Why lakeside Geneva in Switzerland is a paradise for foodies and culture vultures
Looking out on Lake Geneva on a clear, sunny day is to be instantly charmed. By its magical, 50-shades-of-blue water, and by the elegant 150m-tall Jet d’Eau fountain therein.
It’s truly an ‘inland ocean’; the largest lake in Europe, and shared between Switzerland and France. Best of all, perched on the shores of its most southwesterly tip is the French-speaking city of Geneva.
It may be Switzerland’s second most-populated city after Zurich, but Geneva, located at the mouth of the River Rhone, is surprisingly tiny. Its population is just 197,376. This makes it comparable in size to Bournemouth in the UK.
But for a small place, it boasts massive selling points. It’s immensely walkable. It boasts tourist-friendly weather all year round, because of the neutralizing effects of the lake and the nearby Mont Saleve. And of course, the majestic Alps are within day trip distance.
But for me, it’s the destination’s cultural and culinary chops that really sell it.
Your mind are your belly will certainly be well-fed: there are more than 30 museums and galleries in Geneva. Not to mention over 1000 restaurants! As such, it’s no surprise that it’s frequently voted one of the best cities in the world for its residents’ quality of life. Oh, and 40% of them come from outside Switzerland, by the way, making this Europe’s most international city.
Here’s our guide to Geneva’s top attractions and eateries, with a hotel recommendation thrown in for good measure…
1 Get lost in the library of Fondation Martin Bodmer
One of the largest private libraries in the world, the Fondation Martin Bodmer is a 150,000 item-strong collection. It’s truly a treasure trove of ideas and intellect.
It also lays claim to 270 incunabula, meaning books printed before 1500 – including one of the few surviving copies of the Gutenberg Bible!
2 Muse over ethnography at MEG
The Musée d’ethnographie de Genève – or MEG as it’s commonly known – puts a loving spotlight on global cultures and customs. The permanent collection ‘The Archives of Human Diversity’ contains 1000 artefacts (curated from 80,0000) spanning several centuries and 100 civilizations; tts current temporary exhibit ‘The Boomerang Effect: The Aboriginal Arts in Australia’ combines art and ethnography.
It’s also worth a look for the stunning architecture. The newest incarnation of the building, opened in 2014, is instantly recognizable by its trademark slanted facade.
3 Take a ‘Mouette’ across the Lake
Lake Geneva is a gargantuan 580 km². A drive around its circumference would take up to three hours. Thus, the most efficient way to get from A to B is often by boat.
A a passage aboard one of Geneva’s famous yellow boats, the ‘Mouette’ transport service, is therefore essential. Geneva’s entire public transport network is noted for its efficiency, FYI.
4 Refuel at BIRDIE Food & Coffee…
This coffee shop and hipster lunch spot, known for its cosy wooden interiors, first opened its doors, on the trendy street of Rue des Bains, in late 2014.
Birdie Food & Coffee has a simple, paired-back menu favoring fresh, high quality ingredients. But as is standard in Switzerland, the price point could prove challenging.
The avocado toast comes with smoked salmon, a poached egg, salad, Gruyere cheese, and clocks in at 19.90 Swiss Francs, or £15.92 ($20.78, €17.84). But that price will also buy you the warmest welcome in Switzerland…
I tried the liquid chocolate and chocolate cake (when in Rome). Both were luscious.
5 …and at Café Gallay
Another trendy enclave for foodies is the quaint, terraced Café Gallay, located in the heart of the Quartier Junction, a popular hub for art lovers.
Fantastic Andalusian dishes are accompanied by a wide variety of wines from the vineyards of France, Spain and Switzerland, including Geneva itself.
I tried the salmon tartare with crayfish to start; a rollercoaster of tastes, followed by shrimp tails and chorizo skewers with pepper coulis, basmati rice and a medley of vegetables.
6 Yet more seafood in La Closerie restaurant
La Closerie is a marvel. It’s found high on a hill in nearby Cologny, bordering France, a short journey by boat or car.
The view is a spectacle. Also, the staff are extremely welcoming, with the manager staying to chat with us for 10 minutes after we ordered.
My suggestion would be to take the succulent polpo (octopus) and fresh calamari to start.
As a main, I can recommend the tomato risotto dish – complete with a layer of gold leaf, you know, for luxury and all. The flavors I can only describe as out of this world.
7 One more meal at Les 5 Portes
Finally, back in Geneva, the homely Swiss-French ‘Five Doors‘ is located in the heart of the stylish Pâquis neighbourhood.
If you visit here in a group of five I’d suggest ordering the sharing platters. Tasty duck and lamb that fell from the bone, the latter served with pan-friend potatoes and a bed of rocket.
8 Step into art at Hotel N’vy
Hotel N’vy reminded me of a giant art gallery. Its bright decor and graffiti-covered walls scream style in its finest form. It’s not every day you can walk down a hallway and feel like a model in a runway show.
Street art by American graffiti artist Meres One, for example, plasters the wall of the hotel’s Tag café. It brightens up the room and makes this place feel young, fresh and trendy. When I stayed, there was even a radio show being broadcast from the lounge!
You couldn’t imagine that after seeing the foyer, hallway and café that the bedroom would be even artier – but it is. Complete with a remote control which allows you to choose the colour of the under bed light, my room was a living, breathing art installation.
If you want to see more of what I got up to on my trip to Geneva, you can also watch my video below:
For more information about Geneva and Switzerland, visit the official website of the Swiss National Tourist Office by clicking here.
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