This is an interesting insight into under-the-radar Geneva credit the New York Times. This scenic city offers quirky museums, outdoor markets, great shopping and a creative food scene.
View of Geneva and Lake Geneva from the St. Pierre Cathedral. Credit Clara Tuma for The New York Times
Geneva is like that guy or girl; you underestimated in high school: slightly square and easily passed over for someone more dynamic. When you take a second look, however, maybe a decade later, you see a cultured, vibrant denizen of the world. That’s Geneva. These days the city offers a growing, thriving food scene; the charming district of Carouge; quirky museums; outdoor markets; great shopping — all set against the expansive beauty of Lake Geneva and the soaring Alps. Don’t be afraid to go off-script in terms of what Geneva is known for — chocolate, watches and fondue — and instead head for what’s simply the best, even if it’s Japanese food, to get a better sense of the well-roundedness of the city. Then steer toward more unexpected variations of the city’s staples. The best part is that Geneva is easily, and very rewardingly, conquered in a weekend.
1. An Inkling of Italy, 3 P.M.
Take the highly efficient Swiss tram 10 minutes from downtown to Carouge, across the Arve River, which has Italian architecture, as well as sophisticated shops and an intimate scale that’s reminiscent of the West Village. Here you’ll find a welcome reprieve from the big, ubiquitous brand names that dominate other parts of the city. Shop the small artisan boutiques. A few not to be missed: Papillon sells Italian cashmere. Stop in Tropicolor for indigenous art and housewares from Madagascar like colorful placemats. Preppy Luxury specializes in menswear from Italy, while La Librerit carries a large selection of children’s French-language books. Caffeinate along the way at Valmandin, an artisanal coffee roaster.
2. High-End Lounging, 7 P.M.
Timothy Oulton, the British designer, not only has his upscale furniture store on the fashionable Rue du Rhône in a gleaming shopping mall but turns the space into a bar and nightclub in the evening. Amid the cured-leather upholstery, you can get a whiff of the luxurious Geneva life — a well-coiffed and -suited crowd seems to head here after work to start the night in style. Everything is for sale, including the bar stools. Cocktails — the Champagne is also quite good — run around 23 to 28 Swiss francs (about the same in dollars).
3. Local Flair, 8:30 P.M.
This does not mean fondue — we’ll get to that — but Nagomi, the Japanese restaurant of choice for in-the-know locals who want mouth-watering fish. It turns out the Genevans have a serious passion for sushi. The restaurant has no website and almost feels as if you need a secret password to get in. Start with their seafood salad (22 francs), then move onto an assortment of sushi (50 francs) and pair it with a glass of rosé (7 francs). Finish with the plum wine sorbet (12 francs). Expect to pay about 150 to 200 francs for two, including alcohol. Reservations strongly recommended.
The Barbershop, a dive bar with beers on tap, on Boulevard Georges-Favon. Credit Clara Tuma for The New York Times
4. Time to Watch, 9 A.M.
Grab some brioches, fruit sodas and coffee from the authentic Italian bakery Mafalda Tavola Calda in the St. Gervais area. Then get your first taste of Swiss watch culture at M.A.D. Gallery (stands for Mechanical Art Devices) on Rue Verdaine, which specializes in and sells artistic pieces of exquisite engineering — many inspired by Swiss watches — from a global base of artists whose works are linked with mechanisms and machinery. Ask any of the friendly staff for a tour of their workshop or to explain the real craftsmanship behind the artwork that is all the more spellbinding in juxtaposition with our virtual and digital age.
5. The Gran Cru of Chocolate, 11 A.M.
There’s certainly no shortage of chocolate in Geneva, so the question is which place to choose. Try Sweetzerland, an elegant and minimalist shop. It’s where Russian tourists come to buy chocolate by the kilo. Here’s why: It is organic, made from guaranteed pure cocoa butter with no palm oil or preserving agents. The taste, in other words, is sublime. Sweetzerland makes small batches of truffles that come in exotic flavors like forest honey, bergamot tea, ginger, and whiskey. Expect to pay 1.40 francs per truffle; 10 francs for a bar of the real stuff (80 percent cacao).
Carouge, across the Arve River, has Italian architecture, as well as sophisticated shops. Credit Clara Tuma for The New York Times
6. Bottom-to-Top Views, Noon
Start at the bottom of the St. Pierre Cathedral by heading to the Archeological Site, an elaborate museum built on the oldest known spot in the city. Situated amid the actual medieval ruins beneath the cathedral, the museum will guide you through the history of Geneva from Roman times into the Middle Ages. Then, make your way upstairs to the cathedral itself and climb the 150-plus steps into the towers for panoramic views of modern Geneva (16 francs for a combined ticket).
7. Feast of Fondue, 2 P.M.
When locals crave fondue, the Swiss melted cheese delicacy, they go to Café du Soleil, a bit away from the main tourist drags. Café du Soleil makes its fondue (23.60 francs) with only one kind of cheese: Gruyère, giving it a creamy, consistent flavor. The Gruyère is hand-selected from the village of La Roche. When you are finished with the pot, be sure to ask your waiter to scrape the bottom cheese off for you, known locally as the “religieuse.” Leave room for dessert, in particular, the house-made chocolate mousse (6.90 francs), and the meringue and Gruyère cream (8.90 francs). A meal, including drinks, will cost around 100 francs.
8. History Through Time, 4:30 P.M.
Spread over four floors in a historic building, the Patek Philippe Museum isn’t a homage just to the high-end watchmaker, but to the history of measuring time. Through the four floors of many precious specimens, you’ll see how Geneva became a watch-making center and exported this unique art and science to other countries. The museum displays some of the most complicated watches in the world, not to mention some of the most unusual — like a Garden of Eden watch that has a snake second hand that circles every minute. Free tours in English every Saturday at 2:30 p.m., French at 2 p.m.; 10 francs.
Image for La BottegaBlackberries and cocoa nibs at the Michelin-starred La Bottega. Credit Clara Tuma for The New York Times
9. Haute, Hipster Cuisine, 7:30 P.M.
If you still think Geneva is staid and passé, your moment of enlightenment has arrived. From an Italian and Argentine pair — Paulo Airaudo and Francesco Gasbarro — comes La Bottega, which opened last year and has already received a Michelin star for its innovative Italian cuisine, some of which is served on bark. The four-course tasting menu is a relative bargain starting at 75 francs (without wine) and includes small but delicious portions of dishes such as veal cappelletti (small dumplings), perfectly cooked hake and pan-seared sea scallops. Desserts are inventive with out-of-the-box flavors like kumquat. Dinner runs around 200 francs, including drinks, for two.
10. Bar Hop, 10 P.M.
On one street, Boulevard Georges-Favon, a lively spot, there are three bars right in a row with something for everyone. L’Apothicaire Cocktail Club serves fancy cocktails — try one with ginger — in sumptuous glasses. Barbershop is more of a typical dive bar with beers on tap and a more lively crowd. KYtaly is the most subdued, a wine bar with an extensive selection.
A boat on Lake Geneva. Credit Clara Tuma for The New York Times
11. Steam It Off, 10 A.M.
Head along the Rhône River to where it meets Lake Geneva, then follow Quai Gustave-Ador along the lake’s scenic southern edge. Make sure to stop along the way to see the Flower Clock, a time-keeping work of landscaping in the Jardin Anglais. End up at Bain Bleu, a new Turkish-style bathhouse that opened last year one and a half miles from downtown along the shore. It offers sleek facilities with steam rooms and many pools. Don’t miss the rooftop bath overlooking Lake Geneva and be sure to get instructions from the staff about the multistep process for making the most of the hammam. Opens at 9 a.m.; 42 francs a person.
11. Sunday Sampler, 12:30 P.M.
Plainpalais is the city’s biggest outdoor farmers’ market, where you can find everything from meats to soaps. A few standouts are Leonhard Bretzel for poppy bread, Au Poulet Doré for rotisserie chicken with potatoes and vegetables, the canelé stand (for those small Bordeaux cakes with a tender custard center), and the Lebanese Guys for Middle Eastern food. Then find space at one of the communal tables and enjoy your last tastes — and sights — of Geneva.