Home to some of the world’s most formidable international organisations, you’d be forgiven for thinking Geneva consists solely of suits sat in boardrooms trying to figure out how to save the world. Yes, the city is home to the World Health Organization, the International Committee for the Red Cross and the United Nations. But this unassuming sprawl, stretched along the banks of Switzerland’s largest lake, is also filled with unexpected twists and wonderful contrast. Flit between chocolate box scenery and graffitied grunge bars; from the calm of the sky-blue lake to the thundering of the jet d’eau and from the peace of Mont Salève to the wild parties of Bar L’Aiglon. Geneva is a city that’s begging to be set free from its stuffy stereotype. Hire a car with easyCar to explore both sides – sensible and subversive.
Lake Geneva is too beautiful to belong to just one country. Half in Switzerland, half in France, the blue spread of water is Switzerland’s largest lake. Take your car for a spin and loop around its entirety – 180km in total. On the eastern side, watch the colours creep into evergreen as the alpine scenery takes over and to the south, see medieval castles rise out of the vine-carpeted hills. Be sure to visit Castle Chillon. This medieval fortress is one of the most visited castles in Europe. Made famous by Lord Byron, who featured it in his poems, the site sits against a stunning backdrop of snow spattered Alps. This location is the definition of ‘breath-taking scenery’.
Chocolate box views
The monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein cemented Geneva’s Mont Salève into the world’s cultural consciousness. Even though it actually stands on French soil, it’s only 20km drive away from the city.
Known as the balcony of Geneva, the mountain looms above the urban sprawl – offering a peaceful retreat high above the buzz. Don’t worry, no clambering required. The cable car of Mont Salève carries visitors to an altitude of 1,100 metres in under five minutes. At the top, you’ll find yourself surrounded by outdoor pursuits – this is a paradise for paragliders, climbers, mountain bikers, trekkers, even cross-country skiers in the winter.
If you can tear yourself away from the city vista, visit the south-east side of the mountain to get a fresh view of the Alps. From here, you can see the peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif curve, like foaming waves, out of the horizon. Energise yourself for the drive back to Geneva at the mountain’s local restaurant.
The wholesome impact of Switzerland’s luscious landscape melts away as you enter Les Pâquis, Geneva’s red light district. Yes, prostitution is legal in Switzerland, but this is also the city’s answer to Bohemia. Here you can find grungy, graffiti painted bars (Le Phare), Parisian style day-to- night cafes (Café Art’s) and watch a steak-restaurant descend suddenly into a wild party (Bar L’Aiglon).
The district is a multi-cultural hub. For food, choose between Japanese sushi, Moroccan tagines, Chinese stir fry or pad Thai before relaxing on silk cushions at a Middle Eastern saloon, smoking shisha. In warm weather, the water-side promenade is perfect for people watching as Geneva’s youngsters sit in the grass; eating, drinking and listening to music.
Visit the public swimming baths, the Bains des Pâquis to freshen up of a morning. Built in the thirties, the baths jut out into Lake Geneva. Keep an eye on the events calendar, the poolside regularly comes alive with music concerts, fondue nights and poetry evenings. The Turkish baths provide a welcome retreat for cold Genevese in the snowy winter months.
Since being built as a safety valve for a hydraulic power network back in the 1800s, Jet d’Eau has become an iconic Geneva landmark. The fierce curtain of white water is visible throughout the city and can even be see by planes, gliding past Geneva. The jet towers 140 metres above the lake and the water leaves the nozzle at 200km per hour. As with all iconic landmarks, selfies are obligatory. Stay alert for any changes in the wind though – without warning you can be drenched at any moment. Witness the water in all its glory during the city’s annual August fireworks, when the colours of the display are reflected in the spray.