Huh? He explained that this summer a crew of savvy travelers realized that while Amalfi and Capri were swarming with crowds and hotel prices had skyrocketed (despite ongoing service issues), Geneva presented a great pivot. “We have sunshine, water sports, fabulous hotels with excellent service and calm instead of crowds at half the price of St. Tropez and Positano.” Okay, there isn’t a huge nightlife scene, but many Amalfi and Antibes regulars have aged out of that desire anyway. What they are looking for in a European escape is serious pampering in a beautiful environment with good shopping and dining and excellent service. Geneva ticks those boxes and then some.
The daily flights from New York to Geneva are usually 30 to 50 percent cheaper in economy or business than they are to Paris, Rome or London. Plus, the airport is modern, uncrowded and runs as you would expect with Swiss-watch like precision. As my friend said, “Less hassle at the airport, and the money you save on the six-hour flight can go to your vacation.”
If, after a few days of Swiss serenity, you want to dive into other European capitals, trains can whisk you to Milan or Paris in less than four hours; London is a one-hour flight.
I stayed at La Reserve, which manages to mix a first-class country club setting with a five-star hotel and state-of-the-art anti-aging spa. It is literally a five-minute drive from the airport and five miles from Old Town Geneva but has its own parkland grounds and “beach” on the lake. There is also The Woodward, an Oetker Collection hotel; a recently renovated Four Seasons; a Mandarin Oriental and the old-school Beau Rivage.
Lake Geneva, one of the largest lakes in Europe, is forty-five miles long and crosses from Switzerland into France. You can make boat trips to Lausanne and Evian-les-Bains by sail or speed boat. In the summer there are yacht, rowing and swim races, and water skiing is easily arranged. Les Bains des Paquis, bathhouses built on a spit of land jutting into the Lake, is the best place for outdoor evening concerts and the best fondue in town. With views of Mont Blanc on a clear day, Geneva offers easy access to the Alps. Chamonix is an hour away so you can go for a hike with a picnic and be back the same day. Verbier, Zermatt and Crans-Montana are less than three hours drive.
Geneva is known as the watch capital of the world. Great watchmakers, from Patek Philippe and Rolex to Piaget and Cartier, operate out of Geneva, so of course, you can come here to buy a collectible, but you can also learn how to make a watch, watch them being made or visit the greatest public collection of historic timepieces at the Patek Philippe museum. I have been lucky to visit many of the world’s best jewelry collections including the Kremlin Museum’s Tsar collections and Iran’s Treasury of Jewels in Tehran, and this gem of museum definitely ranks in the top collections because of the artistry and historical significance of the pieces. And more recently, extending one’s time on earth has become a Geneva obsession. Clinique Nescens, for instance, prides itself on being a master of cutting-edge “Swiss anti-aging science.”
The World Wide Web was invented at CERN (the European Council for Nuclear Research) in 1989 while British scientist Tim Berners-Lee was working here; the very first website was hosted on his computer at CERN. Because of this and other extraordinary scientific achievements, CERN has always attracted a huge amount of interest but to visit the original site, you had to book six months in advance or longer to visit. Now, you can visit Science Gateway, a new Renzo Piano-designed visitor center with exhibitions (also aimed at children), guided tours that can be booked on-site, a 900-seat auditorium, a shop and a restaurant, called the Big Bang Café. Visits are free of charge; CERN is located in Meyrin, closer to the airport than the city center.
I love specialized bookstores, and Letubooks in the Old Town is a fifty-year-old bookstore devoted to books on fashion, jewelry, art and photography, where I could spend hours browsing. Similarly, the Barbier Mueller Museum is an exceptional museum housing the collections of Josef Mueller (and later his daughter Monique and son-in-law Jean Paul Barbier), which amount to around 7,000 pieces of traditional arts from Africa, Asia, Oceania, pre-Colombian America and other non-Western civilizations.
I love this saying, and Geneva is home to some of the best chocolate makers in the world, including Läderach, which the chocolate aficionados in my life adore. I also discovered two new under-the-radar artisanal chocolate masters: Guillaume Bichet and Philippe Pascoët.
My last day, as I sat in traffic, my taxi driver exclaimed, “I love this city. Nowhere else in the world do people from all over work together and live together as peaceably as they do here.” He went on to explain that in his travels around Europe and the U.S., he noticed that people, even if they work with people from other backgrounds, they don’t socialize with them, but here they do. “There is true harmony,” he said. “It’s not just that the U.N. is based here, but we really feel like a city of united nations.” Two days later, in Istanbul, I was with Turkish jewelry designer Valda Alaton, of Tohum Designs, who splits her time between Geneva and Istanbul, and I ran this theory by her. “Is it true or was it just an enthusiastic cabbie?” I asked. “He is absolutely right,” she said. “It is a city of love.” And who couldn’t use a dose of that?
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