Geneva: so much more than just fondue and chocolate
A peaceful, pristine haven for foodies, history lovers – and swimmers
Geneva is not the most obvious choice for a European weekend getaway, being typically seen as a stopover en route to the Alps, or the austere home of banks and diplomacy.
It is often overlooked by travellers, but it shouldn’t be – the Swiss city is full of surprises and is perfect for a weekend of relaxation and indulgence.
There is an elegance to Geneva. It is undoubtedly cosmopolitan and stylish, bustling with luxury shops and fine-dining restaurants, while managing also to be an oasis of calm and natural beauty.
Lake Geneva, also known as Lac Leman, is the heart of the city. The water is crystal clear, and shimmers with turquoise and emerald tones, set against a dramatic backdrop of the Alps and Jura mountains.
As we soon realise, Geneva is the place for indulgence. For foodies, there is ample choice when it comes to five-star gourmet eateries.
Hotel Bristol, a stone’s throw from the lake, is a lovely place to stay. Its crowning glory is perhaps its attached restaurant, Cote Square. The Michelin-starred venue serves food that is a joy for the eyes as well as the tastebuds.
As Swiss food takes inspiration from various surrounding cultures, including French, German and Italian, its finest restaurants have some creative licence to experiment.
At Cote Square, the dishes are masterfully put together by head chef Bruno Marchal and impeccably presented.
Each dish in our five-course meal is an event, including stuffed Arctic char fresh from the lake, and for dessert, a raspberry and violet dish bursting with flavour and unexpected textures.
To start the day, we take a bike ride out of the city to visit a vineyard and sample Swiss wines. The Genevan countryside is filled with rolling fields and babbling brooks under an endless blue sky. Switzerland isn’t known for its wine, but that’s another well-kept secret.
After working up an appetite, it’s time to finally gorge on some signature Swiss fondue. Restaurant de l’Hotel-De-Ville in the Old Town serves one of the best in the city – and we don’t leave a drop.
There is something magical about wandering around the city aimlessly. The Old Town is particularly charming, filled with winding cobbled streets and historic stone buildings dating back to the 16th century.
It’s bursting with history, as we discover the next morning on a tour of the city, having been at the centre of the Protestant revolution in the 16th century, with John Calvin famously preaching at St Peter’s Cathedral.
Place du Bourg-de-Four is the oldest square in the country, and today is a popular spot to grab a bite or a coffee.
The temperate, peace-loving country has perhaps wrongly become associated with being boring. While a lack of war and conflict excludes it from most history syllabuses, Switzerland has still had a rich and colourful history.
Geneva is the birthplace of many unexpected things – international war treaties, science-fiction literature, the internet.
It is perhaps best known as the epicentre of diplomacy and peace. The International Red Cross is based here, as is the United Nations’ European office, Place des Nations.
The peaceful mountains have also nurtured creativity. While summering by Lake Geneva in 1816, Mary Godwin, who would later become Mary Shelley, was inspired to write Frankenstein, widely considered to be one of the earliest examples of science-fiction literature.
And arguably Geneva’s most significant contribution to the modern world, Tim Berners-Lee built the World Wide Web while working at Cern, the huge particle physics experiment based in the city.
Genevans exude style, and so does Geneva. The city is impeccably clean and cohesive, with luxury shops and modern galleries interspersed with perfectly manicured flower patches.
For lunch, we get the train to Carouge, which used to be a separate town before being absorbed by Geneva. The pretty neighbourhood, with Italian-style architecture, feels completely different to the rest of the city.
In the summertime there are bustling markets offering various meats and wines, and entertainment – and there is also a very Instagram-friendly alleyway with colourful umbrellas strung across the sky.
In Carouge, the Cafe des Negociants, headed by renowned Genevan chef Philippe Chevrier, is a fantastic spot for lunch.
For starters, the Caprese salad and the tuna tartare are fresh and flavourful. For mains, the seafood with squid ink risotto is one of many enticing choices.
We save room for dessert because next is one of the most exciting and decadent activities of the trip – a chocolate-tasting session at Sweetzerland, a master chocolatier.
Switzerland is also home to some of the best chocolate in the world, and no trip would be complete without gorging on some truffles.
Sweetzerland’s hand-crafted chocolates masterfully play around with textures and flavours. Each flavour palate is carefully paired — cocoa from different South American countries is chosen depending on the ganache or flavours inside.
Its caramel truffles are its best-sellers, and you can see why. The glitter-flecked outer shell gives way to gooey caramel goodness, with a hint of Tahitian vanilla.
Another personal favourite was the raspberry truffle, made with wild Bolivian cocoa and fresh raspberry ganache.
After a short but necessary period of digestion, it is finally time for a swim in the lake. The twinkling waters had been inviting us in since the moment we arrived.
Large white swans glide by, but don’t worry, as our tour guide told us, the swimmers stay away from the swans and the swans stay away from the swimmers.
There are various entryways to swim in the lake – some more private, others teeming with jovial groups of friends, families and couples.
Jumping into the cold lake is deliciously refreshing after a long day on our feet in the sun. We take a quick dip, but you can spend the day on the water with rented boats or paddleboards.
The lakeside is lively, populated with cafes and bars, so if you’re not aquatically inclined you can still enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, while taking in the majestic views of the vast lake and its surrounding mountains.
An unmissable feature of the lake is the Jet d’Eau, a large water fountain that shoots seven tonnes of water 140 metres into the air. It was built for practical purposes, to release pressure from hydraulic pipes, but is now one of the city’s most loved tourist attractions, even visible by air.
One of the loveliest things to do when in Geneva is not actually in Geneva. For dinner we pop over to France to eat at Le Panoramique, by way of cab and then cable car, which takes us to the top of Mont Saleve. Once there, we had our pick of an eclectic menu, including their creative take on fish and chips or vegetable curry.
The food is delicious and the restaurant itself is beautiful, but most impressive is the glorious view of Geneva from above. You can breathe in the crisp mountain air while enjoying cinematic views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
The sunsets here are unbeatable. At such a high altitude, you’re immersed in an endless medley of crimson and amber.
It would be remiss to leave without exploring the nightlife, and we end the evening at Rooftop 42. The bar offers scenic views of Geneva at night, with good music and a funky vibe – but beware that one cocktail will set you back 24 CHF (£20).
We begin our final morning with a yoga session in a park, the perfect way to destress. This is followed by brunch at Marcel, which serves incredible poached eggs and French toast.
Finally, we end the afternoon with a trip on the ferris wheel, which gives panoramic views of the city to say our final goodbyes.
Geneva does exactly what any good holiday destination should do – it leaves you wanting more. There is so much more to do, much more to explore, including the countryside, the watch museums, or enjoying some water sports on the lake.
The city is eager to have tourists come and explore, and has made it very easy to do so. A machine by the baggage carousel in the airport offers visitors a free train ticket into the city, and all hotels and hostels can provide guests with a Geneva pass, which gives free access to all forms of public transport for the duration of their stay.
So next time you’re passing through Geneva, consider taking some time to explore all the city has to offer – or at least to indulge in some fondue or chocolate truffles!
Flights from London to Geneva with easyJet cost from £35 one-way.
Geneva Passes can be bought from the Geneva Tourism website from 26 CHF (£22) per day.
For more information go to www.geneve.com or call +41 22 909 70 70.