VISIT THE ARTIST'S QUARTER. The area surrounding Rue des Bains (also known as Plainpalais) used to be an ordinary, nondescript part of the city of Geneva - until artists started to settle here in the early 1990s. Now it has become a sort of an epicentre for the artistic and stylish set. The location is permeated with creative energy, which imparts a sense of a completely different Geneva within a minute of entering this quarter. In fact, one could almost spend an entire day here, roaming from gallery to gallery, also dropping into the many tiny shops and cafés along the way, each of which has its own surprisingly individual character. The area of Des Bains also has its own map, found in every art gallery. One of the first settlers of this location was the Analix Forever gallery, which specialises in brand new rising stars of contemporary art. Right on its heels in 1994 was MAMCO, the Geneva Museum of Contemporary Art, housed in a former steel factory. It is still the largest museum of its kind in Switzerland, and one of the most ambitious contemporary art museum projects in the world. A visit to MAMCO is an adventure in itself - even if your relationship with contemporary art has thus far been somewhat superficial. MAMCO is like a living organism, where everything remains in an unending process of evolution: the industrial architecture of the building permits repeated and flexible remodelling of the interior, which is carried out several times a year, thus facilitating the continuous change and expansion of the exhibit. In accordance with the concept of the museum, several rooms are allocated to individual artists, who take on the role of curators. Accordingly, the MAMCO style of exhibiting art is rather multiform and intriguing, with some of the spaces resembling a collector's flat and others looking more like warehouses or artists' studios. The museum covers four floors and the exhibition space is further extended by the industrial vista outside its windows, which in a sense contributes to the overall feel of the museum experience. The MAMCO collection spans the past four decades, from the early 1960s to today, with installation art, video, painting, photography and sculpture all represented in the exhibit. All in all, there are more than 3000 works by 150 European and American artists. The total area of the museum is some 4500m2. Next to MAMCO the industrial complex also houses the Centre for Contemporary Art, founded in 1974. It provides a busy programme of exhibitions, performances and multimedia projects. A separate space is also allocated for children, who are given complete creative freedom here. Most of the Rue des Bains galleries have united in the Geneva Association of Modern Art Galleries; their exhibition programme is coordinated, making the art life of the area even more dynamic. Three times a year the area celebrates a Nuit des Bains (Des Baines Night), when simultaneous exhibitions are launched at all galleries, and art venues remain open late into the night.
Next-door to MAMCO, look for Cafe des Bains, one of the most legendary Genevan cafes, housed in the building of a historical bistro. According to the locals, you can meet anyone at all here, from bankers and art collectors to your personal plumber. The decor of the cafe was designed by the art collector Caroline Vogelsang; well thought-out to the tiniest of details, it creates a feel of a genuinely contemporary bistro, retaining all the authentic charm of the historical setting at the same time. The menu features a fusion of Oriental and Western cuisines; only fresh and seasonal ingredients are used to prepare the food. As well befits an eatery located right next door to a museum of contemporary art, the cuisine is quite creative, occasionally surprising with unexpected experiments of flavour - the cafe's chanterelle cappuccino or fresh tuna ceviche with green celery and red radish are good examples of that.
The district of Plainpalais is also home to a museum dedicated to Patek Philippe, the legend of Swiss watch-making; located a mere couple of metres from Café des Bains, it is one of the spots it would be a shame not to visit while in Geneva. Besides, the 1839-founded Patek Philippe is currently the only watch-making company in Geneva to manufacture and assemble their models of timepieces exclusively by themselves, from the clockwork to the frame, staying true to their ancient traditions in the tiniest of details.
The Patek Philippe Museum opened in 2001, in a 19th-century building that used to house a diamond-cutting factory; it is famous, among other things, for its collection of clocks and watches, the most prestigious and comprehensive one in the world. It comprises over 2000 models of timepieces dating from the 16th century to the present day - actually anything capable of timekeeping: from jewellery-encrusted clocks, watches with enamel-painted miniature portraits of their owners, little watches set in the handle of a weapon and clocks with singing birds to 21st-century models boasting complicated technologies. The history of Geneva as the watch-making capital is closely linked to the name of Jean Calvin. The 16th century, time of the French religious wars, saw many Protestants leave France and seek refuge in the Calvinist citadel of Geneva; there were quite a few goldsmiths, jewellers and watchmakers among them. While Calvin banned wearing jewellery, just like the presence of any ornamental objects in the church, he did appreciate watches and clocks as a practically applicable and thus useful object. The fact played an important role in the birth of Geneva as the watch-making capital in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Geneva was also famous for its special miniature enamel painting frequently used to adorn clocks. In 1789 there were 77 miniature painters in Geneva; it is said to have been one of the major sources of income for the city. While the museum library holds over 7000 books dedicated to the art of horology, its permanent exhibition is a unique opportunity to get acquainted with a concise history of time-keeping and even enjoy an insight into the most sophisticated secrets of clock-making.