Geneva really is the city that has it all. And I know that’s perhaps a rather bold statement to make, but following three days there earlier this month – I can safely say, it’s risen right to the top of my recommended city breaks list, because whether it’s gorgeous scenery, waterside dining, cocktails on the beach, boat trips, chocolate tours, fine dining, mountainous landscapes, hiking, shopping, culture or relaxation that you’re searching for in a break, this is the destination that ticks ALL the boxes.
I visited in association with Geneva Tourism in early September, for a long weekend stay with a group of girls. We had the most fabulous weekend and experienced all of the elements while we were there – blazing sunshine, clouded mist and a little bit of drizzle, however we soon discovered that whatever the weather, it’s a gorgeous city with a lot to offer.
One of the most surprising discoveries I made while visiting was how it juxtaposes everything you usually expect from a ‘city’. Since most of the residents opt to use public transport – which please note, is extremely reliable and you can hop on a bus, tram or boat and be at your destination in no time – the pollution levels are very, very low. That cloud of fog that usually hazily resides over cities just isn’t there in Geneva. The air feels clean and light – and when dining at one of the pop-up bars overlooking Lake Geneva or in one of the park cafes, you could very easily be in a coastal town. The lake itself is almost turquoise (a far cry from our very own Thames bank) and it’s all very, very well kept.
So whether you’re planning a romantic break or a fun weekend with the girls, let me take you through an itinerary that ensures you won’t miss out on anything.
Where to stay
For a very chic and central base – I’d highly recommend Hotel N’vY, a four-star hotel just a few minutes walk from Lake Geneva. The hotel, which is said to have been inspired by New York, is beautifully finished, with intriguing artwork and boutique style suites. It’s a great choice if you’re only visiting for a few nights and want somewhere comfortable – yet within easy reach of all the cities landmarks – to return to at the end of a busy day. Plus they have the kind of beds you just melt into. And don’t ever want to get out of!
What to do
Now I’m sure we all know that Switzerland is synonymous with chocolate, but did you know that it is also the country that eats the most chocolate per person, in the world? I certainly didn’t. But after two hours on the Local Flavours chocolate tour, I certainly began to understand why. Forget household names in the UK, the array of tiny – often family owned – chocolate shops in Geneva (some of which have been running for hundreds of years), are out of this world. I was initially a little hesitant as to whether dairy-free me would be able to get properly immersed in the chocolate tour, however our guide Juliane assured us that many of the shops we’d be visiting offered options that would ensure I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out. And sure enough, she was right.
We started our tour at Favarger, a renowned chocolate maker founded in 1826. We were whisked past the display of truffles, which was casting a heavenly smelling mist throughout the store – to the back – where our table – complete with chocolate fondant, marshmallows, strawberries and bananas – awaited us. After being assured that the fondant was indeed dairy-free (although you’d never know as it was so creamy), it took the five of us less than three minutes to clear the entire plate. And while we were filling our stomach, Juliane was filling our minds with lots of very interesting facts about the history of chocolate and how cocoa is extracted from the bean itself. We saw a cocoa bean in reality – and they are so much larger in size than I expected!
Trust me when I say that this tour is a chocoholics delight, because minutes after your first chocolate tasting, you are back on your feet and moving forward to the next stop – Stettler, which if I had to choose, would be my favourite of all of the chocolatiers we visited. Stettler has an interesting story, because the Princess Masako of Japan once tasted some of their delights and she was so enamoured by the taste, she called for several tonnes of their sweet treats to be shipped over every year so her country could enjoy it too! Their dark chocolate ‘Pavé De Genève’ is a speciality – and after just one truffle, it’s absolutely not an overstatement to say that I would quite happily book a trip back to Geneva purely for these alone. Made with coconut oil and the finest cocoa, it quite literally melts in your mouth and has the most incredibly creamy chocolate-y flavour, despite having no milk or cream in whatsoever. My only regret is that I didn’t ship a whole crate of them home – since I haven’t stopped talking about them since I arrived home and my family are all wondering what on earth could be so special about this specific chocolate. You’ll have to take my word for it until you try one yourself!
After several more stops, we ended our tour by taking part in the tradition known as Geneva’s Fête de l’Escalade. On the 11th December 1602, the Duke of Savoy attempted to attack Geneva in the darkness of the night with his army. He sent his best soldiers to scale Geneva’s city walls to unlock the gate from the inside. However a woman called Catherine Cheynel was cooking vegetable soup at 2am (she was a mother of 14 children, so late night soup making was a common thing for her) and she noticed a man climbing the ladder below her window. She poured the scalding hot cauldron of soup onto him and the noise of doing so awoke the entire city, preventing the attack from being successful. To celebrate, each year families in Geneva buy ornate chocolate cauldrons and employ the youngest person in the family – and the wisest person, to hold hands and smash the creation, to reveal little marzipan vegetables inside. You’ll have to head to my Instagram storiesfor a demonstration, but it was a lovely way to end our chocolate tour – especially as we got to nibble on bits of the broken chocolate cauldron!
While you can admire Lake Geneva from the banks – with pop-up bars and a man-made beach, the best way to see the city – is on the lake itself! CGN offer a ‘Chef’s Table’ dinner cruise, on board the elegant Savoie boat.
The three hour cruise departs every evening (from May-September) and the food on board is incredible.
Dine on risotto, fish or Tarte Tatin – with the view of Geneva at dusk twinkling away in the background!
Bain-Bleu Hammam & Spa
Possibly the most serene and sophisticated spa I’ve ever visited – Bain-Bleu Hammam & Spa is well worth a visit during your stay in Geneva.
Offering indoor and outdoor pools, you can quite happily float in the steamy baths all morning long – before grabbing a pastry and a juice from their top floor bistro (still in your swimsuit).
Or for something extra, you can indulge in their Oriental-inspired Hammam experience, for a complete rejuvenation of your skin.
Since I have the worlds most sensitive skin (that turns red as soon as I so much as brush past it), I sampled one of their gentle 25-minute hot stone massages too, which was heavenly!
Carouge – a smaller almost ‘suburb’ of Geneva, this beautiful area has more of a village feel, with a morning market, street stalls and a bustling centre. It also has some gorgeous streets with grand ornate buildings – including the famous umbrella street. Unfortunately if you want to see a picture of what I mean, you’ll have to Google it, because when we arrived (armed with umbrellas to join into the display for a picture), we were greeted with a street full of flying fish instead. Still, it’s a gorgeous area – and it’s also where this pretty pink house is located! It’s easy to get to by tram.
St Pierre Cathedral – the Cathedral sits at the highest point of the city, with panoramic views of Lake Geneva – and the cities most famous landmark – the incredible jet of water (Jet d’Eau) that powers out at 125mph unto 140 metres into the air. I’d recommend climbing to the North and South Tower for the most beautiful photo opportunity, I promise the 105 steps are more than worth it when you reach the top!
Broken Chair – located next to the Place des Nations, the Broken Chair sculpture was originally commissioned in 1996 to raise awareness for the victims of landmines, as well as encouraging governments to ban their usage. Today, the 12 metre high chair stands to symbolise the juxtaposition between ‘fragility and strength and imbalance and stability’. With an array of fountains in front of the chair (that you can run in and out of if you’re brave – many people made it unscathed – or dry), it makes for a stunning place to visit.
Musée Ariana – possibly the most beautiful museum I’ve ever seen, this grand building plays host to a display of ceramic and glass work. Whether you visit to admire the interior – or the exterior, you won’t want to miss taking a photo by the fountain!
Where to eat
I was thoroughly impressed by the food offerings in Geneva – especially the presentation of the food, which was impeccable whether we were dining in a park cafe, or a more fancy establishment.
*On occasions, nicely presented food can be a little pretentious – often appearing more appetising then it actually tastes. However I can confirm that each of the dishes below tasted even better than they looked! Bonus.
Often hotel restaurants can be a little underwhelming, but if anything – the Trilby restaurant at our Hotel N’vY surpassed every expectation I had. After an early start and a morning of travel, we hungrily ordered an assortment of items from the menu and they arrived in quick succession. I had the tuna steak with passion fruit dressing and ratatouille vegetables, delicious! Kelsey had the sea-bass tartare which also looked incredible. What a beautifully presented spread, don’t you think?
Located in the heart of Geneva’s English Garden (or the Jardin Anglais, to be precise) is this beautiful outdoors/indoors cafe with a small but perfectly formed menu. I had the asian salmon with crispy rice, which was delicious – with a side of roasted Pumpkin! The wine selection here is pretty extensive too, if you fancy a glass or two after a busy day exploring the city.
Located in a beautiful park in Central Geneva, nestled among the trees – is Cottage Cafe, a tiny Swiss hut that has been drizzled with fairy lights and adorned with flowers and ivy. If you can find a free table, you can feast while admiring the adjacent water feature. I had five spiced chicken, with caramelised onion and vegetables – although the pasta dishes at the table looked equally as divine!
For the ultimate Sunday brunch, city dwellers head to Marcel – which has an incredible menu of delectable delights. Whether it’s pancakes that you fancy, or a salad, a bagel or a bowl of nachos – Marcel has you covered. Just make sure you book, it gets very busy at peak brunching times!
Have you visited Geneva before – and if so, do you have any recommendations to add to the ultimate guide?