A drink lover’s guide to Geneva

Visiting Geneva in the summer months? Here’s how to live your best life on the lake – from fondue and fine dining to tours of the surrounding Swiss vineyards

Words by Laura Richards

lake geneva jet d'eau and beau rivage hotel

Mountainous panoramas and bountiful sunshine make Switzerland as pretty as a picture – and Geneva is no exception, the historic Swiss city based on the lake and framed by white peaks. These stunning natural surrounds also mean wonderful things for the country’s wines, but even some of the more discerning wine buffs may not have experienced all that Swiss wine can offer; very little of the stuff gets exported. While winemaking regions like the Valais are must-visits for longer stays, Geneva acts as a convenient jumping-off point to the vineyards nearby, all the while serving up some top city-break perks. We’re talking about an active lifestyle on the lake, museums that matter, winding Old Town backstreets, and two of life’s other great indulgences: chocolate and cheese.

hiker in saleve with geneva backdrop
Salève is just on the edge of the city and a great base for hiking and taking in those Lake Geneva views

While in the winter, Geneva is a launching pad for ski day trips in the mountains (the likes of Chamonix in easy reach), things are different in the warmer months. Hiking on Salève is a must, accessible via cable car. Or make like the locals and take a short trip into the hills of Satigny on a Saturday – when wine estates open their cellar doors to the public – to fill your lungs with mountain-fresh air and your glass with a local drop. To get around you can hike, bike or even take to the region via a motorised, fondue-serving tuk-tuk: Geneva might be the seat of the United Nations and the Red Cross, a hub for physics, banking and Swiss-watchmaking, but there’s also innovation aplenty in the city’s offering to its drink-loving visitors.

Things to see and do in Geneva

Life on the Lake is good. An affluent crowd is attracted to the financial and political centre, and so naturally, boating is a recreational hit. You can take a ride up Lake Geneva via any number of boat tour operators to explore untouched bays. But you don’t have to shell out to experience this body of water’s restorative powers. Locals take a plunge in its (seriously) cool, crystal-clear depths at Bains des Paquis (entry €2CHF) – a spot that also serves fondue from its café to those that require warming-up after a dip.

Don't fancy a dip at Bains de Paquis? Geneva's public bathing pools also offer saunas and Turkish baths

A water taxi from here will deliver you to Baby Plage, a miniature ‘beach’ popular with families and a short walk from the Jet d’Eau, a fountain shooting 140 metres into the air, whose magnificent windborne spray can be viewed from various points across the city.

Wander through the Old Town to witness Geneva’s ancient passageways and romantic cobblestone squares, Place du Bourg-de-Four the busiest example. Or take to its ritzy shopping promenades, where you can get an upgrade on your typical Toblerone: chocolate shops line Geneva’s shopping district, but notable among them is Rhone du Chocolatier, in business since 1875. Stock up on bottles from Swiss producers and made from a range of indigenous varieties at Soul Wines, or browse prized vintage and first-growth bottlings at Baghera Wines, an auction house with its own members club and bijou boutique.

 

jet d'eau fountain on lake geneva

Museums in Geneva move from global humanitarian causes (International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum) to local crafts (Patek Philippe Museum) – or for the blockbuster stuff, private tours of the Palais de Nations can be booked long in advance, or CERN and its fascinating (and free) exhibits can be found just outside the city.

 

Where to eat and drink in Geneva

Year-round, the city serves up its signature fondue: bubbling, convivial pots of melted cheese (moitié-moitié means half and half: a 50/50 mix of Gruyère and Fribourg Vacherin), best enjoyed in traditional settings. Restaurant les Armures is just that, an atmospheric restaurant beside the old arsenal, with its starched tablecloths, wood-panelled walls and amour for ornaments.

swiss fondue with bread and cheese

Geneva’s dining scene isn’t immune to international trends, though. Head to Eat Me for small plates that cross the continents, Inda-Bar for Tandoori treats, Chez Philippe for flame-grilled steak from the city’s celebrity chef Philippe Chevrier, and the recently launched Café des Banques for a stellar wine list paired with modern European dishes.

Yeast might just be the city’s most buzzed-out wine hangout, a neighbourhood restaurant and bar in Carouge championing hard-to-find organic wines from around the world, and met with a short menu of sharing plates. There’s also a fair amount of excitement around Helia, a modern cocktail and coffee bar that’s landed in Place du Bourg-de-Four.

Le Chat Botté, a Michelin-Starred restaurant that features fine wines plucked from its historic cellar

Le Chat Botté is the full Michelin Star experience, with old-school service (plus a perch for handbags, of course) and jaw-dropping dishes – plates dressed with emulsions, foams and sauces that showcase a lightness of touch from chef Dominque Gauthier, at the helm here for over 20 years. It’s this restaurant’s historic wine cellar that gives it the edge over other fine-dining institutions – dating back to 1865, and with dusty bottles of Château Haut-Brion waiting for the right diner (and budget!). Ask head sommelier Mikael Grou for an education in Swiss wine and he’ll gladly offer adventurous pairings for each course and from across the cantons.

Where to stay in Geneva

The hotel Beau-Rivage (home to the aforementioned Le Chat Botté) is an heirloom hotel overlooking the lake – although it offers every bit of the modern experience. Indeed, in the absence of a pool, each suite holds its own spa-style showers and jacuzzi tubs. The views might be stunning, but inside, there’s a décor that speaks of its 150-odd-year history – its lavishly balconied and marbled lobby more than setting the tone as you enter.

hotel beau rivage on lake geneva
The Beau-Rivage, an historic hotel looking out across Lake Geneva

The ultimate drinking destination

It’s ‘caves ouvertes’ each and every Saturday – when wineries in the Canton of Geneva open up their cellar doors to the public. Satigny, ‘Switzerland’s largest wine growing village’, is in easy reach, and here you can sample from small-scale family producers like Domaine de Chafalet, currently in its ninth generation, or Domaine du Paradis, a winery founded in the eighties and growing in acclaim. Outside of Saturdays, wine tours and tastings can be booked by appointment with the likes of Stéphane Gros, a biodynamic producer who lives by the line, ‘In Chasselas we trust’.

Vineyards on Lake Geneva

The region is reachable by car, or even by bike for the more athletic – or you can make a day of it and combine with a walk of the Rhône’s right bank to explore fellow vineyard-filled villages. But for true holiday indulgence, take a four-hour tuk-tuk tour with Taxi Bike who will take you to and from the city and between two vineyards (from €340CHF for up to four passengers), and can even serve up fondue while you’re on the move. It’s a cheese-and-wine dream come true.