Geneva, where French style – well, it is on the French border – meets Swiss efficiency, is far from stuffy and has a lot more to offer than cheese and chocolate.
|Courtesy of Geneva Tourism|
For starters there was the view: the glistening, blue waters of Lake Geneva set against a backdrop of the distant Alps with the snow-clad peak of Mont Blanc towering above.
I was mesmerised by two swans as they darted in and out of the waves performing what looked like a dance routine. The sounds of the Jet d’eau, Geneva’s renowned fountain, propelling water 140 metres into the air, jolted me back to reality. Within minutes I felt completely chilled out. It was as if all the stress I had brought with me from London had been washed away. At last, a beauty treatment that really works!
The guidebooks are full of sightseeing tips and recommendations for museums and art galleries to visit,. But, spend all your days wandering round them and you will miss the real attraction of Geneva which is the city itself.
I whiled away several hours walking along the Lac Léman, as the locals call Lake Geneva, and sauntering round the flowered-carpeted parks, before heading to the rue du Rhône, which is studded with exquisite jewellery shops and designer boutiques.
Getting round is easy as most of the sights are in walking distance of the hotels. Taxis are incredibly expensive so take advantage of the Geneva Transport Card, which entitles tourists to free use of buses, trains and boats while in the city.
Geneva can thank John Calvin, the prominent French theologian of the Protestant reformation, for its watch industry. In the middle of the 16th century, the wearing of jewellery was banned so jewellers were forced to take up a new trade. As people were allowed to wear watches they turned their hand to making them instead. Not to be missed is the Patek Philippe Museum, which has a splendid collection of timepieces from the 16th to the 19th century.
|The Flower Clock|
However, the city’s most impressive clock is actually in the Jardin Anglais (English Garden) on the left bank. The Flower Clock, which has been one of Geneva’s most beloved symbols since 1955, is a combination of technology and more than 6,500 flowers that vary in colour according to the season.
Another of Geneva’s gems is the Old Town (on the left bank) brimming with austere Calvinistic architecture and quaint cobbled streets and cafés. At its heart is the oldest square in the city, place du Bourg-de-Four with an 18th-century flower fountain. The Old Arsenal, which looms over, not only has five cannons appearing to protect it, but three impressive mosaic frescos depicting events in Geneva’s history.
|St Peter's Cathedral|
Near the square is St Peter's Cathedral, (Cathédrale St-Pierre) where Calvin, preached during the mid-16th century. The main attraction is the archaeological site dating back to the Roman Empire. Also take a look at the imposing five-metres (16ft) high statues of the leaders of the Reformation movement at the centre of the Reformation Wall, in the Parc des Bastions.
For a change of pace I headed to the laid-back area of Carouge where artists’ workshops rub shoulders with antique shops and edgy boutiques along its atmospheric streets and behind gates intimate gardens lay waiting to be discovered.
Watching the Alps disappear into the dark sky as the golden-orange sun set over Lac Léman, I enjoyed a gourmet dinner at The Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Chat Botté, at the Beau-Rivage. This elegant and discreet hotel, which has played host to the likes of Empress Elizabeth of Austria and Sarah Bernhardt, is as much a part of Geneva’s past as it is its present. And just like the city itself, it seduces you with its luxury and beauty.
By Daralyn Danns