On previous trips visiting Switzerland, I always have abandoned city life for the fresh mountain air, swapping scenes of towering building blocks for snow dusted mountain tops. However, on a recent trip to Switzerland, I visited an old friend who has recently moved to Geneva for work and this time, I left behind my skis.
Landing in Geneva I was immediately bombarded with advertisements displaying the latest glamorous watches and I realised that the rumour of Geneva being known for watches, cheese and chocolate might actually be true.
As with most French people who work in Geneva, many actually live and shop in France due to Geneva being such an expensive city. With France surrounding the city of Geneva and signposts highlighting the close proximity of the country dotted throughout Geneva and the virtually ghost like border patrol between both countries, it is easy to dart between the two countries. I stayed in a small town in France but explored Geneva. It is common to meet French people in Geneva too, choosing a higher standard of living and wage in Switzerland than in France, but still just a stone’s throw away from their family and friends. French people in Switzerland or even working in Switzerland form their own sort of community here, which adds to the cosmopolitan feel of Geneva. With around half of the population originally from places outside of Switzerland, it is no surprise that hundreds of international organisations are based here, encouraging workers and visitors to explore and work here.
Geneva is a sleek stylish city, where trams glide through the city with ease and the whole town clusters around one of the largest alpine lakes in Europe, Lake Geneva. It is easy to lose track of which street you are on due to the similarity in design of the roads. Banks, hotels and offices rub shoulders with one another as they jostle for space in the city. Luxurious shops line the streets that surround the lake and the Old Town is hidden amongst the everyday norm of Geneva, as if covering a dark secret that will reveal the past from this glitzy city. The only real sense of authenticity and history is on some of the buildings- the balconies and shutters that have been there for hundreds of years, illustrating a traditional style of architecture. The city lacks the nitty gritty character that I love exploring in cities; it is too sophisticated, too bland for that. The only real beauty is the lake that draws visitors in to its water edge. Bobbing swans float along the surface and flags blow in the wind in the distance, the water is clear and I am repeatedly told by all that it’s wonderful to swim in summer- I can imagine it is, but that is the only good thing I am told about the city.
But, who cares what’s in the city when you have the stunning mountains all around you, Chamonix one of the most superb ski resorts in the world merely just a drive away from you, and the unlimited options to explore nature and fuel your adrenaline with extreme sports? Being an extreme sports lover myself, I could see the attraction. Almost every local owns a boat which allows them to explore the shores of the lake with ease and paddle boats are for hire too. As well as this, wind surfing and paddle boarding are both popular activities at the lake as well.
Mount Saleve is the nearest mountain to the city of Geneva and boy, it’s a beauty. The dramatic cliff face casts a shadow over the houses below whilst trees dangerously sprout in between its rocky cracks. We headed up to the top via cable car, however many choose to hike up it as well. Although a seemingly easy tourist activity, it should not be taken for granted (as ever with Mother Nature) as it can be quite a treacherous journey, many in fact losing their lives to the mountain, so tread with caution. There are plenty of hikes on top of Saleve too, which allow all to trek through dense woodland with moss covered granite out crops, rolling hills and stunning clearings which offer panoramic views of the icy Mount Blanc. A trip up here also allows you to see the city in its full glory, as well as fully take in the vast size of the lake that centres Geneva. An alternative way to see this stunning view is by paragliding, a popular activity off Mount Saleve- although an expensive one might I add!
Although Geneva might not have a diverse night life and urban edge which I am accustom to, it does have a number of wonderfully relaxing Spas that do the city justice. Spending a Friday evening energising in a hot pool, steam room or water massage chairs on a city rooftop whilst watching the sun set over the city is incredibly relaxing and rejuvenating. It does wonders for your stress levels and is no doubt healthier than the English way of letting loose after a stressful week at work- spending a fortune in the pub! Other places to see in Geneva are of course the Palace of Nations, Reformation Wall and an array of Museums that host a number of interesting artefacts.
As my time drew to a close in neighbouring France/Geneva and after I stocked up on cheap French cheeses, I began to reflect on my short but sweet time in Geneva. Would I visit again on a holiday? Probably not. But could I see the attraction of expats moving here? Yes. I could definitely see why people would live in Geneva, work there and receive a high wage, spend lazy summer evenings by the lake swimming and watching the sunset colourfully explode, or crisp early mornings hiking up the steep mountain and then paraglide down with ease, or spend chilly winters snowboarding on perfectly smooth slopes every weekend. The nature that surrounds the city is beautiful, but the city itself, not my cup of tea.