We managed to hit Singapore when Raffles was closed for refurbishment, Agra when scaffolding hid part of the Taj Mahal, and Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum when “Sunflowers” had gone on tour (to London of all places), so we shouldn’t be too surprised to find Geneva’s biggest icon, The Jet D’Eau, is shut down for maintenance now we’ve arrived to see it!
Having caught the red eye from Gatwick, it’s still early even after a train journey from airport to city and a walk to the hotel, which, handily, has a room ready despite the early hour. So we’re already on our first lakeside walk as the shop shutters go up and Geneva rubs its collective eyes. Something we’d read before we arrived turns out to be true: every visitor to Geneva is given a pass on arrival making all public transport completely free of charge for the whole stay, including trams, buses, shuttle boats across the lake, and, remarkably, even the train to and from the airport. How good is that!?
After the lakeside we take a wander around the characterful Old City, its hillside cobbled streets huddled around the lofty cathedral and impressive ancient Town Hall, taking in the English Garden and the famous floral clock, before heading south to the neighbourhood of Carouge. Oddly, Carouge was once under Sardinian rule, and as a result it retains a degree of Italian influence to this day. The lively market is a stimulating walk, cheese, wine and honey very much to the fore.
So there’s lots on foot, and then we start to hit our free travel cards, with lots of tram usage and finally a trip across the lake on one of the yellow shuttle boats, called mouettes.
And so this is today’s food story. Old town, fabulous coffee and quality croissant. Lunch at Place de Madeleine, we take a traditional Swiss dish, rosti, which is basically crushed potato with onion and lardons, with sausage. Our afternoon beer in Carouge was Cardinal blonde, at a bar called Poids Public, a great little locals’ bar where we return to start our evening, before we have a terrific meal at Cafe du Marche, which we could recommend to anyone. It’s a fantastic meal. How could you not enjoy a restaurant where the “amuse bouche” is radish panna cotta? Every one of the three courses is fantastic. If you come to Geneva, do this restaurant!
Have you ever seen, heard of, or tasted, a Swiss wine? No, nor have we, till now. We can only think these Swiss keep it for themselves rather than export, because it’s very, very good, and, given Geneva prices, not that expensive. Their Pinot Noir in particular is bloody lovely. So Cafe du Marche does us proud,a great meal in a great place.
Our Sunday morning starts at Plainpalais, a huge food and flea market. Beforehand we had eaten a distinctly average breakfast at our hotel and on arriving at the market wished we hadn’t. The aromas which greet us are fantastic and although it is a chilly morning, locals are sat at rustic wooden tables breakfasting on more interesting fayre than our hotel offered.
We have visited this area for another reason though, the statue of Frankenstein! Yes, Frankenstein was penned by Mary Shelley at Lake Geneva and this grotesque statue is what nightmares are made of!!
Before moving on we join the locals in a market cafe with a warming hot chocolate, yes, this Swiss chocolate is delicious and everyone seems to love the hot drink version. It’s not hard to see why! On next to the end of a tram line to see the palaces of the United Nations, a series of grand buildings of varying age set in attractive autumnal woodland. Out front stands an artistic creation by Daniel Berset, a huge chair with one leg broken, serving as a reminder to UN leaders that even the most stable object becomes dangerous if badly treated. Or something like that. Statues of Nobel Peace prize winners abound. We keep singing THAT line from Summertime Blues.
Back towards the Old City, we leave the tram in a different neighbourhood to allow ourselves a wander through new areas, taking time to enjoy the peace among the autumn colours in Bastions Park. This park is home to a huge sculpture central to Geneva’s theme, the Reformation Wall, commemorating the rise not only of Protestantism, but the core Genovese, and Swiss, values, of fairness and equality. It’s an impressive creation paying respect to Calvin and the other founders of Geneva, and reformers from elsewhere.
After a while we emerge back into Place Bourg de Four just as the weak sun pierces the cloud cover, so a blanche beer at an outside table is a must, before we take lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant. Our eyes widen as we glance down the wine list: they have Cannonau, a delicious red from Sardinia and up amongst our very favourite wines, and not commonly seen back home, so it’s a bowl of pasta and a bottle of nectar before another mouette trip across the lake and back to the hotel.
After a short spell at the hotel to recharge our batteries it’s time to head out for our evening. We are not sure what to expect as after reading about Geneva we are lead to believe it is difficult to find food on a Sunday night. So it’s with an open mind that we head out, accepting that we may need to settle for a kebab at one of the tiny Turkish/Moroccan kebab and shisha bars. Earlier in the day we had noticed a bar not far from our hotel and the railway station which brewed its own beer so it’s to Le Brasseurs where we will start tonight. The bar is packed, its lively and a fun atosphere so we settle down at the bar and sample their rather good selection of beers! Feeling peckish now we set off in search of food and to our surprise and contrary to travel guides we find an array of open eateries of all nationalities. Maybe its just the old town which closes on a Sunday night, because here in the area around Cornavin station it is business a usual! We opt to steer clear of fondue and choose a rather welcoming Iranian, or Persian, restaurant “Perse Polis”. The food is fantastic, the service spot on. The aubergine starter is delicious and the lamb simply mouthwateringly tender, all followed up with Iranian tea and some sort of pastry, ambient lighting and Persian music; all so good and we would definitely recommend this place.
Cheese, chocolate, cuckoo clocks, watches and knives. These are what Switzerland is known for, and sure enough, they’re everywhere, all of them.
Geneva’s parks are peaceful and beautiful in autumn, and today we tour the manicured gardens along Avenue Wilson, the parks of Eau-Vives and La Grange, before returning to the Old City, where we climb the steep spiral steps up each of the cathedral towers for fabulous views across the city and the lake.
As the afternoon moves on, the clouds clear and blue sky appears, but as it does so the temperature drops noticeably and autumn starts to bite. We gravitate to Place de Molard, where we’ve spotted an attractive bar tucked in a corner, and we’ve struck gold again, a coolly designed bar which brews its own beer, and serves no beers other than its own. It’s good!
For our last Geneva food experience we head to a rather unusual restaurant, Cafe de Paris, which is genuinely unique in our entire life experience, despite all we’ve done. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a restaurant which has thrived for over 80 years, despite only serving one dish. Yes, there’s no menu, no choices, not even a choice of sauce, or accompaniments. It’s steak, chips and salad. Basically your choice is “yes” or “no”! With so much practice doing one dish, you would expect it to be good, and it is. It’s fabulous, a delicious tender steak in a butter sauce which slowly melts over the meat on the hotplate on your table. A really novel experience. Oh, and the Swiss red is absolute nectar once more.
And so it’s over. Geneva turns out to be a modest, understated city, a city which you wouldn’t call spectacular or beautiful, and certainly not vibrant or even lively, but it’s an efficient and enjoyable place, for all that. Like the Swiss, there is nothing to dislike in the slightest, it’s just that it’s straightforward and conservative. No complaints, but don’t expect to be set on fire here, it ain’t gonna happen..