Five o'clock tea at the Beau-Rivage hotel. Finger sandwiches and shortbread,
fruitcake and tarts, warm raisin scones and pots of strawberry jam. At one
table, an Englishwoman of a certain age, powdered and Jaegered, finally
gets her husband's attention after taking away his Financial Times. At another
table, the attentions of a South American playboy, sunglasses poised on
forehead, make it all but impossible for his pouty charge to butter her
scone, let alone pet her whippet.
Such droll scenes have earned Geneva its reputation as the most cosmopolitan
city in Switzerland. Unfolding quietly, elegantly at the foot of the Alps
and the Jura, just where Lake Geneva narrows and becomes the Rhône
River, it is the capital of a canton that shares almost its entire 68-mile
perimeter with France. This goes a long way toward explaining the city's
dual identity and suave appeal.
Getting your bearings: Geneva is tidily cleaved in two by the Rhône.
The Rive Gauche, or Left Bank, is on your left as you look downriver, west
and south toward Marseilles. This is the cradle of the Old Town, Geneva's
enchanting artistic and cultural core, the site of its university, of historic
monuments and fortified walls, and of the 12th-century Cathédrale
St.-Pierre. Here, more than anywhere else, the city comes closest to realizing
its longing to be another Paris. Spend a morning reading the international
dailies threaded onto poles at the sunny Palais de Justice café,
and you'll understand why.
Of chief interest on the newer and less graceful Right Bank are the 19th-century
so-called palace hotels, which practically rub shoulders on and off the
Quai des Bergues and Quai du Mont-Blanc. Fans of these establishments call
them "grand"; detractors call them mausoleums. No one disputes
that they are big. Head north through a string of the vest-pocket public
parks that make Geneva one of the greenest cities in Europe, and you hit
the sprawling International Complex, the European seat of the United Nations.
Geneva gets a bad rap as a city of gray-suited functionaries and loupe-eyed
watchmakers, a place you pass through on your way to somewhere elsepossibly
a French ski resort. But it's no mere terminal. The French art of living,
wedded to the Swiss art of efficiency, is a marriage made in heaven, in
Where to Stay
Right Bank or Left?It's up to you the city has two wonderful small hotels,
one on each side:
Hôtel d'Angleterre 17 Quai du Mont-Blanc; 41-22/906-5555, fax
41-22/906-5556; doubles from $295. Bright and stylish, small but not too
small (39 rooms and six suites), this 1872 Right Bank landmark was given
a complete makeover in 1995. Shame about the bathrooms, though: Europe is
still far from understanding the simple engineering that allows water to
flow from a showerhead without causing a flood. Albert Roux of London's
Le Gavroche is the consulting chef at Bertie's, the hotel's perfectly good
English restaurant, housed in a Victorian-style conservatory with spectacular
views of the lake.
Hôtel Les Armures 1 Rue du Puits-St.-Pierre; 41-22/310-9172,
fax 41-22/310-9846; doubles from $295. For many, there's no point in visiting
Geneva if they don't stay in the Old Town, which to them means a room at
the 17th-century Armures. On the upside: ravishing frescoes, painted-beam
ceilings, the raclette in the hotel restaurant, and only 24 rooms and four
suites. On the downside: ham-fisted decoration, stale air, and a certain
At the Right Bank palace hotels, a room overlooking the lake, the Jet d'Eau,
Mont Blanc, and the Alps costs up to 20 percent more. But you didn't come
to Geneva to gaze at a fire escape:
Hôtel des Bergues 33 Quai des Bergues; 41-22/ 731-5050, fax 41-22/732-1989;
doubles from $350. Ask for one of the 50 recently renovated rooms (there
are 113 rooms in all, plus 11 suites). Nice, if stiffly deployed, Directoire
and Louis Philippe furnishings.
Beau-Rivage 13 Quai du Mont-Blanc; 41-22/731-0221, fax 41-22/738-9847;
doubles from $379. While the hotel lacks freshness, the six-story atrium
lobby, with its fountain and buttercream carved-wood decorations, is still
impressive. In fact, it looks much the same as it did in 1898 when Empress
Elizabeth of Austria was stabbed by an anarchist upon leaving the premises,
expiring shortly afterward in one of the suites. (There are six today, plus
Le Richemond Jardin Brunswick; 41-22/731-1400, fax 41-22/ 731-6709;
doubles from $460. The most lugubrious of them all: red satin cushions on
red velvet sofas. Sixty-one rooms and 31 suites.
For some, the location of these two hotels midway between the Old Town and
the lakecouldn't be better:
Hôtel de la Cigogne 17 Place Longemalle; 41-22/818-4040, fax
41-22/818-4050; doubles from $290. Hold tight for the giddy decorative exuberance
of the 36 rooms and 14 suites in this Relais & Châteaux property.
Hôtel Touring-Balance 13 Place Longemalle; 41-22/310-4045,
fax 41-22/310-4039; doubles from $180. This is as close as you'll get to
a good deal in Geneva. The 55 rooms and five suites are plain but not unpleasant.
Where to Eat
La Favola 15 Rue Jean-Calvin; 41-22/311-7437; dinner for two $105. La Favola is the best Italian restaurant in Geneva, but is it the best restaurant
in Geneva, period?A lot of the city's been-around-the-world palates think
so. Tortellini aren't tortellini; they're tender pillows filled with the creamiest, sweetest ricotta, in a luscious reduction of red wine, meat juices, and butter. The intimate dining rooms inspire romantic confidences. As for
location, a few steps from the Cathédrale St.-Pierre in the heart
of the Old Town isn't too shabby.
Café-Restaurant du Château d'If 51 Rte. de Thonon, Vésenaz;
41-22/752-1211; dinner for two $45. You won't agonize over the menu at the
bare-bones restaurant owned by self-appointed "fondue pope" Jacques
Pipoz; there isn't one. The only decision is between the all-Vacherin fondue
and the (better) one made with Vacherin and Gruyère, plus garlic
and white wine. Be warned: Pipoz allots a whopping 13 ounces of cheese per
person. Spring for a cab; it's 10 minutes from town (then again, you may
need the walk home).
Pizzeria da Paolo 3 Rue du Lac; 41-22/736-3049; dinner for two $55. Even
if you're in Geneva for only three days you should consider eating here
twice: it's that good. Fragrant white Alba truffles are shaved onto your
ricotta focaccia right in front of you.
Chez Bouby 1 Rue Grenus; 41-22/731-0927; dinner for two $75. A classic
paper-napkin bistro where tweedy, bifocaled retirees meet young Geneva professionals.
Bouby offers the rare possibility of eating late; it takes orders for full,
hot meals until 1 a.m.
L'échalotte 17 Rue des Rois; 41-22/320-5999; dinner for two
$50. A hail-fellow bistro with truck-driver portions (forgo a first course)
of beef bourguignon and choucroute with all the trimmings.
Le Béarn 4 Quai de la Poste; 41-22/321-0028; dinner for two
$195. Depending on your mood, the rather prissy atmosphere (pink linens,
faux-marble paint effects, smoked mirrors, gold paper doilies!) at this
quayside institution will heighten or hinder your appetite. The chef, Jean-Paul
Goddard, longs to be taken seriously, but he may not be quite up to his
What To See
If you plan to be in Switzerland for an extended time, you may want to acquire
a Swiss Museum Passport. Valid for a month, it allows admission to more
than 180 museums throughout the country. Adults $22; adults with children
$26. Available from the Office du Tourisme de Genève, 3 Rue
de Mont-Blanc; 41-22/909-7000, fax 41-22/ 909-7011.
Le Musée d'Art et d'Histoire 2 Rue Charles-Galland; 41-22/418-2600. Architect Marc Camoletti's early-20th-century Neoclassical masterpiece houses
permanent, world-class collections of archaeology (Etruscan vases, bronzes
from the Roman era in Geneva, Egyptian antiquities), applied arts (medieval
ivories, Byzantine silver), and fine arts (works by Courbet and Corot, Renoir
and Monet, Cézanne and Picasso).
Baur Collection 8 Rue Munier-Romilly; 41-22/346-1729. One of the
finest assemblages of Chinese and Japanese porcelains, jade, and lacquer
Musée de l'horlogerie et de l'émaillerie 15 Rte. de
Malagnou; 41-22/418-6470. Even those with no interest in 17th-century watches
will find Bryn Bella, the setting of Geneva's timepiece and enamel museum,
hard to resistit's a Palladian-style villa in a wooded park.
Maison Tavel 6 Rue du Puits-St.-Pierre; 41-22/310-2900. The domestic
life of old Geneva comes alive through displays of 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century
tableware, furniture, ironwork, and woodwork. Then there is the Maison Tavel
itself, the oldest private house in Geneva. It was rebuilt in 1334 following
a fire, and significant changes were made to the façade some 350
years later, including the addition of windows and the enlargement of existing
Musée Ariana 10 Ave. de la Paix; 41-22/418-5450. Seven centuries
of European, Near Eastern, and Asian ceramics alongside more than 1,750
pieces of glass. Of special interest are some 200 examples of Fluhli 18th-
and 19th-century tumblers painted with naive polychrome enamel birds, animals,
and other motifs from the central Swiss village of Entlebuch.
Where To Shop
Mahara MHR Montres 3 Place du Grand-Mézel; 41-22/311-2010. The Italian-made
Sparviero aircraft made thousands of victorious sorties in World War II.
So what does a vintage fighter plane have to do with Geneva's must-have
watch of the moment?The plane's incredibly modern-looking flight instruments
inspired the boldly graphic, easy-to-read face of the timepiece, which is
why, of course, they call it the S.79 Sparviero.
Yvon Desbiolles 7 Blvd. du Théâtre; 41-22/311-7205. If he's good enough to repair the chimes of Westminster, he's good enough
to have a go at your Rolex. This watch doctor to the stars is no snob: Swatches
are sold next to a rehabilitated Breguet Tourbillon, of which fewer than
1,000 have been made in the 202 years since Abraham-Louis Breguet invented
the mechanism that cancels errors caused by the effects of gravity on watch
movement. A new Breguet goes for $62,800; Desbiolles's is $48,050.
Les Ambassadeurs 39 Rue du Rhône; 41-22/310-5566. The city's
largest selection of watches in all price categories. Current best-sellers:
for men, Breitling's chunky Chronomat; for women, Jaeger-LeCoultre's Reverso;
for both, among more popularly priced watches, anything by Tissot.
Librairie Ancienne 20 Grand'Rue; 41-22/310-2050. This shop can't
make up its mind what it's selling: you'll find a morocco-bound first edition
of Les Misérables fighting for space with a crystal carafe and a
signed Marie Laurencin print.
Histoire de Plaire 1 Rue du Purgatorie; 41-22/310-1888. A women's
shoe boutique decorated like a hatbox. The hot item isn't shoes, but Anne
Fontaine's pristine white shirts.
Shaman 25 Rue de la Cité; 41-22/ 781-4118. Franco Privato combs eastern
Europe, South America, Morocco, India, and the Philippines for objets to
fill his highly disciplined home shop: bubble-glass wine coolers, resin
picture frames with coconut-shell marquetry, terra-cotta cooking vessels,
camphorwood trunks with brass hardware, hand-blocked bedspreads.
Atmosphere 10 Grand'Rue; 41-22/ 310-7575. Sophie and Paul Yanacopoulos-Gross
sell their own collection of oak basics— coffee and dining tables, mirrors,
and shelving systems handmade in Italyas well as Iranian glass, pottery
from the south of France, horn serving pieces from Madagascar, and Greek
Structure 17 Grand'Rue; 41-22/311-9711. Exact, miniature replicas of the
innovative 19th- and 20th-century mass-produced furniture in the Vitra Design
Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, including Gerrit Rietveld's 1935 natural-wood
Zig-Zag stool and Mies van der Rohe's 1927 tube chair.
Atrium 16 Rue des Granges; 41-22/781-1826. This overstuffed shop
stocks everything for the garden roomand then some: trugs, cobalt glass
vases for forcing narcissus and amaryllis bulbs, birdcages, wire topiary
forms, antique footed lead urns, pierced tole lanterns from Morocco, basketwork
(from cheese platters to log holders). A new section upstairs is jammed
with all the crucial bits and pieces needed for doing up an Alpine chalet:
cuckoo clocks, mercury glass goblets and candlesticks, wooden cowbells,
kilim carpets, and cushions with red cross-stitch embroidery.
La Vérandah 10 Rue du Vieux Collège; 41-22/304-6404. Home-furnishings heaven for all of Geneva's top-rung maîtresses de
maison: bushy passementerie tiebacks, marbleized desktop letter-holders,
tissue boxes festooned with ribbon and eyelet lace.
10 THINGS NOT TO MISS IN GENEVA
1. The Saturday flea market, held on Plaine de Plainpalais.
2. A backstage tour of the Grand Théâtre, built in 1879 (11 Blvd. du Théâtre; 41-22/311-2311).
3. People-watching at La Clémence, a café in the shadow of
the courthouse (20 Place du Bourg-du-Four).
4. A game of outdoor chess with giant pieces on the beautiful grounds of
the Parc des Bastions.
5. A boule de Berlin à la confiturea kind of doughnut with raspberry
or red-currant fillingfrom the Aimé Pouly bakery (12 locations, including
72 Rue des Eaux-Vives).
6. Île Rousseau, a little island in the Rhône, off the Pont
des Bergues, with a statue of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
7. The mausoleum of Charles II, Duke of Brunswick, at the Square du Mont-Blanc.
8. The hip new baRocco café in the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire.
9. The Horloge Fleuriea clock with a face made of flowering plants at the
Jardin Anglais (April-October).
10. The heart-stopping, wraparound view from the north tower of the Cathédrale
LUNCH IN FRANCE?
A pleasant hour-long drive into the neighboring Savoy region of France puts
the hotly debated Auberge de l'Éridan within easy reach of Geneva
(13 Vieille Rte. des Pensières, Veyrier-du-Lac; 33-4/50-60-24-00;
dinner for two $260). Chef Marc Veyrat relishes his role as a bad boy of
French haute cuisine, disdaining a toque for a floppy country hat. Lunch
at the lakeside Auberge last fall was a long (and expensive) succession
of baffling gaffes. Still, the chef's champions insist that he's a major
player. Does he deserve the benefit of the doubt?Your call.
However your meal goes, pick up a piece of Savoyard pottery glazed in yellow,
green, or dark brown and decorated with birds or polka dots at Poterie de
la Côte (La Côte, Évires; 33-4/50-62-01-90) or Poterie
d'Annecy (Rte. d'Albertville, St. Jorioz; 33-4/50-68-61-14).
A DAY IN A SWISS VILLAGE
Across the Arve River, Geneva melts into the handsome suburb of Carouge before you've even had time to notice. Tram lines 12 and 13 connect the
two places within minutes, but even when you're on foot you'll find that
less than a half-hour separates them. Wear walking shoes, and bring a book:
you'll want to spend every moment of downtime here exploring the village
streets graced with pastel town houses, or reading in one of the two elegant,
leafy squares. Market mornings are Wednesday and Saturday. Guided tours
in English of Carouge's fountains, gardens, and architecture, are given
from 11 to noon on Saturdays from June to September. (For information, call
Mrs. Matthey-Doret at 41-22/342-0109.)
Join the regulars at the genially raucous Café-Restaurant de l'Aigle
d'Or for a simple bistro lunch of roast leg of lamb and chocolate mousse
(13 Rue de la Filature; 342-0547; lunch for two $60). Afterward, watch Michel
Magnin ply the old-world craft of bookbinding in his storefront atelier
(5 Rue Ancienne; 41-22/342-5367).
A friend recently back from Geneva knitted his brow when I asked him what
he thought of the city's most celebrated and recognizable symbol, the Jet
d'Eau, which thrusts some 8,000 gallons of water per minute nearly 500 feet
in the air off the Left Bank.
"Fountain?" he asked dejectedly. "What fountain?"
My friend was the victim of bad timing: in winter, the "jeddo,"
as Genevans call it, is out of commission. If you're the kind of person
who wouldn't go to Rome without seeing the Colosseum, you'll probably feel
the same about Geneva and the Jet. To catch it in action this year, barring
strong winds, plan your trip for between March 3 and October 12.
BEST OF THE BEST
The Genevese are obsessed with quality. Because only the best will do (good is what they give the dog), this is where they go for . . .
everything you need for the perfect pot of tea: Tschin-Ta-Ni (5 Rue Verdaine;
sweets (macaroons, hand-dipped and fork-rolled chocolate truffles, and chocolate-covered
almonds and Piedmontese hazelnuts): Auer Chocolatier (4 Rue de Rive; 41-22/311-4286).
quince-filled pastries: B. Rusterholz (13 Rue de la Cité; 41-22/311-4604).
pretzels (plain, apricot, garlic, Parmesan, you name it) and roasted chestnuts: the stands on the corner of Rue du Marché and Rue de la Madeleine.