LuxeGetaways Magazine – Spring 2017 | People are often quick to tell you that Geneva (Switzerland’s banking and financial hub) is too expensive, and this can be true: the city often caters to elite politicos, ambassadors, diplomats and world leaders. Though luxury is plentiful in this fascinating city, there is still plenty to do here that will not break the bank. Follow our high/low guide to finding a happy mix of things that are either posh but pricey, or hip yet affordable – all worth your hard-earned dime. Note that the exchange rate is essentially equal at the time of this feature: 1 CHF = 1.005 USD.
A Place To Lay Your Head
Once you arrive, check-in at the Grand Hotel Kempinski (Quai du Mont-Blanc 19, 1201 Genève), befitting of the “grand” in its name with a marble lobby so large that I am convinced it could hold the plane that just brought me to Switzerland. When it is quiet, the only thing that can be heard is the sound of my own shoes squeaking as I try to quietly get to the elevator without too much notice. The only one who seems to mind, however, is me, as the staff smile hello, and patrons continue talking without missing a beat while sitting at one of the many lounging areas in this lavish lobby.
Kempinski Hotels is the oldest luxury hotel group in Europe, and this hotel with 412 rooms and suites, is Geneva’s largest five-star property. The hotel is a modern marvel situated on Quai du Mont-Blanc, one of Geneva’s swankiest boulevards, and home to many of the 11 five-star hotels in the city, the best restaurants and numerous trendy bars for all likes and desires. It is also close to the main train station, Old Town and many of Geneva’s other famous sites.
Rooms are contemporary in style, equipped with a tub/shower combo, a seating area, work desk, flat-screen television, in-room iPad and a Nespresso machine. For the best view looking out over Lac Léman and the notable Jet d’eau fountain that is synonymous with Geneva, book room 6617, a Deluxe Lakeview Room that includes a small balcony.
The hotel houses three restaurants, one comfy lounge, two uber-hip bars that are popular with locals, a pool and a world-class spa. Prices at the hotel begin at around CHF 500, but package deals can be found on the hotel’s web site that can lower the price significantly. If money is no object, then live large in (quite literally) the largest suite in Europe. At almost 12,000 square feet (1,115 square meters), the Geneva Suite comes in at a breathtaking CHF 50,000 per night.
A Person Has To Eat
Before taking on the town, grab a bite at one of the hotel’s restaurants — Il Vero serves authentic Italian with truly outstanding espresso for those similarly addicted to caffeine; or head over the Pont du Mont-Blanc, and into the heart of the Old Town to visit a more modest Tuscan-style Italian eatery, La Favola (rue Jean-Calvin 15, 1204 Genève). In this cozy, cheerful little restaurant close to St Peter’s Cathedral, you will find melt-in-your-mouth braised beef ravioli with truffles, Barolo and parmesan, as well as tender osso bucco with risotto “Milanese” and saffron.
Prices at La Favola range from CHF 25 for a starter to CHF 62 for the rack of lamb main course, but if you order the Plat du jour (which I highly recommend), the daily starter, entrée and dessert will only cost you CHF 35.
Old Town Treasures
After being fortified with pasta, it is time to check out the scenic sites in the medieval Old Town. A picturesque area with small winding streets, park-like squares and quaint shops and cafés, Geneva’s Old Town takes you back to a period before ordered streets and technological contraptions existed. There are plenty of places to discover, and exploring the area’s nooks and crannies can take an hour, or a day, depending only on the time you have available.
Must-sees include Maison Tavel (Rue du Puits-Saint-Pierre 6, 1204 Genève) – also known as the Museum of Urban History and Daily Life – to have a look at the large-scale model of 1850’s Geneva that was still surrounded by its stone fortifications, which took the architect Auguste Magnin 18 years to finish, and the twelve-room 18th-century apartment on the second level.
Inside the Romanesque-Gothic St. Peter’s Cathedral (Place du Bourg-de-Four 24, 1204 Genève), you will feel the stony weight of history as the cathedral’s imposing structure and sombre décor give credibility to its importance during the Protestant Reformation. (For history geeks, 2017 is the anniversary of the Reformation, and Geneva is the place to go for sites that reflect this tumultuous period.) This was the adopted church of one of the leaders of the Reformation, John (Jean) Calvin, and the lack of interior ornamentation exemplifies the strict Calvinist ideals of the time, which I found stark, yet beautiful. Take the time to trek up the 157 steps of the copper-green gothic bell tower for the most fantastic views over Geneva.
Walk down Rue de la Corraterie, one of the prettiest streets in Old Town, and then finish the day shopping (or maybe just browsing) on Rue du Rhône, home to the highest concentration of luxury boutiques in the world. And the best chocolatiers? These are on Rue du Marché.
An Exquisite Dining Experience
Geneva has a total of 13 Michelin-starred restaurants, and you must try at least one of them for an unparalleled once-in-a-lifetime dining experience.
Bayview (Quai Wilson 47, 1201 Genève 21) at the Hotel President Wilson (yes, as in Woodrow Wilson) is a gorgeous restaurant just down the street from the Grand Hotel Kempinski. Operated by celebrity chef Michel Roth, the restaurant has earned one Michelin star and serves seasonal food that has a very French slant. The interior is cool modern, with white tables and chairs, warm walnut wood, blue glass accents, a stunning wine showroom at the entrance and a striking floral arrangement placed on a suspended table in the center of the room – making a great topic of discussion for my dining companion and me.
Prepare for a menu full of surprises, such as the delicious duck foie gras Religieuse with vanilla pineapple and passion fruit; a sea bass and shellfish dish that comes bathed in a cress coulis with sweet and mild Brousse cheese agnolotti, and is topped with raw oysters and luscious caviar; and a tender and hearty veal filet mignon served with green peas and violet artichokes that finishes fresh with a lemon thyme crumble.
The six-course Menu dégustation is CHF 130, and the eight-course menu is CHF 170.
Another hotel restaurant, Le Chat Botté (Quai du Mont-Blanc 13, 1201 Genève), is found in the grande dame Hotel Beau-Rivage, a Leading Hotels of the World property. A neat fact for those interested in Austrian history is that this happens to be the hotel where an anarchist stabbed Sisi (the Empress Elisabeth) outside of the hotel. She was then taken back to her suite where she passed away.
This is a contemporary restaurant with a classic feel thanks to the cream-colored walls, coffered ceilings and rectangular pillars; and is just down the street from the Grand Hotel Kempinski. Chef Dominique Gauthier leads the restaurant where he creates French gourmand delights such as Swiss veal sweetbreads with green local lentils, moist sea bass with lemon caviar, fennel and yuzu and the luscious veal shank with mandarin and ginger. These exquisite goodies have earned the Chef one Michelin star.
Prices for lunch start at CHF 60 and goes to CHF 220 for a multicourse dinner menu.
My final pick is a rare treat: a two-Michelin-starred country house restaurant located just outside of the city. Domaine de Chateauvieux (Chemin de Châteauvieux 16, Peney-Dessus, 1242 Satigny, Genève) is set in a lovely stone 16th-century house nestled on a hill in the heart of Geneva’s countryside. Unless you have a rental car, a taxi is necessary (and you will be convinced that you must be lost), but stay the course – the pricy ride is worth it. I arrived just as the sun was beginning to set over the lush gardens and vineyards, and I knew immediately that this place was special. On a Thursday night, it was packed with guests eager to savor the talents of Philippe Chevrier, the owner and chef, whose edible creations include things like succulent pigeon served with green cabbage and bacon, flavored with saffron, pear and star anise; and then there was the delicate scallop tartare joined by a citrus sea water jelly, caviar and seaweed bread with fleur de sel.
A mid-week five-course menu is CHF 96, and a multicourse dinner ranges from CHF 190 to CHF 380. Domaine de Chateauvieux also has 13 rooms if you choose to stay overnight starting at CHF 217.
Have “Carouge” To Face The Day
Geneva has its very own version of Greenwich Village: Carouge. Originally built by the Sardinians as a separate rival city, it is now a district of Geneva, and home to artists and artisans who give the area a sort of Mediterranean boho feel.
Full of hip local bistros, bars and boutiques — including Atelier Matin Bleu (Rue Ancienne 5, 1227 Carouge) owned by Emmanuelle Bronzino, who makes her own fabrics for her clothing lines. You can easily spend a morning checking out the galleries and shops while admiring the 18th century Italianate style of architecture lining the district’s checkerboard alleyways and streets. A few “must-see” spots include chocolatier Philippe Pascoët (Passage des Lions, 1204 Genève) for a delicate treat such as their amazing ganaches, Boutique L’Effrontée (Rue Saint-Victor 24, 1227 Carouge) for au courant ready-to-wear women’s fashion; chic and trendy handmade handbags at Chris Murner (Rue Ancienne 43, 1227 Carouge GE), the best café to caffeinate and enjoy your favorite coffee drink, Valmandin (Rue Ancienne 46, 1227 Carouge); and L’échappée belle (Rue Saint-Victor 1, 1227 Carouge) for all-around nifty items. And as an added bonus, if you go on a Wednesday or Saturday morning (as well as Thursday evenings now), there is a farmer’s market offering local produce and goods.
The area is perfect for unhurried, rambling roaming, but if you want a path to follow, then make your way to Place du Marché. At the Town Hall (Place du Marché 14, 1227 Geneva), you can pick up a bilingual guide of the area with a suggested walk. Before leaving this little world, have a bite to eat at the stylish Asian favorite, Paku Paku (Rue Vautier 43, 1227 Carouge) to fuel up for the rest of the day.
Soak in Alpine Waters
The Swiss love their baths, and most folks head to the Bains des Pâquis (Quai du Mont-Blanc 30, 1201 Genève) in Geneva during the summer. However, if you are up for trying something more modern, the Bain-Bleu Hammam & Spa (Quai de Cologny 3, 1223 Cologny) is the place to go for a blissful bath experience.
Located in a quiet neighborhood (take bus N°6 or N°2, direction Genève Plage), this spa and bath is sensuously sexy — in a good, clean way, of course; it is a bath, after all. Once you enter this spa, which opened at the end of 2015, you are cocooned in a dimly lit space filled with shimmering mosaic tiles and sparkling patterns on the walls and ceiling from the magical Moroccan lamps.
If you opt for the hammam circuit — and this is a true hammam (not just a steam room that is called a hammam, which we see too often these days), so it is like being in a jewel box. Rich reds and opulent oranges surround you, whether in the aromatic steam rooms, the scrub rooms, or in the central pool. There are even private, couples’ steam rooms where couples slather mud on each other, and then shower it all off. A traditional soapsuds scrub can be booked in advance to get an authentic experience and, at the end of the circuit, the Oriental Salon is “1001 Arabian Nights” made real. You enter individual apartments through embossed sliding golden doors to find a large daybed covered in cushions, replete with rugs, and all you hear is soft murmurings coming from the room next to you.
The rest of the baths are also nicely naughty, but instead of those fiery hammam colors, industrial cool concrete walls, burnished metal and whitewashed woods now surround you. The main pool, called the Mythical Bath, has streaming waterfalls, secret alcoves, and jets that unexpectedly flow up from the pool floor. On the rooftop, the pool has metallic, contoured bubble loungers and mini-jetted tubs for one or two that look out over the lake and to the mountains beyond. Perfection.
To use the pools, prices start at CHF 28, and CHF 42 to also access the hammam. These prices give you access for the entire day. The hammam has a small café and there is also a bistro onsite. Time permitting; this is a great place to spend the better part of a day.
There are times that many of us just want a good burger, especially after an afternoon of soaking and relaxing. The Hamburger Foundation (Rue Philippe-Plantamour 37, 1201 Genève), started by three Genevese childhood friends, began as a food truck; then another food truck, and finally two restaurants. The restaurant in Paquis (by the Grand Hotel Kempinski) is a true hamburger joint, serving juicy medium-rare burgers with buns crammed full of leafy lettuce, fresh tomatoes, crisp onions, crunchy pickles and just enough mayo, mustard and ketchup to seal the delicious deal. It is pretty straightforward: order a hamburger, cheeseburger or bacon cheeseburger along with a side of slaw or fries, add in a bottle of either Cheap, Better or Best red or white wine and it is a meal accompli. The beef is all local, and ground to exacting standards by the in-house butcher. Burger bliss.
Burgers start at around CHF 15, and a “Cheap” bottle of red is CHF 30. No need to be afraid of ordering the “cheap” wine; anything local is delicious.
Finish the evening back at the hotel at FloorTwo Lounge. This spacious lounge attracts the beautiful crowd as they vie for the coveted tables by the windows that look out over the Jet d’eau.
Breakfast of Champions
On the final morning in Geneva, take a short walk down the street from the hotel to visit the charming Cottage Café (Rue Adhémar-Fabri 7, 1201 Genève). Set in a little brick house found in the Jardins de Brunswick, this eclectic café serves breakfast until 11 a.m. with a laid-back and comfortable vibe. Organic breads, homemade jam, fresh-pressed juices and oh-so-delicious hearty Swiss bircher muesli make up the breaky menu here.
Tummy full, you can be on your way to begin your next adventure. Thank you for another amazing weekend Geneva!
Day Trip: Lovin’ Lavaux
About an hour outside of Geneva is the little-known wine area of Lavaux. With terraced vineyards set on impossibly steep ancient hills, these quaint towns have Michelin-starred restaurants and gregarious winemakers ready to talk about their craft at the drop of a hat. It is no wonder that the singer, Prince, wrote a song called “Lavaux” after he visited here in 2010.
Here are some tips to make the most of your visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site:
Take a train from Geneva to either the small town of Lutry or Cully to take the Lavaux Express train (lavauxexpress.ch/en) — which is actually wheeled, and drives on pavement. This train takes you right through some of the towns and vineyards along its route.
If you go it alone, you can rent a car or take the train from Geneva to any of 14 villages in the region.
There is a two-hour (or so) walk you can do on your own (mostly downhill!) that starts in Grandvaux and ends in Lutry. When you get to Grandvaux, make a stop first at the restaurant, Tout un Monde (Place du Village 7, 1091 Bourg-en-Lavaux). It has excellent food, and the views are to die for.
St-Saphorin is one of my favorite stops. Here, cobblestoned streets and medieval stone houses make up this picturesque village, with its little shops and lovely wine bars and restaurants like Auberge de l’Onde (Centre du Village, Chemin Neuf, 1071 Saint-Saphorin) that is a sensational fine dining option.
If you want to do more than eat and drink, then visit the new Chaplin’s World Museum (Route de Fenil 2, 1804 Corsier-sur-Vevey) in Vevey, or the dramatic Chillon Castle (Avenue de Chillon 21, 1820 Veytaux) near Montreux.
For more information, visit Montreux Riviera Tourism (www.montreuxriviera.com/en)
Tips To Help You Get Around
Once you arrive at the Geneva International Airport, you can find a transport ticket machine that will give you a ticket to the main train station at no cost in the baggage claims area. At the train station, you can either continue by bus or tram to your hotel, or simply take a taxi.
One of the good things about staying in a hotel in Geneva is that you receive a very handy Geneva Transport Card. This card allows you use buses, boats, trains and trams within Zone 10 for free. If your hotel does not give it to you upon check-in, make sure to inquire with them.
As part of the transport system, Geneva has public boats (Mouettes) that cross Lac Léman. Your Transport Card is valid on these boats. (mouettesgenevoises.ch/pw/en)
If you have a valid Swiss Travel Pass, it can be used for the day trip to Lavaux, and then to go between various villages. The Pass can be purchased on the Switzerland Tourism web site. (myswitzerland.com/en-ca/swiss-travel-pass.html)
The Geneva Pass (available for 24, 48 or 72 hours) will give free entry (or discounted rates) for attractions, museums and tons of tours (including a walking tour of Carouge). It can be purchased through the Geneva Tourism web site. (geneve.com/en/see-do/geneva-pass)
The tourist information center can be found at Rue du Mont-Blanc 18.
How To Get Here
Many airlines in the United States, Canada and Europe fly direct to Geneva. I flew with Air Canada from Toronto to Zurich, and spent some time there before taking the train to Geneva using a Swiss Travel Pass. Trains from Zurich and the Swiss capital of Bern leave every half-hour, taking approximately 2 hours 45 minutes from Zurich and 1 hour 45 minutes from Bern.
Where To Find More
- Geneva Tourism
- Switzerland Tourism
- Grand Hotel Kempinski
- Il Vero
- La Favola
- Maison Tavel
- St. Peter’s Cathedral and Archaeological Site
- Hotel President Wilson
- Le Chat Botté
- Hotel Beau Rivage
- Domaine de Chateauvieux
- Atelier Matin Bleu
- Philippe Pascoët
- Boutique L’Effrontée
- Chris Murner
- L’échappée belle
- Paku Paku
- Bains de Paquis
- Bain-Bleu Hammam & Spa
- The Hamburger Foundation
- FloorTwo Lounge
- Cottage Café
- Tout un Monde
- Auberge de l’Onde
- Chaplin’s World Museum
- Chillon Castle
Visit LuxeGetaways.com/magazine to view the Spring 2017 Issue