A beautiful city with a rich history, Geneva is Europe’s hidden gem. Surrounded by the Alps and Jura mountains with impressive views of Mont Blanc, there is so much more to it than private banks and wealthy businessmen. Stunning architecture and cobbled streets, wellness resorts and watchmaking workshops, cheese and chocolate – it’s the perfect getaway for culture vultures, foodies and those who simply love to be pampered.
Where to stay
Overlooking Lac Leman and next to the iconic Point du Mont Blanc bridge, in the heart of the city sits the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues – a grand waterfront hotel that has accommodated guests since 1834 with rooms offering views of the landmark Jet D’eau set against a charming backdrop of the Alps. Just ten minutes from the train station and a thirty minute drive from the airport, it’s also perfectly located for visitors who want to spend their days pottering around the Old Town as well as those who want to feast on some of the most mouthwatering dishes in the country (more on that later).
It’s easy to see why the striking neoclassical hotel is a popular choice for those visiting the city; from the moment you step into the lobby, you’ll be confronted by 19th century opulence: marble floors, lavish decor, pillars and a crystal chandelier make it a decadent welcome. Nestled just beyond the foyer you’ll find an equally fascinating drawing room, the perfect spot for the weary traveller. Although, you may not have time to get too comfortable – the staff are so acutely attentive and superbly swift that you’ll be whisked straight to your room to enjoy the comforts of the boujiest suites in Switzerland.
There are a number of rooms and suites to choose from – 115 in fact – but check into the Suite Mont Blanc and you won’t be disappointed. The French-inspired decor, masterminded by interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon, is a heady mix of classic and contemporary; the living area oozing luxury with its rich red tones and period chairs, while the bedroom quietly offers a calming soft-hued sanctuary.
And it doesn’t stop there. While it also features the usual modcons – WiFi, a flat-screen television and a fully stocked mini bar – it’s the large windows that offer unparalleled views of the city, the snooze-perfect King sized bed, and the chic marble bathroom that really add to the suite’s appeal.
Food and Drink
There are two excellent dining options for guests to choose from: Il Lago, the Michelin-starred Italian restaurant – which also doubles up as a the buffet breakfast room for those who need coffee, croissants or a cooked breakfast in the morning – and Izumi, a bright and intimate space with a Japanese-Peruvian fusion menu.
The downstairs Bar de Bergues is a cosy spot for tea by day and cocktails by night, so get comfortable, sit back and relax after a busy afternoon of sightseeing.
Unwind at the rooftop Mont Blanc Spa, complete with a pool, sauna, hammam and a luxurious treatment menu, or get your blood pumping in the fully equipped gym which also offers personal training sessions for those who want to work up a sweat.
Where to eat
When the streets of the Old Town quieten down and you need a place to dine in style, head to Chez Phillipe, a New-York style steakhouse in the centre of the city. Phillip Chevrier has created this buzzing eaterie with a busy bar on the ground floor and the upscale restaurant Le Grill above. There’s an extensive list of wines for those who enjoy a glass or two paired with beautifully cooked meats, fresh fish or wood-fired dishes.
To start, opt for the crab cake with spicy lemon chutney or the moreish chicken liver pâté, both of which will whet your appetite for the main event – the Boeuf d’Irelande T-bone steak for two, a succulent cut cooked to perfection, alongside juicy sautéed mushrooms (which arrive in a cute little Instagram-worthy saucepan).
And don’t forget to leave a little room for dessert as there are some real winners to be had here, from the downright gigantic sharing portion of light and fluffy chocolate mousse topped with crème fraîche and chocolate shards, to the rhum baba with whipped cream.
Cosy, thriving and humming with hungry diners, head to Café du Centre if you want a lively lunch. Marvel at the selection of seafood in the window – featuring everything from lobsters to clams – and head inside to the 1930s style brasserie. It’s a small restaurant that’s regularly at full capacity (and for good reason) so don’t be surprised when you’re snugly seated next to your neighbours. Just grab a glass of bubbly and soak up the atmosphere.
Start with a selection of oysters and follow with the impressive tender lamb shank with mashed potatoes and red cabbage, or the hearty fisherman’s stew topped with half a lobster. If you can squeeze in a dessert, the profiteroles with Genevan chocolate sauce are a treat.
There are two words to describe Les Armures – homely, and fondue. You can’t visit Geneva without stopping by this warm and welcoming restaurant, especially if you’re a cheese fiend. You’ll be heading back in time sitting in the traditional Swiss period rooms, surrounded by dark wood and exposed stone, and drooling as soon as the smell of Vacherin and Gruyère hit you.
With a number of hearty, oozy, cheesy options on the menu, it’ll be difficult to decide which one tickles your fancy, from the traditional raclette and potatoes to the more extravagant two-cheese fondue with mushrooms and bacon. But one thing is for sure – with the positively huge portions you may struggle to finish it all. If you do, the meringue with double cream and red berries is a sweet way to end your meal.
Where to relax
Take a taxi to La Réserve for some well-deserved downtime and make your way to Spa Nescens, a slice of tranquility with a focus on wellbeing. When it comes to the array of treatments, there’s something for everyone – from Shiatsu massages to pre and post-natal treatments. But if you have to choose just one make sure it’s their incredible facial. You’ll be so relaxed, you might just find yourself nodding off (but you’re guaranteed to leave with dreamy skin).
What to do
On a winding Old Town street you’ll find Intinium, a luxury watchmaker that offers workshops for those who want to try their hand at putting together their own timepiece. There are a number of classes and courses to take from an introduction lesson to practice the techniques, to a session creating a mechanical watch from scratch which you can take home (and show off).
You’ll learn about the history of watchmaking, discover the secrets behind the centuries-old skill and get the chance to put everything into practice with your screwdriver, tweezers and teeny tiny cogs. Specialist glasses are optional, but will make you feel like a pro. It’s a unique way to spend the afternoon and you’ll feel very accomplished when you see your hard work come to life.
Guided walking tour
See the city by foot during a guided walking tour and delve into Geneva’s interesting history. Meander through the streets of the Old Town, visit St Peter’s Cathedral whilst enjoying panoramic views of the city and stroll through Bastions Park.
Louis Vuitton, Dior, Gucci, Chanel – Rue du Rhône screams luxury with a range of designer shops and boutiques for those who want to splash the cash on clothes, jewellery and, of course, watches.
And can you really visit Switzerland without making the most of their exquisite chocolate-making skills? There are so many different brands and flavours to try whether you’re feeling boujee or budget – because truly, even the country’s most inexpensive chocolate is an utter delight and you’ll want to leave with a fully stocked suitcase.
The Escalade Processions (Fête de l’Escalade)
If you visit Geneva in the winter, don’t miss the annual Escalade Processions. Held in early December, it’s a citywide holiday to remember the historic nights of 11th and 12th December 1602 when the Duke of Savoy attacked the city in an unsuccessful takeover attempt. Crowds gather to watch hundreds of traditionally dressed musicians, dancers and entertainers walk the streets in one of Europe’s largest historical parades to celebrate their independence.
Afterwards, wander around the Christmas market where you’ll find stalls selling everything from sweet treats to jewellery to hand carved homewares, surrounded by glittering lights and a buzzing crowd.
For more information about planning your trip to Geneva, visit www.geneve.com