Switzerland: Exploring Geneva
For such a small country, Switzerland is home to a surprising number of world-class delicacies and specialties – chocolate, pocket knives, fondues, watches, pens, and banks. Then there’s also the cheese, the bread, they even have their own wines, who knew?! They have not one, not two, but four(!) official languages (French, German, Italian and Romansh). All in all, quite the repertoire for a country smaller than Tasmania.
In November I spent a weekend in Geneva which, if possible, is even more impressive – and yes, this is probably the most overdue blog post in the world, but I couldn’t not post about it, it’s where the Internet was invented people! Mont-Blanc towers over the skyline (though I only got a glimpse due to the low fog all weekend), it’s home to the second biggest UN quarters outside of NYC and to top it off, Geneva is just a mere 7km away from neighbouring France, making it a part of the French-speaking Switzerland and giving it the best of both cultures.What I’m getting at is that, for a small city, it’s pretty damn impressive.
It doesn’t come cheap though, let this be your warning. I innocently withdrew £100 worth of CHF (about 150 Swiss Francs) and got through it by the end of my first night. Oops. Another CHF110 withdrawal somehow managed to see me through the rest of the 3 day visit (including car hire), with a lot of self-restraint. Not too bad but still quite steep considering I was staying at a friend’s house and mostly just spending money on food and drinks.
I left London Heathrow at 9am and landed at 11:30 at Geneva Airport. The flight cost £80 return with Swiss Air (the return flight landed at London City Airport) and only took an hour and a half. Budget airlines also fly to Geneva so you can nab some EasyJet flights from about £40 return.
Saturday was spent taste testing France’s best champagnes at Le Salon du Champagne in Swissôtel Métropole. There were over 130 champagnes coming from 26 of the most prestigious Champagne houses, all waiting for us to try, so needless to say that we all had a great time!
After a long afternoon of champagne tasting, we made our way down to one of the best fondue restaurants in town (or so I was told) for an 8:30pm booking. Le Gruyerien is decorated in a cosy and inviting mountain hut-stye, covered in wood detailing, colourful placemats, quirky landscape paintings and ahem, (fake) animals on the walls. We ordered the cheese fondue, of course, and it was possibly one of the best, most indulgent things I’ve ever eaten!! Just thinking about dipping that fresh bread and cooked potatoes into the huge pot of melting cheeses brings me so much joy. Dinner, including starters, dessert and wine, cost around 50 Francs each and it was worth every penny.
We spent Sunday exploring the Swiss towns around the magical Lake Geneva, but this day got its very own blog post which you can find here.
I took Monday off work to have a little more time to explore the Geneva. Walking down the main shopping street, Rue du Stand, at 9am on a Monday morning was a mouth watering event. Every time I turned my head there were bakeries and chocolate stores dressing their windows with fresh pastries and amazing cakes and slices.
I made my way down to cafe Boréal (on Rue du Stand 60, pre-researched of course) for a morning coffee. They not only had flat whites on the menu but also matcha lattes, chai lattes, frappes and smoothies. It has quite a Starbucks feel to it but the coffee is decent and better than I expected to find.
The best way to see Geneva is on foot. Wear some comfy shoes and explore! After my morning coffee I went for a walk along the lake. Despite Yahoo weather telling me it was going to be 16 degrees, it was definitely beanie weather (that’s one level up from coat weather but still below thermal underwear temperature, for all those playing along at home).
Exploring the glorious Lake Geneva then led me to the old town which, being perched on top of a rather steep hill, had the best views in town. Its winding little streets made it easy to veer off and go a little rogue, tourist freestyling if you like, wandering into any street that drew me in. The view of the giant fountain in the lake meant it was hard to ever get too lost, it’s a bit like Geneva’s version of London’s Shard, spotted from anywhere in the city.
I stumbled upon a lovely lookout where I found what I thought to be a rather good looking busker singing Oasis’ Champagne Supernova. He then turned out to be one of the most famous singers in Geneva (or so I was told by the over-excited man next to me), so a free concert with a view – check! Monday mornings really are the best time to explore.
I wandered back down to the lake and crossed to the other side to meet my friend for lunch. She works at the UN Human Rights HQ and got me a pass to come inside and see her office. Security was just as strict as at Number 10 Downing Street (which I had the pleasure of going to for a work meeting last year). Security, scanners and passport checks needed to just step foot inside the gates.
Claire failed to mention that she works inside a palace. An actual palace. Palais Wilson, to be precise. It was very beautiful and grand inside and out, sitting right on the lake overlooking all of Geneva, with a backdrop of the Swiss mountains. We had some lunch in a French restaurant and I went for a walk to the park to enjoy the sunshine, which finally decided to show itself. For the first time all weekend I could see all the surrounding mountains that I kept getting told about but hadn’t actually witnessed until this point.
It’s absolutely breathtaking the first moment you notice an enormous mountain right in front of you, when you’ve been staring into the same spot for 2 days and seeing nothing but thick, grey fog. Very surreal and lovely.
I wandered off towards the airport bus stop via the UN HQ, an impressive building set on top of a hill overlooking the city. You can do a tour of the building each day from 2-4pm when one-hour tours start every half-hour.
Geneva’s transport system is efficient and will get you everywhere you need to go in the city. For exploring outside Geneva, I recommend you hire a car.
Geneva was a beautiful city to visit and I’m even more excited to see the rest of Switzerland now, maybe the next trip will have to be in the summer though!
Have you ever thought about visiting Switzerland? Where would you like to visit most?