Short Breaks: 48 hours in Geneva

Why do the rich and famous converge on this glamorous Swiss city? Could it be its history? Its chocolate? Or its sheer elegance? By Margaret Kemp


The Geneva Convention was signed in this Swiss city 50 years ago. Reaffirm the main principles of international humanitarian law with the locals and visit the Palais des Nations, 17 Avenue de la Paix (00 41 22 917 1234) (1). En route to your alpine ski-holidays, take time out to discover a small but perfectly formed city and stock up on Cohiba cigars (Gerard Pere et Fils, 19 Quai du Mont-Blanc (2)) and Paves de Geneve chocolates (Martel, 8 rue du Marche (3)) for that millennium party.


This is likely to be the most competitive autumn yet on flights from the UK to Geneva. The low-fares airline easyJet (0870 6 000 000) has taken over a Swiss carrier, and in December, will start flying from Gatwick and Stansted in addition to its existing services from Luton and Liverpool (which are available for as little as pounds 100 return). British Airways (0345 222111) flies from Birmingham, Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester; Swissair (0171-434 7300) flies from Heathrow, while its subsidiary, Crossair, operates from London City. By rail, the journey from London Waterloo via Paris takes around nine hours, and costs around pounds 150; more details from Rail Europe on 0990 848 848.

Where the Nations are United


The city centre is four miles from Cointrin Airport (4). Once there, an excellent network of trams, buses and trolley buses runs with the precision and efficiency you'd expect, and SFr2.20 (95p) gives you use of the system for an hour. A rail service connects with Gare Cornavin (5), and Compagnie Generale de Navigation (00 41 22 312 5223) by the Jardin Anglais (6) operates a steamer service to all towns and major villages bordering Lake Geneva.

The 45-mile long lake is hard to miss and lends a resort-like feel to the city. Mouettes, a kind of water-taxi, ply the lakeside parks (00 41 22 732 2944). And the Jet d'Eau (7) is the signature of the city from March to October, when an impressive column of water spurts 390ft over the lake.


Some say Hotel du Rhone (00 41 22 909 0000) (8) is the best (double rooms from SFr550, pounds 235), but apparently Sting prefers the Beau-Rivage (00 41 22 716 6666) (9). Double rooms here cost from SFr520 (pounds 220) for a city view and from Sfr580 (pounds 250) for a lake view. Alternatively, Les Armures (00 41 22 310 91 72) (10) is a charming, medieval-style boutique hotel, where double rooms start at Sfr440 (pounds 190). Dine out in the hotel's restaurant, where Phil Collins has been known to enjoy the odd raclette. Or, try Hotel Suisse, at 10 Place de Cornavin (00 41 22 732 6630) (11) for something cheaper (SFr175, around pounds 75, per double).


The British are not averse to a bit of leg-stretching in Switzerland. Indeed, Thomas Cook led the first conducted tour here in 1863 (when passports were an unnecessary piece of luggage), most of it spent hiking through the Jungfrau region. That may be too far from Geneva to venture in one morning, but why not celebrate the recent repackaging of his company with a stroll across the border into France? Set off in almost any direction from the Swiss capital and after about an hour you'll find yourself in France. But don't forget your passport - Switzerland isn't part of the EU.


Les Fous de la Place, 21 rue de la Corraterie (00 41 22 310 53 40) (12) has wacky decor but sensible food - such as brochette of melon and chorizo, confiture de tomates vertes and lamb-stuffed eggplant with peppers. Otherwise, head down to Le Neptune, 1 quai Turrettini (00 41 22 909 00 06) (13) for the fish of the day or grab a picnic and head down to munch it in the Jardin Anglais (6), on the lakefront near the Old Town.


Play chess and chequers, Alice in Wonderland-style, on outsize black and white boards in the Parc des Bastion (14). Sip a glass of wine in the airy brasserie and continue along the tree-lined paths until you reach the imposing Mur de la Reformation, inscribed with Geneva's motto: "Post Tenebras Lux" (after darkness; light) and dedicated to leading figures of the International Reformation movement: Jean Calvin, Theodore de Beze, John Knox and Guillaume Farel. Exiting the park, climb the cobblestones to the Old Town (15) and explore its narrow passageways, punctuated with tasteful boutiques, galleries and bars, and its hidden courtyards and picturesque squares.

Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre


Geneva was also home to the "other" Calvin, Jean, who came to live in the city in 1536, making it a refuge of Protestantism. When he arrived, the Genevois gathered at the Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre on the rue Hotel de Ville (18), declaring it Protestant in support. Climb the 145 steps to the top of the tower and admire the view of the city, the Alps and the Jura, or go underground to potter around the archaeological excavations that lie below the cathedral.


La Perle du Lac, at 126 rue de Lausanne (00 41 22 731 7935) (17) was named in the 1920s by Madame Wilsdorf, wife of the founder of the Rolex Company. Eating at this chalet, with its park setting, you feel as though the von Trapps may walk in at any moment. And the food is excellent. There's fish from the lake in season and a good selection of game available in the autumn.

Reform characters are celebrated in Geneva


The place in Geneva to see and be seen is La Clemence, at 20 place du Bourg-de-Four (00 41 22 312 24 98) (16). Despite this, there is a friendly pub atmosphere about it and, on warm evenings, people sit on the terrace or spill over onto the pavement.


Watchmakers Vacheron and Constantin, at 1 rue des Moulins (00 41 22 310 32 27) sets world standards in limited-edition timepieces, and has been in Geneva since 1755. Bon Genie (34 rue due Marche) is, on a smaller scale, the Harvey Nichols of Geneva, and has a child-friendly cafe on the fifth floor. Shop together at Show-Off, 2 rue Pierre-Fatio (00 41 22 311 99 50) and meet at the bar afterwards. And don't leave without kitting yourself out with a trusty Swiss Army knife at Swiss Corner, 7 rue des Alpes.

All the towns on Lake Geneva are linked by steamers