From my window at the five-star Hotel Metropole, I could see Lake Geneva, shimmering in the dusk, dotted with water craft, their delicate lights glowing as they crossed the dark water. Boarding an elegant paddleboat, passengers were about to leave for an evening cruise across the lake.
In the wooded strip between the hotel and the lake, a pop-up food court stretched for a block under the trees in the English Park (Parc Jardin Anglais). People bought tasty snacks, icy treats and glasses of wine. Friends and families were seated along the large fountain and on blankets on the lawn. Pedestrians and bicyclists walked along the walk-way bordering the lake.
Upstairs at the MET, the Metropole’s rooftop bar, a glass of champagne in hand, I had a view of the city, the mountains and Lake Geneva, known locally as Lac Léman. From my vantage point, I could see how the Rhône River divided Geneva into a left and right bank. The Mont-Blanc Bridge (Pont du Mont-Blanc) connected the two banks with a steady flow of vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists.
Switzerland’s second largest city, Geneva is many things to many people. Most famously, Geneva is the home of international agencies, including the International Committee for the Red Cross, the United Nations Office (Geneva), the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization. The city is also a luxury destination, known as the birthplace of quality watchmaking and home to dozens of five star hotels and almost one hundred Michelin stared restaurants.
With an international airport and centrally located train station, the city is a gateway to the towns, villages and wineries along the north shore of Lake Geneva.
Keeping track of time at Initium and learning about precious colored gem stones at Gübelin Boutique
Look deep into Geneva’s history and you will find descriptions of attic workshops filled with highly talented craftsmen making time pieces. The tradition of quality watchmaking took root in the late 16th and 17th centuries. As Europe prospered, Geneva’s high quality watches were in great demand.
Exploring the city close to the lake, I took a leisurely walk on Rue du Rhône to window shop the showrooms of Rolex Retailer Bucherer, Breguet, Piaget, Jahan, Harry Winston, Boghossian, Chopard, Graff and many others. Some of the watches were rugged, designed to be worn by discerning sailors or aviators. Others were clearly best worn to a special event where elegance was required. Whatever the style, these watches were some of the best available anywhere in the world.
To put myself up-close-and-personal with the art required to create a watch, I took a class at Initium where Fabiano Pericles led me on a deep-dive inside the mechanics of a watch.
The best way to understand how a watch works, he said, is to take it apart. With a watch body, tweezers and small screwdrivers at my workbench, he directed me to disassemble my watch. As I squinted to remove the tiny screws, he explained that all watches (not the digital ones), no matter the price, work on the same principles.
As I removed more parts, it was fascinating to see up-close how a watch worked. Each part, some so tiny it was difficult to pick them up with tweezers, was a work of art. The brightly polished wheels, gears and pinons were manufactured by 21st century, high-tech machines. But Pericles explained, open a quality watch manufactured in the 17th century and the parts will be as tiny and as exquisitely manufactured as the modern ones on my workbench.
After considerable effort, I had reduced a perfectly good watch mechanism to a chaos of tiny bits. That’s when Pericles told me, “Good job, now put the watch together again.” The pressure was on.
Not only did the pieces have to be placed where they belonged, they had to be placed in the proper sequence. When I didn’t remember the order, Pericles was there to guide me. The final piece to return to the watch case was the winding stem. With a twist of the stem, I watched the balance wheel move as the mainspring tightened and, then, miraculously, the watch started ticking.
To see some of the most desired watches for sale in Geneva, I stopped in Gübelin Boutique. On display were the best of the best. Besides curating fine watches, Gübelin is well-known for designing jewelry using precious stones, especially colored gem stones.
In a salon on the second floor, Patrick Pfannkuche brought out trays of necklaces, bracelets, earrings and watches, all delicate, tasteful and uniquely beautiful. Impeccable workmanship combined with exquisite design created works of quiet elegance.
To better appreciate their value, Pfannkuche gave me a tutorial about Gübelin’s history, the way rubies, sapphires and emeralds are mined and how they are transformed into works of art.
Wanting only to work with miners who protected the environment and the welfare of their workers, Gübelin sought out suppliers who adhered to their guidelines. To promote transparency, Gübelin developed technologies to determine where a gem was mined.
For emeralds, they took the process a step farther and created an “Emerald Paternity Test.” Using nano technology and apps, miners confirm that they follow Gübelin’s ethical guidelines. Invisible to the eye, that information is attached to each gem stone. As a gem moves through the distribution system and as each owner takes possession, the information on the nano-sized particle can be updated.
Old Town and a winery only twenty minutes from Geneva
To explore Geneva’s Old Town, I left Rue du Rhône close to the lake and walked up the steep stairs on Rue du Perron. Small shops and cafes lined the narrow cobblestone street that twists and turns as it goes up the hill leading to St. Peter’s Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre).
Outside, the Gothic church dominates the large sunny plaza. Inside, everyone who enters turns their gaze upward to admire the colorful, stained glass windows, depicting scenes from the bible and the lives of the saints.
After a busy morning, I was hungry. A few steps from the Cathedral, the Restaurant de l'Hôtel-de-Ville was the ideal spot. Given the sunny, warm day, I chose the outdoor patio area, shaded by a wide awning.
To begin the meal, I wanted fondue. It’s purely subjective, but I think fondue tastes best in Switzerland where restaurants use local Gruyére and Vacherin cheeses. The fondue arrived bubbling-hot in a colorful pot on top of a heated brazier, decorated with images of farmers leading their sturdy Swiss cows to be milked.
I used a long fork to dip cubes of fresh sourdough bread and slices of boiled unpeeled potatoes into the delicious hot cheese. When there was no more cheese, I was ready for the waiter to clear the table. But, no, he said, the best was yet to come. With that he scraped off the crust that had accumulated on the bottom of the pot. The light and crispy bits of cheese or the “nun” were delicious.
The main dish was a classic. Veal in a mushroom cream sauce, served with potato cakes called rösti. The portion was large, too large I thought to finish, but I found myself eagerly devouring every last bite. I thoroughly enjoyed my hearty Swiss lunch, filled with comfort-food flavors.
One of the delights of Geneva is how close the countryside is to the city. A twenty-minute taxi ride took me through rolling hills covered with neatly cultivated vineyards until I arrived at the castle Château du Crest.
In the winery’s tasting room, Julien Norel poured a sampling of the Château’s 2018 wines. Without a doubt, my favorite was the light and refreshing Domaine Blanc Chasselas. If I had more time, I would have planned to have a picnic to enjoy the beauty of the landscaped grounds.
Fed by the Rhône Glacier, crescent-shaped Lake Geneva, the largest lake in Switzerland, curves north and east from Geneva.
For a tour of the marina, I hopped on a small, yellow and red painted wooden boat called a Mouette. Swans and ducks moved out of the way as the colorful shuttle motored away from its dock and headed out into the lake.
Connecting the public beach areas, Mouettes are a fun way to get around Geneva’s waterfront. Out on the lake I had a good view of the Jet d’Eau, Geneva’s famous landmark water jet fountain.
The lake can also be enjoyed on the CGN fleet of Belle Époque paddleboats. Built more than a hundred years ago, the sleek and elegant ships are used for special events and to ferry passengers between the Swiss and French cities along the lake.
Just before sunset, I boarded the Savoie (built in 1914) for the Chef’s Table Gourmet Cruise. Like all CGN paddle boats, the Savoie has forward and aft open-air decks and interior cabins where passengers can sit to enjoy the ride and order food and beverages.
The Chef’s Table dinner was served upstairs on what is normally the first class deck. The dining room had wall-to-wall windows so I had a good view of the lake. During the three-hour cruise, we sailed on the Swiss side of the lake, close enough to see elegant homes and small towns built at the water’s edge.
At the beginning of the meal, the wind picked up as the sun began to set. I watched kite surfers in wet suits soar into the air whenever they caught a gust of wind.
Served elegantly on a table with a full silver service and white tablecloth, the meal began with an amuse bouche and a mini-casserole of lobster and Jerusalem artichokes before the entrée arrived, a moist chicken breast with creamy potatoes and parsnips. Dessert was a composed millefeuille Tarte Tatin.
After coffee and an Apricotine, a strong eau de vie distilled from apricots grown locally in the nearby Valais canton, there was still an hour to enjoy the evening air outside on the aft deck. On the way back to Geneva, in the quiet of the evening, the lake was dark except for slivers of light from the villages.
Breakfast routines and a last treat
Every morning I enjoyed breakfast at the Metropole Hotel. Choosing a delicious croissant, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, a made-to-order omelet (with mushrooms, onions and Gruyére) and a selection of locally made cheeses, I would sit outside on the patio and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.
A friend who lives in Geneva encouraged me to break my routine and visit her favorite bakery. Only a few blocks from the Metropole, I walked to Pâtisserie Golay, a tea room and café. A plain croissant and an espresso were all I needed to confirm my friend’s recommendation. The croissant was light and flaky, with a hint of butter. The coffee was clean and strong and a good way to begin the day.
The next stop on my trip was Lausanne, but Geneva had one more treat in store for me. A drive in a vintage Excalibur.
One of a fleet of restored Excaliburs that are available for hire in the Lake Geneva area, I settled into the back seat. The leisurely drive took me through the heart of Geneva, first in the historic district and then into the more modern neighborhoods, past the large watch factories on the outskirts of town, onto narrow, winding country roads and, finally, to Geneva’s main train station to catch a Swiss Rail train to Lausanne.
With the top down on a sunny, blue-sky day, what an excellent way to end my visit to Geneva.
Lausanne, Cully and the UNESCO World Heritage Lavaux Vineyard Terraces
Easily reached by train, ferry, bus or car, Lausanne, Cully and the Lavaux are on Lake Geneva’s northern shore. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Lavaux region is famous for the steeply terraced vineyards that produce many exceptional varietals. The majority of the grapes grown in the Lavaux are used to produce Chasselas (also known as Fendant), a crisp white wine enjoyed with fondue, ham, chicken and fish.
Lausanne is a charming town. Built on hills, Switzerland’s fourth largest city faces the French city of Évian-les-Bans across the lake where Evian water is bottled. Lausanne has many of the city comforts of much larger Geneva but in a more relaxed setting.
First stop was Chocolaterie Durig for a chocolate molding class. Loving what he does, Alain Reboul opened the lesson by showing how chocolate begins life as a cocoa bean produced by a cacao tree. Reboul offered samples of organic chocolate from Peru, the Dominican Republic, Bali and Ecuador. Each had a different quality, affected like grapes by their terroir (soil, climate, habitat).
To make my chocolate, I chose an alligator mold from the collection of bunnies, teddy bears and puppies. With giant chocolate tempering machines keeping the dark chocolate and milk chocolate melted and ready to use, I filled my mold with dark chocolate. Reboul placed the little alligator into the refrigerator so the chocolate would set. While I waited in the retail shop, I sampled one of Durig’s delicious handmade chocolates. After 30 minutes, my dark chocolate alligator was ready to take home, a wonderful way to share my chocolate-making experience in Lausanne.
A tour of the city meant walking up one of Lausanne’s three hills to the Place de La Cathédrale Notre Dame Lausanne. On a sunny afternoon with a few clouds high in the sky, on the Cathédrale’s terrace, I had a view of Lausanne below and the mountains on the French side of Lake Geneva. The houses were closely packed, one on top of another, cascading down steep slopes to the marketplace in the city center.
From the Cathédrale it was 160 steps down the Escaliérs du Marché staircase to reach the area in front of City Hall where the open-air farmers market and prepared food stalls are set up for the City Center Wednesday and Saturday markets.
Walking across the Old City, I passed posters for the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne. As home to the Olympic Committee’s headquarters, it is fitting that the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics will be held in Lausanne. The best of the world’s teenage athletes will compete in Alpine events, ice hockey, figure skating, curling, luge, skeleton and speed skating.
At the bottom of the hill where the Flon River carved out a broad plain, what had been a warehouse and industrial area was redeveloped into a trendy neighborhood filled with shops, apartments, office buildings, art galleries and cafes. The Flon district is busy during the day and again at night when bars, restaurants and theaters open.
Since I was staying at the Beau-Rivage Palace on the lakeshore, it was an easy ride on the Metro from Flon to the Ouchy Marina. The elegant Belle Époque hotel faces the lake. With public rooms designed in the grand style, the Beau-Rivage Palace manages to feel cozy and elegant at the same time.
On a previous trip I spent several days exploring the Beau-Rivage Palace, enjoying the pleasures of the spa and the grounds. For this visit I had time to treat myself with dinner on the outside terrace of the Café Beau-Rivage.
The restaurant might be called a “Café” but one look at the menu and I could see this was elegant casual dining at its best. With a pleasant breeze coming off the lake, the attentive service made the meal memorable.
From a generous menu that included a dozen salads and soups and entrees of fish, beef, veal, pork and chicken, I indulged myself and selected the pan sautéed duck foie gras with apricots and what was described as an “open” ravioli of Maine lobster with candied lemon and baby fennel. The open ravioli referred to was a sheet of perfectly tender pasta laid on top of the lobster and vegetables in a delicate emulsion sauce. Both dishes were paired with a Henri Badoux Aigle “Les Murailles,” a Chasselas from a local vineyard.
In the morning, as a mist hung over the lake, I walked to the ferry dock to board the Simplon (built in 1915), another Belle Époque CGN ship. Crowded with passengers on the forward and aft decks, the ship’s whistle signaled it was time to leave as it pushed out onto the lake on a warm, sunny day.
The Simplon is an aerodynamic wonder. With a sleek, narrow hull, the powerful engines pushed the ship through the water at a good clip. Relaxing on deck, I leaned against the rail and watched as we passed neatly trellised vineyards and small villages with houses clustered around wooden docks.
In no time at all, we approached Cully. Like other villages in the Lavaux, the town was pressed in by vineyards growing up the steep hills.
At Auberge du Raisin, a restaurant within walking distance of the ferry dock, it was time for lunch. The rustic dining room inside was dominated by a large fireplace where whole chickens on vertical rotisseries roast in front of a crackling wood fire. Since the day was warm, the outdoor covered patio was a preferred location for lunch.
After a tomato gazpacho amuse bouche, waiter Arnaud Herault served a wine from a local vineyard, a crisp, refreshing glass of Bois Rouge Villette Bovard L’ Excellence des Torroirs (2018). The wine paired perfectly with the shrimp on a squash blossom stuffed with roasted tomato, feta, olives, anchovies, capers and mint. The entrée was a simply prepared chicken breast, crusty on top, tender inside, served with jus, a pesto without garlic, a charred potato cake, eggplant and a small tomato. Attracted by the wonderful flavors a small bird danced on the canvas roof above the outdoor patio. I understood his excitement. The food was wonderfully prepared.
After lunch, Annette Müller was waiting outside the restaurant. A guide for many years, Müller took me on a walking tour of the Lavaux. As we walked, we talked. On a blue-sky, sunny day, the always smiling Müller explained that grapes grow well in the Lavaux because of the “three suns.” The sun in the sky, the sun reflecting off the lake and the sun’s heat reflected off the rich soil.
I had a view of all three from the terrace of Domaine Croix Duplex. The family-owned winery produces many varietals but, like most wineries in the region, focuses its attention on white wine, especially Chasselas.
Looking at the steep hills descending to Lake Geneva, Müller explained that two forces shaped the area. An ancient glacier had carved out the lake and men had terraced the hillsides. In the 11th Century, monks cleared the forests and planted grapes to make communion wine.
The connection winemakers feel to the Lavaux is very strong. Some trace their ownership of the land back twenty-five generations. Maude and Simon Vogel, brother and sister, co-owners of Domaine Croix Duplex are newcomers, building on the legacy of their grandfather who moved to the Lavaux from the German speaking part of Switzerland and planted vineyards that were expanded by their parents, Jean and Marlyse.
For the rest of the afternoon, Müller took me on a leisurely walk through the vineyards. We passed small homes and tiny villages perched on hillsides. As far as I could tell, every available inch was planted with grapes. For anyone who wants to follow in our footsteps, taking a self-guided walking tour of the area is easy because a well-marked Tourist Trail (Tourisme pédestre) connects the villages and vineyards of the Lavaux. But guides add so much to the adventure with their knowledge of history and viticulture. By the time we said goodbye, Müller had given me a good feeling for the life of the Lavaux, the culture, the people and the wine.
When you go:
For information about the city, please consult the Geneva Tourism website.
Château du Crest, Route du Château-du-Crest 40, 1254 Jussy, +41 22 759 11 23. The winery is twenty minutes by taxi or car from Geneva.
CGN, the Belle Époque paddleboats travel between Geneva and destinations on the Swiss and French sides of the lake. Schedules vary depending upon the seasons, so check the website.
Excalibur Cars, +41 79 611 50 50. Driving tours in a restored Excalibur can be arranged that will take you on a tour of Geneva or the countryside.
Hotel Metropole Geneva, Quai General Guisan 34, 1204 Geneva, +41 22 318 32 00. If available, choose a room with a view of the lake. The MET Rooftop Lounge offers views of Geneva, the expanse of the lake and the Jet d’Eau, Geneva’s high-spirited fountain that shoots a jet of water high into the air. Complimentary breakfast is served in Restaurant Gusto and outside on the restaurant patio.
House of Gübelin, Rue du Rhône 60, 1204 Geneva. Gübelin also has boutiques in Lucerne, Zurich and Hong Kong. To learn more about the world of gemstones, please visit the Gübelin Academy. Tutorials can be booked online.
Initium, Grand-Rue 17, 1204 Geneva, +41 32 953 10 87. Classes in French and English vary in cost depending on the length of the class, if you buy a watch and the watch’s custom design.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, Avenue de la Paix 17, 1202 Geneva, +41 22 748 95 11. The museum documents the history and work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. The informative exhibits detail how people in need are helped in times of crises.
Jet d’Eau, Quai Gustave-Ador, Jetee des Eaux-Vives, 1207 Geneva. One of Geneva’s most recognizable landmarks, the tower of water shoots 460’ into the air above a jetty near the Bains des Paquis, the public baths (Geneva Plage and Baby Plage) with swimming areas in the lake, a park, beach and restaurants.
Outdoor markets. Flea markets are great places to pick up treasures to take home. Farmers markets offer local produce, fruit and ready-to-eat food. In the suburb of Carouge in the Place du Marché, there is a Wednesday and Saturday farmers market. On a Sunday I happened on a flea market in the Place du Marché that also had food stalls. In Plainpalais Square (Plaine de Plainpalais), there is a flea market Wednesdays and Sundays and a farmers market on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday.
Patek Philippe Museum, Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 7, 1205 Geneva, +41 22 707 30 10.
Illustrating the extraordinary craftsmanship devoted to time pieces by Swiss and European artists, watches from the 16th Century to the present are on display. Check the website for times of operation and the availability of guided tours.
Pâtisserie Golay, Rue Adrien-Lachenal 12, 1207 Geneva, +41 22 736 71 56. Website only in French.
Restaurant de l`Hôtel-de-Ville , Grand-Rue 39, 1204 Geneva, + 41 22 311 70 30. Website only in French.
Swiss Army Knife Experience, Rue du Marché 2, 1204 Genève, +41 (0)22 318 63 40. To make your own Swiss Army Knife requires a reservation at least 2 weeks ahead. Choose whether you want the class in English or French. Reservations can be for as many as 4 people and should be made either by email or in person at the Rue du Marché store. The price for the class includes the knife you make.
Beau-Rivage Palace Lausanne, Place du Port 17-19, 1006 Lausanne, +41 (0)21 613 33 33. With 165 rooms, the Beau-Rivage manages that difficult of all balancing acts, preserving the historical character of a property and updating key features with modern touches. When you make a reservation, ask about the availability of traditionally furnished rooms or one of the renovated rooms, designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon, whichever you prefer. Among other public spaces that have been updated, the Spa will be renovated in the fall and reopened in Spring, 2020.
Cully and the Lavaux
For an overview of events and destinations in the area, please consult the Montreux Riviera website.
Domaine Blaise Duplex, Route de Chenaux 2, 1091 Grandvaux, +41 (0) 21 799 15 31. Check the website for tasting room hours.
Guide Patrimoine Lavaux, Ch. Du 700éme 1, CH-1080 Les Cullayes, +41 (0)79 568 15 73.
Guides offer personal insight into the wine-growing region. Website only in French. Annette Müller can be reached through the website or her email.