Europe, Switzerland, Travel

A Weekend In Geneva

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.

GandhiLanding 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.

Cheese MarketAs 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.

Lake Geneva at SunsetGeneva 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.

Traditional Swiss ViewBut, 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.

GenevaMount 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!

WoodlandAlthough 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.

UNAs 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.


Europe, Extreme Sports, Switzerland, Travel

Skiing in Switzerland

Switzerland is beautiful. No matter what season you visit, you will be astounded by the spectacular scenery that blooms around you. Whether it be aquamarine lakes that sparkle in the sunshine, the world of green that blossoms over rolling hills and staggering mountains, or the snow that blankets the picturesque boxed chalets that lie next to frozen iced lakes where robins chirp with enthusiasm. Switzerland’s natural and geographical beauty (as well as wonderful skills in creating chocolate and cheese) make it a prized destination for nature lovers and foodies. The most popular season to visit Switzerland is winter, due to its quintessential status of being the perfect place to ski, with its majestic mountains, unrivalled access to snow and excellent transport network (the Swiss are very good at being efficient if you didn’t know).

Which is why when I went skiing for the first time, my school in Bahrain, picked Morgins, specifically in the area of Portes Du Soleil. Before this point, I had never seen snow before. And coming in a large group of people, who most of them hadn’t seen snow either (that’s what happens when you grow up in a desert in the Middle East) we were aghast by the sight of it. It was stunning to look at. It layered buildings and trees as if icing on a cake, it floated in the air and caught our cheek as if a raindrop and it hurt when I fell over whilst attempting to ski.

Coming to this magical winter wonderland at the tender age of eleven, without any experience of snow before, made this trip even more picturesque. Here, I began to learn how to ski with patient and attentive ski instructors, who have a prestigious reputation for being so. Skiing is difficult. Wearing heavy ill fitting boots that make you walk as if imitating Robocop, then slinging two planks of wood onto your shoulder whilst grasping two long poles in your other hand, is a work out in itself. Lugging all the equipment to a green coloured (not the snow but the type of slope) patch of slope- for you to attempt to put your skis on by pushing them into a clasp, is an even harder feat. But actually learning to stay on your skis without falling backwards or sideways? Seemingly, a mission impossible.

For most, learning to ski is challenging. It takes perseverance, time and a lot of patience. With balance and agility, one finally learns how to smooth and slide over slopes with ease. Reflecting back on my first initial lesson, now having skied for 3 years and snowboarded once, I would say snowboarding is much easier to get to grips with. Although I am not sure this is because I had past experience with skiing or not, but either way, prepare yourself when learning to ski- and ignore the darting 6 year old local kids who whiz about the slope- they are used to it.

Choosing the area of Portes du Soleil, means that you obtain a vast amount of terrain to ski in, it being the second largest linked international ski area in the world. With 650 km of pistes that interlink and connect across both France and Switzerland with just one pass; it is the perfect destination for a group of visitors who have mixed ability, or crave new slopes and adventure every day in idyllic landscapes, such as Mount Blanc and Lake Geneva in the distance.

The little village we stayed in, Morgins, gives direct and easy access to Portes du Soleil, and links to the nearby villages of Chatel and Champoussin. The cute village retains its traditional charm by choosing unique bespoke chalets and chalet operators, rather than large hotel chains to entertain tourists. This means that Morgins also keeps much of its traditions whilst providing a warm shelter lit by candle light in a spectacular setting. If you want to learn to ski, I would advise visiting Switzerland because its withstanding reputation of the most popular skiing destination in Europe, makes the schools and instructors equally as phenomenal.