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Destinations · Europe · switzerland · Geneva · Essence ·


Author: Anothertravelguide.com1 COMMENT


On a sunny day, as the airplane approaches Geneva, the white snowcap of Mont Blanc looming above the Alps, there is a rush of memories of a hellishly difficult past ascent to the top which seems even more incredible from a bird's-eye view - and the feel of the summit, very much like a sobering sieve that sifts the values brought along from down there: so much of the seemingly important is reduced to insignificant dust up here. Quite possibly similar sensations visit anyone revisiting the highest peak in Europe. As often as not, the road to Mont Blanc - located in the French Alps - as well as the region's most famous ski resorts, starts at the Geneva airport. The city itself frequently serves only as a transit stop - undeservedly so. Quite undeservedly!

Geneva is unique not only with its picture postcard landscape (with a lake and the peak of Mont Blanc as a background) - few cities of as small a size have been known to play such a significant role on the world stage. With its population of just over 185 thousand, Geneva is a proper pocket-size metropolis, hardly lagging behind the great cities of the world where the intensity of cultural and social life is concerned. At the same time, it is one of the rare places that offer a traditional metropolis lifestyle without the actual feel of a huge city. Besides, providing you have enough time to spare, practically everything in the city can be reached on foot. Over the course of the history, Geneva has been home to the Jean Calvin, one of the key figures in the Protestant Reformation, as well as the birthplace of the famous French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The building where in 1712 Rousseau was born is located in Grand-Rue, one of the most beautoful streets in the city, a stone's throw from Les Armures restaurant - a permanently jam-packed eatery famous as the place where - allegedly - the best fondue in town is served. Voltaire also used to own a villa in Geneva; today it houses a museum dedicated to the great thinker. Geneva is also the birthplace of the Red Cross, the world's first humanitarian organisation; the Red Cross Museum, opened in 1988, is considered to be one of the world's most innovative establishments of the kind and is officially the most visited one in the city. Geneva is home to over 200 international organisations and one of the most international cities in the world: 45 per cent of its residents are of foreign extraction, representing more than 180 different nationalities. And, of course, Geneva is the heart of the Swiss clock-making industry. The opulent bouquet of the city's past and present creates an impression of Geneva as an expensive and, in its spruced-up affluence, slightly boring city which, for instance, feels it can afford to treat its guests in a slightly unwelcoming manner on Sundays: the majority of restaurants are closed and the city seems almost deserted. The same goes for the traditional summer vacation time in late July and early August when many shops and even cafes close their doors.

Beach in the Heart of the City

Like with any other city of the world, your impression of Geneva depends on your point of vantage. Despite its status of a metropolis self-sufficient in its chrysalis of luxury, Geneva is surprisingly diverse. You may be hard-pressed to come up with a list of cities offering a walk to a beach on a summer mid-day - a beach located in the heart of the city, at that. The most popular one among the locals is Bains des Paquis; a bathing-place, subsequently extended and reconstructed, was opened here as long ago as in 1872. The beach is open from April through mid-September (admission fee is CHF 2); in winter a sauna and a Turkish bath are available. On a hot summer day the beach is packed like a sardine can - people are lying side by side on their beach towels spread out right there on a concrete lane or stones. Every once in a while the beach is also visited by any of the countless Geneva swans in search of a tasty morsel, thus adding an even more surreal feel to the general atmosphere. Bains des Paquis is also the location of one of the locally most popular cafes which stands out not only with the city's most beautiful panoramic view of the lake but also - compared to other restaurants in Geneva - with extremely pleasant prices.
The lake is, in a way, also the centre of the social life in Geneva, lined by all of the city's most famous five-star hotels; it is also a platform for all sorts of sports activities, from sailing to water-skiing, not to mention - home to the Jet d'Eau fountain, the „Genevan Eiffel Tower". The idea of creating the fountain, born as early as in 1891, was actually brought to life only in 1930. Despite its status of a symbol and the main tourist landmark of the city, the 140-metre tall column of water, constantly changing its shape depending on the direction of the wind, is almost hypnotically fascinating: now there is a flicker of a rainbow, now it shoots upwards literally like a huge mass of white wool-pack clouds. On a hot summer day, there is no better refreshment than a walk along the fountain's jetty -particularly if the wind carries splashes of water right in your face...
Geneva is also the culinary capital of Switzerland, boasting over 1000 restaurants and cafes per population of less than 200 thousand. There is something for everyone's taste, from proud owners of multiple Michelin stars to restaurants serving a diversity of national cuisines; restaurants of the latter variety are mostly concentrated in the currently fashionable neighbourhood of Pâquis. This is also the location of Gelato Mania, one of the greatest ice-cream shops in Geneva. Tiny and inconspicuous, it belongs to two Italian brothers - and what an ice-cream shop it is! They offer a selection of natural combinations of flavours that just may take you by surprise, for instance, pineapple with basil. There is almost always a queue of customers waiting for their ice-cream fix; the majority are already familiar among themselves. Pâquis is a total opposite to the neighbourhood of Place de Molard flanked by luxury shops. Sometimes it even feels as if you were visiting a completely different Geneva, a city of tiny bohemian cafes and alternative little shops. Incidentally, Pâquis translates as 'pasture'; cows are said to have actually been grazing here in the olden days.

Picnic in the Bastion Park

As you wander around Geneva, there are moments when it just feels as if a verdant forest was one of the city's main characteristic features, alongside the lake. Most of the parks and promenades in Geneva were created in the 19th century thanks to donations by wealthy local families. The Geneva public area still boasts over 40 000 trees and approximately the same number of rose bushes. One of the spots perfectly suited for an idle ramble is the Bastion Park (Parc des Bastions) located right next to the Old Town. Set up in 1817, it used to be the first botanical garden in Geneva. Specimens of at least 50 different species of trees remain here from those days. In the middle of the park you will come upon the building of the University of Geneva founded by Calvin; its library, dating back to 1872, is home to more than 2 million books. In 1909 the 400th anniversary of Jean Calvin's birth was marked by erecting the so-called Reformation Wall, 5 metres high and 100 metres wide. Featuring statues of all the leaders of the Reformation, the wall is located on the historical site of the former city walls. However, the real reason for visiting the Bastion Park is its unique atmosphere. Students, tourists and locals - the diverse multi-racial crowd has come here to relax: read a book, have a lie in the grass or set up an impromptu picnic. One side of the park offers giant outdoor chess and draughts boards where representatives of various nationalities and walks of life come to lose themselves in the passion of the game: flanked by countless supporters, they walk the boards contemplating the situation and moving the pieces. It is very obvious that for some of them a game of chess at Parc des Bastions is an old and customary ritual; some of the players are sporting business suits with ties and pedantically polished shoes, others play half-naked. A few steps away, a young mother is feeding her child while reading a textbook brought along to catch up with studies. A feel of a completely different Geneva.
Unless you are visiting Geneva on business, it is the perfect destination for times when you feel that you deserve a proper hedonist holiday - after an ascent to Mont Blanc, for instance.

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