The other side of Geneva A quick trip around this international city

The Jet d'Eau, the English Garden with its flower clock, the Olympic Museum, CERN - everyone knows these famous landmarks. But go up into the old city, and you'll see hidden treasures that are equally fascinating.

Just the way up from the main station is full of curiosities, like the giant Rousseau mural by the famous Swiss artist Hans Erni (now 105 years old and still going strong). Further on, the fountain with its graphic depiction of l'Escalade commemorates the night when the Genevois foiled a raid by the Savoyards in 1602; it's still celebrated in December as the most important date on Geneva's calendar. On to Place Neuve, Geneva's cultural centre with the museum, theatre and conservatory, and the park of Les Bastions. This is surely one of the most beautiful parks anywhere, flanked as it is by the university on one side and Reformation Wall on the other, with its effigies of the main Reformation leaders including Calvin and Knox.

Little is left of the old city walls, but there's a fine view over the city from the ramparts. The citadel exudes history from every stone; as well as up-market enterprises like Christie's, there are the palaces owned by the Genevan aristocracy, which have to be among the world's most exclusive meeting places. The old arsenal, originally a covered market, has great charm, and the splendid town hall with its covered ramp going up to the second storey for visitors on horseback is a gem. Something of huge historical interest is the Alabama room, where the first Geneva convention was signed in 1864 (leading to the foundation of the Red Cross), followed in 1872 by the mediation tribunal between the British and Americans after the Civil War. It's no exaggeration to say that this represented the beginning of Geneva's importance as an international city.

Below the beautiful Cathédrale Saint-Pierre is Place Bourg de Four, Geneva's oldest square, which used to be the main point of entry to the city. Important as a market since the 9th century, it's now filled with pavement cafés, the perfect place for a welcome break. Just down the hill is Geneva's splendid shopping street with its superb architecture, and yes, the Jet d'Eau.


The vineyards

Unless you live there, it's easy to overlook Geneva's countryside, dotted with pretty villages in a rural enclave almost completely surrounded by France. As well as woods and agriculture, there are the vineyards - the Genevois are fiercely proud of their wines, especially their whites, and feel insulted if they're lumped in with the wines of Vaud or Valais. With over 130 vintners, there's plenty of choice; we visited Château des Bois in Satigny, where the vintner, Matthias Jäger, gave us a comprehensive tasting session including his excellent Pinot Noir.

Once back in the city, what better than a fondue on the lake? There are lots of good places to eat in Geneva, but La Buvette des Bains de Pâquis, literally out on the lake, is rather special and very popular for a fondue on an informal night out.

 

Photo: Swiss-image.ch/Stephan Engler

Author: Anitra Green

Has been in Switzerland long enough to be part of the scenery. Studied classics in London, now a railway journalist. Favourite occupations: travelling, hill walking, singing, good food, good wine and good company.


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