Monday, March 22, 2010
Geneva "The Peace Capital and Worldwide Centre for Diplomacy"
With a pleasant setting, green parks, colourful gardens and lakeside promenades, Geneva is considered one of the healthiest places to live in the world. The city sits astride the River Rhône, where it streams into Lake Geneva, and is set against a dramatic backdrop of mountains. At the lake's south shore the Jet d'Eau shoots water 460ft (140m) into the sky from the end of a pier - the city's landmark attraction and Europe's most powerful fountain.
Undoubtedly Switzerland's most cosmopolitan city, Geneva's reputation for religious and political tolerance dates back more than five hundred years. In the 16th century the city spawned the religious teachings of John Calvin, and was where Lenin spent his 'years of recreation'. Little of their Puritanism is left today - stately homes line the banks of the lake, overlooking an armada of luxury yachts. Jewels and designer labels spill out of exclusive boutiques and into chauffer-driven limousines that slide down palatial avenues.
As well as a host of museums and fine galleries, Geneva has a lively cultural calendar. Most notable is the celebration of l'Escalade in December, which involves costumed and torch-lit processions through the town, and the consumption of sickly amounts of chocolate and marzipan.
Geneva is a gateway to Switzerland's luxury ski resorts, an important banking centre and home to thousands of international delegates and diplomats. Among the many international organisations based in the city are the United Nations and the International Red Cross.
Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)
The largest lake in central Europe that is shared by both Switzerland and France, Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to its French-speaking inhabitants) has for decades drawn visitors to its shores. Attracted by the alpine panorama, quaint wooden chalet villages, vineyard-covered slopes and sailboats skimming across the blue waters, many famous writers, musical composers, actors and poets came to settle and the area has become something of an inspiration to the arts. Situated in the westernmost district of Vaud, the region contains a diversity of attractions and activities, from wine-growing villages and mountain ski resorts, picturesque castles, and magnificent cathedrals, to low-key lakeside resorts, boat cruises, and cosy fireside pots of fondue. Sophisticated shopping and cultural life can be found in the cities of Geneva and Lausanne, with sweeping views across the sparkling lake to the Alps and the distinctive pinnacle of Mont Blanc. Among the vineyards and affluent villas clinging to the slopes lie the lakeside towns of Vevey and Montreux, the pearls of the Swiss Riviera. Scenic winding roads stretch along the shores, and train trips offers outstanding views, while below steamers crisscross the waters of Lake Geneva, offering a variety of ways to experience the splendour of its location.
Picturesquely located on the shores of Lake Geneva, the youthful and energetic city of Lausanne is built above the lake on a sequence of tiers connected by a small metro. The upper or Old Town contains the grand Gothic cathedral, Notre-Dame; its turreted towers a well-known symbol of the city. The lower town on the lakeshore was once the small fishing village of Ouchy and is now the prime waterfront area with outdoor dining and cafés, promenades and sporting activities. The gardens around the Quay d'Ouchy are home to the city's foremost attraction, the Olympic Museum, containing a wealth of sporting memories and a collection of unique objects pertaining to the Olympic Games from its beginning until the present. Lausanne relishes its importance as the Olympic World Capital and headquarters of the International Olympic Committee.
Château de Chillon
One of the best-maintained medieval castles in Europe, the 13th century Château de Chillon is the most visited historical building in Switzerland. With its stunning lakeside location near the chic town of Montreux, jutting out into the water and framed by mountains, it is one of the more frequently photographed castles in Europe. An important fortress in the Middle Ages, it was strategically positioned to control the narrow passage between mountains and lake protecting the major north-south route. It was also the favourite summer residence of the Counts of Savoy. Later it served as a state prison. Visitors can tour the dungeons where the castle's most famous prisoner was chained for four years, the priest François Bonivard, a supporter of the Reformation. The fortress became famous when Lord Byron wrote about Bonivard's fate in an inspired poem entitled Prisoner of Chillon. Besides the dungeons, visitors can wander round the towers and courtyards, discover narrow secret passages, and see the grand knight's halls, frescoed chapel, luxurious bedchambers and rooms containing medieval weapons, furniture and paintings.
The tallest fountain in the world, the Jet d'Eau is a Geneva attraction that cannot be missed. Projecting 460 feet (140m) into the air at a speed of 124 miles per hour (200km/h) and pumping 132 gallons (500 litres) of water per second, the fountain was initially established to release pressure for hydropower generation on the Rhone River, but was so loved by the populace that in 1891 the city created a permanent fountain. As Paris has the Eiffel Tower and New York has the Empire State Building, Geneva has the Jet d'Eau. For a breathtaking and romantic sight, visit at night, when the fountain is lit up.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
One of the most creative and thought provoking museums in Europe, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum brings together sculpture, installation, photography and film to highlight the importance of human rights, the history of conflict in the 20th century and the humanitarian work the Red Cross has done in providing aid to combatants and civilians caught up in both war and natural disasters. Funded entirely by outside donors, the museum is appropriately situated on the hillside opposite the United Nations, within the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. A significant stopover on a visit to Geneva, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum provides insight into the gross implications of war and the tragedy that surrounds but also the committed work of the volunteers and Red Cross representatives alike. All the exhibits have an English language option.
St Peter's Cathedral
With initial construction commencing in 1160 and lasting nearly a century, St Peter's Cathedral has over the years become a hotchpotch of architectural styles with Romanesque, Gothic and Neoclassical features. A former Catholic cathedral, St Peter's became a Protestant church in 1536 at the advent of the Reformation and was cleared of its ornate fittings such as altars, statues, paintings and furniture, but the stained glass windows remained. Prominent theologian John Calvin preached at St Peter's Church from 1536 to 1564 and the church soon became the centre of Protestantism. For a breathtaking panoramic view of Geneva and Lac Leman, climb the 157 steps that lead to the summit of the cathedral's north tower.
Temple de Saint-Pierre
Temple de Saint-Pierre, the post-Reformation name of the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre, rises on the highest point of Geneva's old town (Vieille Ville: alt. 404 m/1,326ft), occupying the site of a Roman temple and a number of earlier churches of the fourth-fifth C. onwards. This Romanesque church with Gothic elements was built between about 1150 and 1232, with later alterations, particularly to the exterior. The two principal towers, never completed, date from the 13th C.; the metal spire over the crossing was built only in 1895, replacing a tower destroyed by fire in the 15th C. The original west front and doorway were replaced in 1749-56 by a portico of six Corinthian columns - a piece of stylistic nonconformity which does not, however, interfere with the unity of the interior. Extensive restoration of the church was carried out in 1888-98 and in 1974-79.
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Opened in 1994, the cutting edge Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art refuses to conform and as museum director Christian Bernard says, the museum 'is not here to present the acceptable face of contemporary art'. With modern works dating from the 1960s to the present day, exhibited in a turn of the century factory, visitors to MAMCO will spend hours marvelling at the range of contemporary art that covers three floors. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art constantly reinvents itself, changing its exhibits and interior construction three times a year. The works of famous Dadaist Marcel Duchamp are on display all year round.
Palais des Nations (United Nations)
Built between 1929 and 1937 to host the League of Nations, the Palais des Nations now houses the United Nations Office at Geneva, which was inaugurated in 1966 after the dissolution of the League of Nations. The biggest United Nations station outside of the headquarters in New York, the office at Geneva provides critical support to the organization. Situated in 45-hectare Ariana Park, the extensive Palais des Nations is bordered by century old trees, and it is not uncommon to see peacocks darting around, the result of a request by the former owner of the land who bequeathed it to the City of Geneva on condition that peacocks may run freely on its grounds. Tours include the council room with frescoes by José Maria Sert and the Assembly Hall. Identity documents are required.
Plaine de Plainpalais Flea Market
For quality fresh produce stop in at the Plaine de Plainpalais Flea Market on Tuesday and Friday mornings and visit the fruit and vegetable stalls in their attractive outdoor park setting. For antiques, vintage clothing, clocks, paintings, records, books and more head to the Plaine de Plainpalais Flea Market on Wednesday and Saturday, when stalls are piled high with bric a brac, sometimes at Sfr1 a pop and large crowds of residents and tourists comb the many stalls in search of bargains to be had and souvenirs to gather. Established in 1848, the Plaine de Plainpalais quarter was the setting for the Swiss National Exhibition in 1896.
A comprehensive collection of 7,000 artworks and artefacts from civilizations around the world, the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva is the outcome of the articles accumulated by Josef Mueller, whose collection began in 1907 and is now continued to this day by his heirs. Founded in 1977, the museum wanted to preserve and study the sculptures, fabrics and ornaments brought from "primitive" civilizations that were once isolated communities. Lookout for the megalithic monuments from Indonesia, the statues and items of worship from Oceania, pre-Columbian art from the Americas and ancient masks and shields from Africa.
The townscape of Geneva
The townscape of Geneva, though undramatic, is full of variety. On a steep-sided hill on the left bank of the Rhône rises the old town, dominated by the cathedral, with its picturesque old streets, flights of steps, fountains and historic buildings. On the west, south and east it is surrounded by a ring of imposing buildings and broad streets on the line of the old fortifications. The business life of the city is concentrated in the area below the old town to the north and in Saint-Gervais, formerly an outlying suburb. On both sides of the lake are elegant promenades and extensive parks and gardens. In the northern part of the town are the main railroad station, industrial establishments, craft workshops and residential areas. Most of the international organizations have their headquarters still farther north, in spacious park-like grounds. Geneva is the capital of the smallest Swiss canton, the République et Canton de Genève. It is almost entirely surrounded by French territory (free trade zones) and is connected to the rest of Switzerland only by the lake and a narrow corridor along the northwest shore of the lake. It has two small enclaves around Céligny in the canton of Vaud.
The cultural hub of Geneva, Place Neuve sits just outside the former ramparts and is a great access point for the Old Town, which lies on the other side of the high retaining walls. Home to three of Geneva's regal performance and exhibition halls, the Grand Theatre (opera house), Conservatory of Music and Rath Museum, the Place Neuve is worth visiting to witness the architectural aesthetic of these buildings. In the centre of the square is the emblematic statue of Swiss general Henri Dufour, who was the first person to establish a map of Switzerland and also presided over the First Geneva Convention. The highest mountain in Switzerland, Dufourspitze, is named after him.
A good road and cableway ascend to Mont Salève, a long limestone ridge south of Geneva, in French territory (good rock-climbing):
16km/10mi to Monnetier, round trip 69km/43mi, maximum gradient 6%.
Leave Geneva by the Route de Florissant and road 42, which runs southeast via the suburb of Villette. 6km/4mi: Veyrier (alt. 422 m/1,385ft) on the French frontier (passport and customs control). Straight ahead is the lower station of a cableway 1,180 m/3,872ft long which runs up in six minutes to a height of 1,143 m/3,750ft on Mont Salève.
Alternatively turn left beyond Veyrier into road 206 and in 3.5km/2mi right into 206A. 7km/4mi: Mornex (572 m/1877ft, a summer holiday resort on the southern slopes of the Petit Salève. Almost opposite the Protestant church is a house in which Richard Wagner lived in 1856.
1.5km/1mi from the Monnetier lookout a road branches off on the right to the Treize-Arbres inn (1,184 m/3,885ft). Above the inn (1,212 m/3,977ft; orientation table) there is a magnificent view of the Mont Blanc chain, Lake Geneva and the Jura. A footpath leads up (30minutes) to the Crêt de Grange-Tournier (1,308 m/4,292ft), the highest point on the Grand Salève.
There are two alternative routes (each 37km/23mi) to this long ridge in French territory east of Geneva making an attractive round trip of 74km/ 46mi.
Leave Geneva on the Chamonix road. 7km/4mi: Annemasse (alt. 436 m/1,431ft). From here on N 507 to Bonne-sur-Menoge and Pont-de-Fillinges (10.5km/7mi), from which a road to the left climbs (fine views) via Boëge to the Col de Saxel (12.5km/8mi: 945 m/3,101ft); then a road on the left which winds its way uphill, passing through wooded country. 7km/4mi: Grand Chalet (1,400 m/4,593ft), sanatorium. From here it is a 30-minute climb to the Calvaire or Grand Signal, on the summit of the Voirons (1,486 m/4,876ft), with magnificent views (Savoy Alps, Jura, etc.). 8km/5mi: Bons (548 m/1,798ft), on the road from Thonon (N 203); then left along this road via Langin and Saint-Cergues to Annemasse (15km/ 9mi). 7km/4mi to Geneva.
Against the wall under the Promenade de la Treille in Geneva can be seen the Reformation Monument (Monument de la Réformation, 1917). In the middle are figures of Calvin, Guillaume Farel, Théodore de Bèze or Beza and John Knox, and on either side are the statesmen who promoted the cause of the reformed faith and bas-reliefs with scenes from the history of the Calvinist Reformation, while at the ends are memorials to Luther and Zwingli.
Quai de Mont-Blanc
On the north side of Geneva's Lac Léman (the Rive Droite) the Quai de Mont-Blanc extends northeast from the bridge, with a view of the Mont-Blanc chain (particularly fine in the late afternoon in clear weather). At the landing stage in front of the Hôtel Beau Rivage the Empress Elizabeth of Austria (b. 1837) was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in 1898.
Museum of Art and History
Comprising of three sections, the captivating Museum of Art and History explores the passage of western culture and international civilizations with over 7,000 pieces covering archaeology (Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Etruscan), fine arts (paintings from the Renaissance to modern times) and applied arts (found objects from the Middle Ages to the 20th century). One of Geneva's largest museums, the colossal Museum of Art and History was built at the beginning of the 20th century, between 1903 and 1910. When visiting lookout for paintings by legendary artists Van Gogh and Renoir.
Patek Philippe Museum
An exquisite collection of timepieces from the 16th to 19th century is housed in this fascinating museum, home to the prestigious creations of the Geneva-based firm of master watchmakers which was founded in 1839. The intricate details and designs, moving parts and beautiful colours of the collection will provide hours of fascination.
Public parks cover over one quarter of Geneva providing the populous with a quiet haven of rolling lawns and tree lined walkways. Dotted with many curious sculptures and attractions, there are a few parks worthwhile visiting. Bastion Park houses the 328-foot (100m) Reformation Wall, a monument commemorating the major figures and events of the Protestant Reformation, as well as life size chess boards at the north end of the park. To view the famous flower clock, a symbol of the Swiss watch industry, head to the English Garden close to the water fountain and for outstanding views of Mont Blanc and the lake, Park Moynier is a firm favourite, with the History of Science Museum situated in the centre. Twenty hectares of woodland and hiking trails is what you will find at Batie Woods on the outskirts of the city.
A visit to Aquaparc is a must for families on holiday in Geneva, especially with children. This water park caters to children of all ages and features indoor and outdoor swimming and water adventure rides and slides in a tropical theme. Brave children will love rides such as the Devil's Fall and Morgan's Thrill, while parents can indulge in a massage with thousands of bubbles in the hot tubs.
Forestland is a fantastic place to take the kids for the day to let off some steam. This adventure circuit is equipped for children and adults alike and features fun activities like branch climbing, monkey bridges, forest jumping and there are even inflatable games for younger tots to enjoy.
La Ferme Foraine Bonaventure
A great place to bring the kids, La Ferme Foraine Bonaventure features camps for children aged 6 - 12 years old, as well as offering little tots the opportunity to meet donkeys, lamas, pigs and other farmyard animals. Children will enjoy petting the animals and making new friends here.
Happyland is Switzerland's largest amusement park and a great place for the younger children to enjoy. Kids will love rides such as Splash River, Tropical Track, the Big Swing and Helico Low G. Happyland also features a restaurant where families can refuel before heading out to enjoy more rides.
The Old Town is a good starting point for a night out. La Clémence, Place du Bourg-de-Four 20, is extremely popular, particularly in the summer when crowds of all ages enjoy the large terrace. The bar-restaurant at the gilded Bohème, Boulevard Helvétique 36, is a good place to move on to - the mix of Arab and techno music is popular and the atmosphere is relatively relaxed, although trainers are not allowed. The most alternative bars in the city are scattered around Place des Volontaires. Worth mentioning are Alhambar, Rue de la Rôtisserie 10, which has theme nights, and Barrio's Latino, Rue Henri Dunant 6, for its safari décor.
Geneva is not particularly known for its clubs and many people prefer to go to Lausanne. Nevertheless, the intimate White'n Silver (formerly Club 58), Rue des Glacis de Rive 15 (website: www.whitensilver.ch), has a bar, dance floor and chic clientele, while smart Platinum, Quai du Seujet 18 (website: www.platinum-club.ch), attracts a trendy clientele with its resident DJ and guest performers and themed nights. The club is open seven days a week. Or try the B Club, Place de la Fusterie 12 (see Le Baroque Café below) for a similarly hip atmosphere. The biggest club in Geneva is the new Java Club at the Grand Hotel Kempinski, Quai du Mont-Blanc 19 (website: www.javaclub.ch). LA SIP, Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 10, is a cool, gay friendly venue located in an old factory, and Le Scandale, Rue de Lausanne 24 (website: www.lescandale.ch), is a trendy place to dance the night away.
The old-town can be easily visited by foot starting anywhere around the tour boat dock on Lake Geneva. Crossing the bridge (Pont du Mont Blanc), you'll get to the English Garden with the famous flower clock and a sculpted bronze water fountain. Then you can cross the street (Quai de General Guisan) and go up the hill (on Place du Port and Rue de la Fontaine) and up the long stairs passage and end up behind Saint Peter's Cathedral. After visiting the cathedral, which is Geneva's well-known landmark, you can exit the courtyard and be right in front of Geneva City Hall. From there you can easily walk down to the Bastions Park where you can find the famous Reformation Wall memorial. This park is very quiet and romantic, especially at the beginning of the fall season when the leaves start falling.
Geneva is a great town to get around in by bicycle. Except for the old-town, the city is fairly flat, and though there are some streets that are dangerous to ride, there is almost always a safe, fast route to your destination. If you want to know the best routes, you should get a copy of the beautifully designed VELO-LOVE plan de ville, which is available at all bike shops in Geneva, or by writing to: email@example.com or calling (+41) 22 418 42 00.
Tickets, which cover both trams and buses, must be bought from ticket machines (located at every stop) before boarding the transport.
Tickets cost 2CHF for a short hop (three stops or less, or a one-way crossing of the lake). 3CHF for one hour with unlimited changes on tram, bus, boat, and rail within greater Geneva, 7CHF for a pass valid from 9AM to midnight, and 10CHF for a 24-hour pass valid from the time it is purchased. Holders of the SBB Demi-Tarif/Halbtax card get 20-30% off these prices. The ticket machines do not give change, if you have over paid, keep the ticket and take it to a TPG office (located at the airport, Cornavin railway station and in the middle of the rond-pont de Rive), where the difference will be refunded to you.
Since January 2008, if you stay in a hotel, hostel, or on a camping site, you will get free public transport. Typically, you will receive a Unireso Geneva Transport Card at check-in. It will be authorised for use for the length of your stay and like a ticket one gets in the airport upon arrival it is valid for Geneva and suburbs including the Unireso network. You are supposed to carry your passport or identity card with you at the same time, to ensure validity. The ticket is valid on trains as far as the airport.
If you want to explore the mountainous countryside or go skiing in one of the ski resorts in the Alps, getting a car is a better option. Numerous local and international car rental service providers operate from the airport. They provide customized traveling services to the needs of tourists visiting Geneva.
Regional trains to suburban areas run every half hour during the day and every hour after 8PM. The last train to the eastern terminus, (Coppet), leaves at 12:03AM. Though these "Regios" mostly serve commuters, at least two of their station stops, Versoix and Coppet, have several good restaurants and historic main streets. As with buses and trams, tickets must be bought before boarding the train. If you are only travelling with the canton of Geneva, a bus/tram ticket is valid on the train and vice versa; travelling further afield will cost more.
Geneva has an expanding network of super frequent trams. Many lines have their hub at the Cornavin train station, a few others at Place Bel-Air on the old-town side of the river. Tickets which cover both trams and buses must be bought from ticket machines (located at every stop) before boarding the transport.