Geneva’s Glamorous Side
The lakeside city lavishes upon its visitors a generous dose of Michelin-starred restaurants, swanky boutiques and peace and quiet.
Wrapped around the tip of its eponymous lake, at Switzerland’s conspicuous nose into France, Geneva is a land of exception. Often a haven for hard diplomacy and the legally pressed, its luxurious sense of neutrality has been attractive enough to draw in the likes of Sophia Loren, Petula Clark and Yoko Ono, who must have found, amid its stunning backdrop of the Alps, that its high price point is a small price to pay for a normal, paparazzi-free life.
One thing you can’t not see, gushing up from the lake, is the Jet d’Eau — a pillar of water, nearly 460 feet high, that is the tallest fountain in Europe. The closer you get, the better (and wetter), so take a stroll through the Jardin Anglais and enjoy the picturesque poetry of old men tending their colorful boats in the marina on your way.
From there, walk or tram up the hill to the city’s Old Town, the sloping, winding, nucleus of the city that is crammed with galleries, buzzy cafés, boutiques and an ornate merry-go-round. On top of the hill looms Saint Peter’s Cathedral, an impressive church (and vantage point), begun in 1160, that took 400 years to build.
Just down the other side of the hill, a religious experience awaits: Reformation Wall is an effacing, statued homage to the ascent of Protestantism. It’s in Bastions Park — a gorgeous, sprawling green space with double-wide, cinematic promenades that, at the height of fall foliage, and with a bit of coffee and reflection, are a type of religious experience themselves.
The geekier set might add CERN (Esplanade des Particules 1, Meyrin, home.cern), located just outside the city, to their maps. In addition to being the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, it’s also widely regarded as the place where the World Wide Web was born. Cinephiles might also fawn; in 2009, Tom Hanks injected the space with drama during the filming of Ron Howard’s “Angels & Demons.” (Hanks was behind another Hollywood drive-by in 2002, along with Paul Newman and Jude Law, when shooting “Road to Perdition” downtown.)
Where shopping is concerned, Geneva does not disappoint. An obvious stop is rue du Rhône, with its endless assortment of high-end fashion and watch brands, but don’t miss Place du Molard. The lit-up cobblestones sprinkling the promenade and bevy of fanciful shops recall the extravagance of Audrey Hepburn, who, after being whisked away with a private jet full of flowers sent by French designer and longtime friend Hubert de Givenchy, spent her final days in the nearby town of Tolochenaz, where she is buried.
Somewhat quainter neighborhoods, such as Eaux-Vives, Carouge and Quartier des Bains, offer more color. In the Plainpalais district, gleeful creative convergence comes together in singular stores. Chock-full of craning anglepoise lamps, Les Enfants Terribles (24 rue Prévost-Martin, les-enfants-terribles.ch) is a vintage boutique that triples as a design studio and café bar. While you’re close, check out Le Bal des Créateurs (25 rue de l’Arquebuse, lebaldescreateurs.com) a concept from the head of renowned local hairdresser Christophe Durand, where you can buy a book, peruse art and walk out with a new ’do.
First things first: Recruit someone to help you conquer a burbling pot of fondue — the luxe mix of melted cheeses, white wine and spices for dipping bread. Just a quick stroll from Europe’s U.N. headquarters, Café du Soleil’s (6 Place du Petit-Saconnex, cafedusoleil.ch) ample portions will rectify your weary day of walking. Or, if you prefer a twist to your cheesy dunk, try Café Bon-Vin (17 rue de Versonnex, cafebonvin.ch), which weaves in unexpected ingredients such as goat cheese, champagne or tomato.
Geneva is a heavenly body of Michelin stars, from the always surprising, menu-less Italian cuisine of La Bottega (21 rue de la Corraterie, labottegatrattoria.com) to the fresh fish of Le Cigalon (39 Route d’Ambilly, le-cigalon.ch). But a legion of other head-turners crowd in, including the sizzling-hot American-esque steakhouse Chez Philippe (Passage des Lions, 8 rue du Rhône, chezphilippe.ch) and, of course, plenty of French. For something lighter on your wallet, Chez Ma Cousine (6 Place du Bourg de Four, chezmacousine.ch) is perfect, but only for the chicken-inclined.
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