Geneva: A swift stroll through Swiss splendour

For walkers, this international city reveals itself as anything but conventional, says Simon Calder

Switzerland's westernmost city has long been an enlightened haven for intellectuals, so it is appropriate that this month Geneva has become a new destination for non-stop flights from Cambridge.This slice of Geneva starts with a flourish at the easy-to-spot Russian Church at Rue de Beaumont 18 (00 41 22 346 47 09), whose cluster of onion domes, towers above the south-east of the city. It was the creation of Queen Victoria's aunt, Princess Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, who married into the Russian aristocracy but preferred life in Geneva to the Imperial court in St Petersburg. She paid for the construction of the church, which this year celebrates its 150th anniversary.

Close by is the Museum of Art and History, which occupies a bulky early 20th-century neo-classical pile. Its façade celebrates Swiss artists such as Jean-Etienne Liotard and Rodolphe Töpffer. Most visitors will be enticed by the works of Veronese and Hogarth as well as an edition of Rodin's The Thinker (00 41 22 418 26 00;; 11am-6pm daily except Monday). Conveniently, given the mighty Swiss franc, the permanent collection is free.

The Old Town begins in earnest as you move north-west towards the river. The Place du Bourg-de-Four, amid a tangle of lanes, feels like a proper village square. At the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall), a plaque in the Alabama Room announces that this was where the first Geneva Convention was signed in 1864 as the initial act of the International Red Cross.

Make a pit-stop at Chez Ma Cousine at number 6 (11am-11.30pm;, offering the best-value cappuccino on the square at Sfr3.90 (£2.80) – with good chicken dishes and salads for an early lunch.

Wander across to the Promenade de la Treille, passing the statue of Charles Pictet de Rochemont – the architect of Swiss neutrality. Take in the fine views from the terrace and witness one of Europe's sillier superlatives: the world's longest wooden bench, all 126m of it.

The Cathedral of St-Pierre houses about the same length in austere wooden pews. This haven of Calvinism was where the reforming theologian preached in the mid-16th century. His chair remains. Beneath the nave there is an archaeological site, and you can also ascend to the top of the towers between 10am-5pm daily. A ticket covering both costs Sfr16 (£11.50); admission to the cathedral itself is free.

Call in at the concise (and free) Maison Tavel at Rue du Puits-St-Pierre 6 (00 41 22 418 37 00; 11am-6pm daily except Monday). It is claimed to be the oldest private dwelling in the city. The 14th-century house provides an intimate picture of life in Geneva through the centuries.

Then thread your way down to the Place du Molard. The elegant Tour du Molard at the far end, contains a relief with the inscription "Genève Cité de Refuge"; look among the cobbles beneath your feet for one-word messages such as "Gracias" and "Bienvenue". Head for Lake Geneva, checking the time at the impressive floral clock in the 1854 Jardin Anglais. Take in the view of the Jet d'Eau. If the plume soaring 140m into the air fails to impress you, consider that seven tonnes of water are airborne at any instant. Then bear left along the promenade, beneath the busy Pont de Mont-Blanc – which crosses the Rhône as the replenished river continues its meandering journey to the Mediterranean.

Two bridges along is the Pont de la Machine. The machine in question formerly occupied the building in the middle and pumped water to the city's lesser fountains. Today, the structure houses the Cité du Temps – an unusual combination of bar-restaurant, art space (the current exhibition, to 7 October, features the photographer, Régis Colombo; 00 41 22 818 39 00;; 9am-6pm daily).

The right bank of the Rhône is less engrossing than the left. Rue Rousseau leads from the Pont de la Machine to the impressive Catholic Basilica of Notre-Dame. Just beyond, Gare de Cornavin has been largely modernised but the stirring murals of Swiss mountain scenes in the station's ticket hall have survived.

To satisfy the appetite you have worked up, part with 42 of your remaining Swiss francs (£30) at the Café de Paris at Rue du Mont-Blanc 26 (00 41 22 732 84 50;; 11am-11pm daily). The only dish is entrecôte beef, cooked to your choice and served with frites and a green salad. Simple, but heavenly.

Fresh cuts

Opening on Friday and running to 12 January next year, the Tutankhamun exhibition at Palexpo is a remarkable compilation of replica funerary items – including Tutankhamun's celebrated golden mask – reconstructed to show the young pharaoh's tomb as it was found by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922 (00 41 22 365 11 60;; open 10am-7pm daily, Sfr22/£16, Mondays Sfr16/£11.50).

Travel essentials

Getting there

You can fly non-stop from many UK airports to Geneva – including, from this month, from Cambridge on Darwin Airline. The main carrier is easyJet (0843 104 5000;, with other options available on Swiss (0845 601 0956;, British Airways (0844 493 0787; and Jet2 (0871 226 1737; Trains run from Geneva airport to the main station, Gare de Cornavin, in six minutes.

The train journey from London St Pancras and Ebbsfleet is straightforward. After the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, take RER line D to the Gare de Lyon, from where high-speed TGVs depart for Geneva. The total journey takes around six-and-a-half hours.

Staying there

The three-star Hôtel Cristal at Rue Pradier 4 (00 41 22 716 12 21; is stylish and central and offers excellent deals for weekend stays: Sfr130 (£93) nightly for a good double, including breakfast and Wi-Fi. All Geneva hotels offer a card giving free bus, tram, train and boat travel within the city.

More information

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine