Planning a visit to Geneva, Switzerland – for a meeting, business, or to save the broken world?
Many people say Geneva is boring. I know — I used to be one of them. Over the years I’ve found a few places to love.
So grab your tram ticket and start with…
The Impact Hub – On the street behind Gare Cornavin, the main train station, is this bustling hive of young, creative entrepreneurial and environmentally-sound folks. It’s a co-working space for individuals and groups to work and network. Paying members can set up anywhere in the two floors with a laptop to check email, grab a cup of coffee from the communal kitchen for a meeting, or bring veggies to contribute to a big group “sexy salad” lunch on Tuesdays. No advance reservation required.
If you visit Geneva often enough, it’s worth joining to have easy access to meeting rooms and an impromptu office. Non-members are still welcome to come to the lunches or other public events. The Geneva Hub is part of a network of similar coworking spaces in other cities, so some levels of membership gets you access to those as well.
Just say no to fondue for your dinner meeting – If work spills over into mealtime, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with melted cheese, but there are other options. They include Thai sticky rice and curries at the cozy Reaun Thai, the Senegalese chicken skewers at Aux 5 Sens, Peruvian ceviche at Maloca , or a lunchtime pasta in the back room of the deli at Il Monte Bianco. All four are walking distance from Cornavin.
There are some excellent Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants around town as well – a favorite is Nyala Barka in Plainpalais. I used to live in southwest China, and Jiawei‘s twice-baked pork (huiguo rou) is the closest thing I have found to Sichuan home cooking here.
If you’re eating solo, you could skip the restaurants and try one of the handful of food trucks. These are limited in number because parking is strictly controlled by the city. You can track them here or go straight to my personal favorite, Funky BBQ (founded by a member of the Impact Hub – Geneva is really a small town).
If you need a treat to take home, there are products of the Geneva terroir at Saveurs d’Ici, a newly-opened fancy grocery near Cornavin. The farmer’s markets at Rive (on Wednesday mornings) and les Grottes (on Thursday afternoons) offer a selection of homemade jams, cheeses and flowers. Be forewarned that the one in Les Grottes turns into a wine-soaked revel on the sidewalk after about 5pm.
If it’s a drink you need after a long day of playing Geneva politics, and you prefer not to sit on the sidewalk in the Grottes, the kindest advice is to skip the beer (so boringly the same that locals order it by color) and most cocktails (overpriced, sugary, ugh) and stick to wine, which Geneva does quite well. There are numerous wine bars scattered around the city. Le Rouge et le Blanc is on the banks of the river Rhone, with an ever-surprising range of lesser-known bottles. Café de la Bourse is a slicker bistro hangout for downtown suits. Bottle Brothers is a personal favorite for its great service and gourmet sliders, and it’s on a street with two other bars whose wine-guzzling patrons spill into the streets in summer.
If you’re visiting in April-June, the cantons of Vaud and Geneva offer Caves Ouvertes, when local winemakers open their cellars for free tasting fests. The Geneva version gets overrun, but Vaud is delightfully low-key. Details are sort of online, maybe, but mostly have to be tracked down by word of mouth. Swiss wine is not exported, but it’s affordable and drinkable.
If you really need that cocktail, go to Yvette de Marseille and ask the Cameroonian bartender to fix a margarita. Take a seat: you’ll need one, his margaritas are lethal.
Never on a Sunday – If your visit leaves you here over the weekend, while it is true that most businesses shut down on a Sunday, many of them open up, covertly, towards the end of the day. And you don’t have to perish of ennui in your hotel room waiting for them…
The train to Saint Cergue takes about 90 minutes from Cornavin (change to the little red local train at Nyon). It offers stunning views of the lake and mountains, and deposits you right on a trailhead through the forest at La Givrine, where you can rent snowshoes if the snow is deep enough to demand them. After about 45 minutes you can stop at a restaurant for a glass of vin chaud and a snack (my preferred hiking agenda). If you’d rather soak away your stress, Bains Bleu has saunas, steam rooms, and a heated bubbling rooftop infinity pool by the lake.
Many Genevois find their cultural events by scouring posters across the city (so very retro 1980s as a way to make plans), but there’s also la Decadanse , a simple blog listing street festivals, live music, dance, art shows and movies. In warmer months, there is La Barje, a loose association of trailers selling snacks in parks that turn into hangouts at night, with occasional live music and salsa dancing. Summer also brings outdoor films screened by Cinetransat and dawn concerts with world music by the misty lake at Bains des Paquis (the photo up top is from one of those). And there are many different ways to access the lake for a swim, including near the Hotel Perle du Lac, the Bains des Paquis, and at Jonction, the point where the two rivers meet.
That’s really just the tip of the iceberg – there’s more, like parachuting off Mont Saleve, tubing down the Rhone, waterskiing and so on, but I’ll stop here. One of the nicest things about Geneva is how uncrowded it is here. If people go on thinking the place is boring, maybe we can keep it to ourselves.