At the southern end of Lake Geneva, ringed by the snow-capped peaks of the Alps and the Jura mountains, the capital of the French-speaking canton of Switzerland has been attracting visitors for hundreds of years.
Most head from the airport, just ten minutes from the centre, straight to the ski slopes, but go off-piste and you discover a city that’s more than clocks and watches.
Obviously, you literally can’t miss the famous Jet d’Eau exuberantly spouting white water 140 metres above the lake. Originally created to relieve the water pressure in the town, it’s now a symbol of the city that’s loved by all and visible from every angle and over every rooftop. It’s a great way to never get lost, a visible reference point that guides you back.
Armed with a Transport Card, complimentary from most hotels, I rode the super-efficient buses for free, as well as the iconic Mouettes. These cheerful yellow boats buzzing back and forth across the lake, pass by the spout close enough to feel the spray as the water tumbles down refracting rainbows as it falls.
The best view of the lake though has to be from the bell tower of St Peter’s Cathedral in the Old Town, here wandering lanes are home to unique museums, charming bars and, thankfully, very few cars.
Climbing the 157 steps of the circular staircase is not for the out of shape that’s for sure. My legs were jelly by the time I clambered up, but once I got my breath back the panorama was literally picture perfect.
Geneva is a great subject for all your envy-inducing Instagram and social posts, by the way. Don’t worry about data roaming charges, you can jump on free public Wi-Fi almost everywhere in the centre.
Safely down to earth, I rewarded myself with a classic fondue in the nearby Restaurant De L’hôtel De Ville. This Genevan institution set in a 17th Century building has just what I look for in a classic brasserie. Traditional black-clad waiters? Check. Crisp Swiss beers to wash down all that glorious melted cheese? Check. It’s just one of over 50 restaurants in a thriving Genevan food scene that weaves a delicious path between Michelin star and street food.
And of course, there’s that chocolate. World-famous for its dark delights, Geneva is studded with artisan chocolate shops which will make you go weaker at the knees than the climb at St Peters. And a ‘degustation’ or ‘tasting’ is now remarkably easy as Geneva has launched the new Choco Pass in time for Easter.
Costing around £24 (there’s a cheaper, simpler, version for kids) it gives you 24 hours to try a tasting plate at each of the many partner chocolate shops in the city, including the famous Geneva pavé at Chocolaterie Stettler and the chance to snuffle some fabulous truffles at Sweetzerland.
At La Bonbonnière, where they’ve been making chocolate for 100 years, my pass got me a seat at the Chocolate Bar for a warming chocolate drink, and a delicious pastry, plus a selection of gourmet chocolates. While at Chocolat Favarger I sampled their legendary Avelines, the recipe for this heavenly mix of chocolate and hazelnuts, has been a closely guarded secret for over a century.
Wherever I went I was tempted by the finest examples of the chocolatiers’ art and guided by experts. All are within walking distance of each other, but you might wish, as I did, to be carried home after indulging a bit too heavily.
And despite the obvious wealth in Geneva, check out all those supercars in front of The Ritz, it’s a vibrant multicultural city where ‘real’ life bubbles close to the surface in the form of colourful graffiti. Not your common or garden scrawls, of course, but work that can be genuinely called art.
Tolerated cheerfully, for the most part, by the council, it’s even celebrated as a feature, and I took it all in on an eco-friendly Vélo-Taxi graffiti tour around the town.
Co-founder of Taxibike, Aubin Delavigne did all the leg work, while finding all the best spots and dropping the names of the scene’s stars, as well as stories of the ‘beefs’ between crews.
And if you should tire of luxury shopping, the countryside is very close. Onboard an electric four seat Tuk Tuk I left the city in the rear view mirror as I whirred off on a tour of the many small family-run wineries,
My driver Aziz dexterously whizzed me through the city and out into the countryside, the wind flapping my coat and the mountain air cleansing my London-crusted lungs, until we reached pretty, Les Perrieres.
Bernard Rochaix is the 7th generation of his family in charge of this 225 year old winery and in his tasting room he took me through a range of wines made from seventeen different grape varieties. The ‘terroir’ here is very special and the wines unique and very drinkable. So much so that at the end of the visit I was glad it wasn’t me driving us back to town for me to finally fly home.
A weekend break is perfect for exploring this often overlooked city that’s just over an hour from London. Geneva is an ever-shifting dynamic mix of what you expect, as well as the unexpected, and, of course, there’s all that lovely chocolate.
FLY: Flights from London to Geneva start from £46 return, with direct flights available with EasyJet, British Airways and SWISS.
STAY: Nick stayed at Hotel Rotary close by the lake and the station, a unique hotel mixing traditional and modern style. 18-20 Rue Du Cendrier, Geneva, GE, 1201, Switzerland.
EAT: Hôtel-De-Ville Restaurant Grand-Rue 39, 1204 Genève +41 22 311 70 30
TOUR: The Geneva City Pass, valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours, gives discounted and often free access to more than fifty attractions and trips.
MORE INFO: Geneva Tourism website: https://www.geneve.com/
Choco Pass website: https://www.geneve.com/en/attractions/discover-the-choco-pass-geneva