Home to an impressive number of big businesses and diplomats, it’s not surprising that Geneva is regularly mistaken for Switzerland’s capital. (That honor goes to Bern in case it comes up at your next pub quiz). The World Economic Forum, World Health Organisation and the Red Cross are all headquartered here.
Away from its boardrooms and boutiques, Geneva has a much more relaxed atmosphere, however. Taking advantage of its location on the southwestern end of the lake, this is a city that loves to get outdoors. A regular jumping-off point for skiers and cyclists heading to the surrounding Alps and Jura Mountains, you’ll find plenty to increase your heart rate on the banks of this stylish city—plus a few cholesterol-raising activities, if you prefer.
If you’re trying to stick to a strict diet, Geneva may not be the city break for you. This is the land of chocolate and cheese, after all. Forget calorie counting in favor of fondue at the Hotel Les Armures in the Old Town and you won’t be disappointed. This mid-sightseeing stop-off dates back to the 17th century and features exposed wooden beams and original stonework. Complementing its classic Alpine chalet décor is also a traditional menu of local specialities such as Zurich-style sliced veal and two-cheese (vacherin and gruyere) fondue.
Just a five-minute walk to the Old Town’s main square reveals La Clémence, another Geneva institution. You’ll find half of the city’s population having a drink on the terrace of this bar-cum-café during the summer months. If you’re into people-watching, this is the spot to do it.
For a livelier lakeside spot, La Potinière can be found at the heart of the English Garden. Its cote de boeuf is as celebrated as its lake views and mid-week live bands, too.
For sightseeing and gruyere on the go, the Swiss have even thought of a way to combine the two. Who doesn’t like the sound of a tuk-tuk trip with a little fondue? If you’re short on time, or simply want to enjoy as much cheese as possible while in Geneva, Taxibike can take you on a tour of the city while you dip into the good stuff in the back seat. They also offer walking chocolate, wine and cheese tours, for a slightly healthier option.
It’s perhaps not surprising that Lake Geneva—one of the largest freshwater lakes in Europe—is the focal point for many of the city’s things to do. At 1500 feet high, its famous Jet d’Eau fountain is the most difficult to miss. Pumping 132 gallons into the air every second, it’s not only the emblem of the city but the backdrop for many a selfie. For a close-up, you can reach the fountain via a narrow jetty from the left bank of the lake, but you’ll want to watch out for sudden wind changes.
You’ll find some of the best views of the fountain and lake in Geneva’s Old Town, a national heritage site. Here cobbled streets wind their way up to picture-perfect lookout spots, high in the hills. Wander its narrow passageways and you’ll find quaint cafes and coffee shops adjacent to antique shops and cute boutiques. For the best view in town, it’s worth making the 157-step climb to the top of St. Peter’s Cathedral for a panorama of the city.
While spring and fall can be serene and breezy, summertime is really when Geneva comes into its own. Those looking for an adrenaline rush can choose from paddle boarding, windsurfing and wakeboarding, all on the lake. If you’d rather sit back and let someone do the hard work for you, opt for a boat tour. For all the kit and tuition you need, Tropical Corner has a range of lessons and rental equipment, as well as a palm-tree lined terrace where you can enjoy refreshments after your time on the water. The neighboring Geneva Plage also offers plenty of space for sunbathing during the warmer months and the chance to dive into the lake from diving boards of various heights.
When it comes to winter, you’ll want to take advantage of Geneva’s access to Swiss and French ski resorts, making it the perfect base for exploring black diamonds at your leisure. Praz de Lys, Samoëns and La Clusaz are all just a little more than an hour away, meaning you can incorporate a day’s skiing into your trip and still make it back for dinner. How’s that for aprés-ski?
Geneva doesn’t just have a taste for luxury boutiques, you’ll find all the big-name luxury hotels here too, including Four Seasons, Fairmont and a lakeside Ritz-Carlton that was once a favorite of Grace Kelly. Thanks to its small size, most of the hotels are also within walking distance of the city’s Cornavin train station and attractions.
For its first Swiss property, Mandarin Oriental acquired the first hotel to be built in Europe following the Second World War (the Mandarin Oriental Palace, Lucerne, will open in late 2020 to become the group’s second Swiss hotel). Located on the right bank of the River Rhône before it enters Lake Geneva, the hotel still has plenty of its original Art Deco charm as well as contemporary amenities including Bose speakers, Atelier Cologne toiletries and reportedly Geneva’s largest hotel bathrooms. A fan of firsts, it’s also home to the city’s first fine-dining Indian restaurant, Rasoi by Vineet, created by chef Vineet Bhatia, who you may know from his namesake Chelsea restaurant in London.
La Cour des Augustins
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the city’s university district, Plainpalais, is where you’ll find some of the best deals for dinner and accommodation. Boutique hotel La Cour des Augustins’ modern, stark white guest rooms and apartments, designed by Cramer + Cramer’s founder Philippe Cramer, are just a short walk or tram ride from the Old Town and come with iPod docking stations and LED televisions. Upgrade to a Loft Suite for more amenities and colorful decor.