Monday, 1 April 2019

Geneva gets even geneasier


As the big European hubs get even bigger and busier, getting through the airport can take the gloss off a weekend break. So we thought we'd somewhere a bit more manageable and found Geneva just to our liking.

Switzerland’s second city can boast barely 200,000 residents. But its numbers are swollen daily by around 88,000 commuters crossing the border from France.

With the city also home to a variety of United Nations and other global agencies, it’s able to punch comfortably above its weight when it comes to supporting an airport with a good range of routes, while not being oppressively big.

My surprise at what a short weekend was able to serve up was both pleasant and ample – and began with the warmth of the welcome at the Hôtel d’Angleterre, overlooking Lake Geneva towards the old town and cathedral, with Mont Blanc shyly popping in and out of the distant haze in beautiful Spring sunshine.

The hotel is the only Swiss member of the independent five-star Red Carnation collection (it acquired Ashford Castle, County Mayo, five years ago and has a number of top-end properties in London) and prides itself on the level of its service.
The Leopard Bar at Hôtel d'Angleterre is popular with both guests and visitors to the city
We enjoyed a sumptuous afternoon tea overlooking the lake and the towering jet d’eau, while the Leopard Bar on the lower ground floor, later that evening was drawing the city’s better-healed residents to live jazz in surroundings reminiscent of the best Shanghai’s golden years.

You don’t, however, necessarily have to spend a fortune to enjoy Geneva: a great find was just a saunter from the hotel. Les Bains des Pâquis is far more than just a popular outdoor swimming pool. Its functional terrace café also serves the city’s best fondue, as well as local white wines and a non-fondue dish of the day.  Food and drink comfortably the right side of 20 Swiss francs a head.

Most hotels give guests a public transport pass, which includes the little yellow lake ferries, so much lighter on the wallet than formal boat tours.

Other highlights included the vast archaeological excavation beneath the cathedral of St Pierre – layer upon layer of historic remains from Roman times to the present. Yet, it’s so easy to miss, hidden as it is down an inconspicuous staircase to the side of the cathedral.

Le Músée d’Art et d’Histoire boasts a quite extraordinary collection of mostly 19th and 20th century art, inventively curated and including Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir, Courbet and local hero, Ferdinand Hodler.

Room with a view – atop l'Aiguille du Midi
We had time to take a day trip out of town to Chamonix, from where we took a vertiginous cable car ride to the towering summit of l’Aiguile du Midi – a quite unforgettable experience with views across the entire Alpine range.

• We were guests of the Hôtel d’Angleterre

• We flew with easyJet from Newcastle, which is a year-round service, although some other airports only offer services during the skiing season

• Make sure you take a free train ticket from the machines in the arrivals hall for the seven-minute ride to the city centre, and do ask your hotel for a public transport pass to cover your stay.

See also my author blog.