Geneva: Exploring the Swiss City of Clocks and Chocolate

2022-10-01 23:55:57 By : Ms. winnie yu

Geneva is known as a predominantly business city, home to trusted banks and headquarters of international organizations. But its reputation as a source for excellent cultural and culinary experiences is catching up. The “world’s smallest metropolis,” as Geneva is sometimes called, is a beautiful place on the shore of a crystal clear lake with the Alps soaring in the background. Museums fascinate both adults and children, parks delight with lush greenery, buildings charm with their architectural diversity, and chocolate shops conquer all those with a sweet tooth. The Swiss city of Geneva will surprise even the most demanding travelers.

Geneva’s landmark is the Jet d’Eau. It can be seen from almost every part of the old town and even when flying over the city at 33,000 feet. The fountain was installed as early as 1886, originally as a safety valve to control the pressure released by the nearby hydraulic plant at Coulouvrenière.

In 1951, Jet d’Eau moved to its current location and the maximum jet height was increased to 460 feet, about 160 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty. For a long time, it was the highest water fountain in the world, but the locals weren’t keen on chasing records. “An old law from the time when Geneva was Catholic states that nothing can be built higher than the cathedral so it’s visible from all angles,” explained tour guide Margaux Cañellas. “So when the Prince of Arabia erected a water fountain even higher, a referendum was put to the locals to see if the jet should be extended higher. But they were worried that they couldn’t see the Alps anymore, so here we are.”

Anyone who wishes to be captivated by the impressive interplay of city, lake, and technology should board a “Geneva Tour” cruise from Quai du Mont Blanc. During the one hour voyage, the boat offers unparalleled views of the Jet d’Eau, Mont Blanc (Europe’s highest mountain), and sophisticated Belle Époque villas on the shore. For smaller journeys, “mouettes,” a type of water taxi, enable crossings to be made from one lakeshore to the other. “In summer, people just hang around the lake sunbathing or enjoying water sports,” said local Trishala Ratnapala. “A favorite spot is the Bains des Pâquis, public baths and saunas from the 19th century built on an artificial peninsula.”

When strolling through Geneva, the international flair and over 500 years of traditional watchmakers, gemstone cutters, and jewelers are equally tangible. The big names of the luxury industry line the promenade. Many renowned Swiss manufacturers such as Patek Philippe—the brand even runs a museum in the city—and Rolex are still based in the city, which is also home to more than a hundred international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the Red Cross (which was founded in Geneva in 1864). The atmosphere in the city is cosmopolitan; nearly 50 percent of its residents are non-Swiss.

One international who left his mark in Geneva was Charles d’Este-Guelph, Duke of Brunswick, linguist, musician, and well-known eccentric. Expelled from his duchy in 1830 in what is now Germany, he fled into exile to various European cities, including Paris, where he made a fortune, and then Geneva. While staying at the Hotel Beau Rivage, he loved the view overlooking the lake to Mont Blanc so much that he bequeathed his wealth to the city under the condition that a white marble mausoleum would be built, from which he could cherish those vistas forever. There had never been a request like this before in Geneva. “The architecture style here is quite simple as we are a Protestant city. This mausoleum was erected in the New Gothic style, which has nothing to do with everything else. But when you have a close look, you can see that the Duke’s skull is facing towards the lake and, resting on his back, the view is actually away from it. That’s how petty the city fathers could be,” Cañellas pointed out.

Almost opposite the Brunswick Memorial, on the other side of the lake, is the Jardin Anglais, Geneva’s most popular city park, which was created in 1855 on an old harbor site. The famous flower clock, L’Horloge Fleurie, is the symbol of the city’s watchmakers. The composition of fresh flowers is planted in such a way that they bloom alternately and change the color of the installation depending on the season. Next to it stands the National Monument commemorating Geneva’s integration into the Swiss Confederation.

Another wonderful green space is the Parc des Bastions. It is located on the site of a former botanical garden, so many green plants have been preserved there. Visitors can play giant chess with the locals, explore Einar Palace where the town hall is located, and see the University of Geneva building with its library. The main attraction is the Reformation Wall with its larger-than-life statues of the Calvinist figures of Theodore Beza, John Calvin, William Farel, and John Knox. Hungry travelers should stop at Kiosque des Bastions, an eclectic brasserie with urban jungle interior design and al fresco dining in summer.

The old town is dominated by the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, but the real center is the ancient Place du Bourg-de-Four. According to research, town meetings were already held in the square in Roman times, and cattle were sold there in the Middle Ages. Today, interesting sights are the Palais de Justice, the exquisite fountain, the Lutheran church, and the statue of Clementine. It is a popular place to enjoy a cup of coffee; or, for local Swiss fare like the filets des perches, the restaurant Les Armures is only a short walk away.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, and Geneva lives up to that standing. Hundreds of sweet concoctions are turned out every day by over 30 chocolatiers, from well-established producers like Lindt and Stettler to smaller artisan stores like Sweetzerland and Favarger. The latter was founded in 1826 by Jean-Samuel Favarger in the heart of Geneva. It is one of the oldest chocolate manufacturers in the city and guards original recipes up to 200 years old, all refined over time. “Our most famous product, the avalines, was created back in 1922. The name comes from the Spanish word avellana, meaning hazelnut, and they are made from cocoa couverture, fresh Swiss milk, hazelnuts, almonds and Madagascan vanilla,” explained Marion Pezzaglia, who manages the Favarger shops. With the new “Choco Pass,” sweet-toothed visitors are able to drop into seven chocolatiers across Geneva and sample some of the best chocolate on their own schedule.

If there is still room in the baggy pants, the 3 1/2-hour Chocolate Flavors Tour will reveal the secrets of the origins of chocolate, seduce with six tastings, and maybe settle the question of whether white chocolate is actually chocolate. “I’m afraid I can’t really comment on that,” laughed Margaux Cañellas. “I’m a neutral Swiss person!” But in the end, it doesn’t really matter, when chocolate heaven is near.