesn’t operate if it’s too windy.
Much of our pre-travel excitement and planning revolved around food. What would we eat, when would we eat it, and would we need to increase our intake to four meals a day in order to consume everything on our wish list? It was a challenge we were willing to take on.
Our must-eats were:
Lunch at Manor
A terrific department store with a superb food hall and restaurant which is a popular lunch spot for city workers. You can purchase anything from a sandwich to sushi, hot meals from live cooking stations, salads, alcohol and fresh juices. It’s well priced for Geneva and is a feast for both the eyes and the belly.
Dinner at Saviese
It may be clichéd to dine on cheese fondue or raclette whilst in Geneva, but there’s a perfectly good reason for that, it’s totally scrumptious. We dined here frequently as a family and whilst the smell takes a bit of getting used to, the service and atmosphere is delightful. According to the Swiss, you should only ever drink white wine, kirsch or herbal tea with your fondue or else risk a mighty bout of indigestion. Fortunately, white wine had always been our ‘digestif’ of choice!
Lunch at Parfums de Beyrouth on Rue de Berne
This was a post-pub necessity for us in our younger days but also makes for a superb take-away lunch for consumption at Bains des Pâquis, a lakeside beach area with a glorious view of the mountains. Our opinion is that it still offers the best Lebanese food in the city.
Dinner at Café de Paris - Chez Boubier
In 1930, Mr Boubier perfected his famous ‘Café de Paris’ butter and opened his first restaurant in Geneva, swiftly followed by others around the world. This delicious butter is served on top of entrecôte of beef, french fries and salad and is the only option on the menu and is the kind of meal that remains etched in your memory forever. You can buy a jar of the butter to take away for a mere CHF 18.50 (£15).
Filets de perches meunière in Yvoire
A speciality of Lac Leman, these were first created by a Lausanne chef in 1933 and are simply seasoned fish fillets basted in butter until tender. They are usually accompanied by french fries and salad and popular variations on the butter include lemon, almonds and garlic.
For this final culinary experience, we decided to take a passenger ferry to the medieval and incredibly scenic town of Yvoire in France. This journey takes around two hours and is an absolute must during the spring and summer months in Geneva.
The boat drops and collects at various quaint lakeside villages on the way and alternative routes incorporate Lausanne and Montreux. Calm waters and breath-taking scenery make it a highly fulfilling experience and should be a must on your see and do list.
Geneva is well-known as a hub for accessing the snowy peaks of the Alps during ski season but is often overlooked as a city break destination in its own right.
In the warmer seasons, you can take advantage of the passenger ferries on the lake, along with various water sports on offer such as kite surfing, water surfing and paddle boarding.
The mountains are beautiful at any time of year and reached by car or by bus within 20 minutes.
If science is your thing, you’re able to visit CERN, home to the Hadron Collider and both the UN and WHO headquarters are open to tourists.
I count myself lucky to have lived in such a beautiful city as a young adult. It opened my eyes to cultural diversity, made me appreciate lakes and mountains but most importantly, it introduced me to cheese fondue.