UK / Europe

Throw convention out the window in Geneva

Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Amy Hughes

“Zurichers come to Geneva to laugh,” our taxi driver says with a smile. If Zurich is known for it’s Germanic style of keeping time and order (none of which are bad things), Geneva is known for it’s French influence on life, which, roughly translated, means a slightly greater emphasis on enjoyment, rather than function.

This focus on the ‘good life’ is present in Geneva’s fine watch shops, and it’s green spaces. Geneva’s a small, big city and it’s close proximity to the airport makes it ideal for a weekend break anytime of year, or as a gateway to Lausanne, Montreux, and further afield.

Check into Geneva’s very first hotel, known simply as ‘Des Bergues’ on the banks of Lake Geneva for easy access to the city’s main attractions. A local landmark with views of Geneva’s Jet D’Eau, the Four Seasons property was built back in 1834 and boasted the first elevators in the region. The original twin chambers remain, with updated wiring to keep the elevators in working order.

Voted one of the top 10 Four Seasons hotels in the world, this is Swiss hospitality at it’s best. Beyond the discreet, and accommodating service, the des Bergues offers some lovely surprises. The rooftop swimming pool looks out onto the Lake with large paneled windows that open in summer. A rooftop bar attracts locals and visitors for the views and the cocktails. But the best part about des Bergues is its gym and group outings. The membership gym is one of the best in Geneva, for it’s underwater spin classes, and it’s indoor, and outdoor hiking. About once a month, the gym manager coordinates a weekend day trip for residents and members, free of charge. The weekend I was there, it was a day trip to nearby Annecy, in France, to climb Mont Blanc, a mid-level challenge, for about a dozen people. If you can make it a three-day weekend and time it just right for a group hike, this is the way to experience Geneva.

Top things to do and see

Buy the Geneva Pass for free and discounted entry to 40 different sites, including pedal boats on Lake Geneva.

Browse the food hall at Swiss department store Manor, for it’s wide range of prepared food, it’s fresh bakery, large chocolate section and large selection of gourmet items.

Swim Lake Geneva in summer into mid-September. The Swiss swim as often as they can. Break up a day of site seeing with a dip in the lake. It’s easily accessed at various points.

Stroll Old Town taking in the medieval, cobble-stoned centre of Geneva filled with shops, restaurants, and St. Peter’s Cathedral.

View The Broken Chair, a monument 12 metres high, across from the United Nations European Headquarters, which serves as a memorial to victims of landmines and cluster bombs.

Visit the Red Cross Museum chronicling war and human disaster throughout history, oddly omitting World War II. But, it’s to be commended for it’s highly interactive exhibits making it one of the most engaging museums I’ve ever visited, with visual, first person storytelling, animation, and other unique elements. It’s a must-see.

Walk through the Botanical Gardens, taking time to sit in the comfortable chairs outside the conservatory. The 28-hectare, sprawling garden is home to plants from all seven continents, with a flower garden, a Garden of Five Senses, medicinal plants, a birdhouse, a rare animal park, a herbarium and a vast library. A café inside the gardens makes it easy to while away a few hours here. 

Trip Information:

Hotel des Bergues

Geneva Pass

Flights provided by Swiss

Trip sponsored by Geneva Tourism.

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