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What Time is it? It's Time to Spend a Day in Geneva!
I spent a day in Geneva today. It was long overdue – Switzerland is a country I have never visited and has been on my bucket list for a while now. A day in Geneva was enough to convince me that everything I had always imagined Switzerland to be was a reality – in a very good way.
The clocks here all show the right time, the trains are never late and the streets are clean. Unlike many other European cities, rubbish lives in the bins in Geneva rather than on the pavements. At midday, it really is quite a performance when the many clocks in the city all chime at once!
It’s Time for the “Geneva in One Day” Walking Tour
A day is short to explore a major city with a lot of history, but it is plenty of time to get a feel for all the best that Geneva has to offer. As Geneva’s main claim to fame is its world famous watchmaking history, our day’s walking itinerary is largely focussed on waypoints that would bring that history to life.
Stop 1 - The Jet d’Eau
The essence of Geneva – visible from all over the city, the Jet d’Eau shoots water up to the sky at the rate of 500 litres a second. Originally designed for the practical purpose of getting rid of excess water from the hydraulic factory supplying water to craftsmen and watchmakers, it is now a major tourist attraction and “must see” (well can’t actually miss) site.
Stop 2 - Bridge of Time - Pont de la Machine
The Arcade des Arts is the Foundation of the Haute Horlorgerie and the hub of watchmaking and craft culture. Free exhibitions are frequently housed here.
Just below the Arcade des Arts on the lakeside esplanade is the very impressive first sparkling water fountain to be installed in Switzerland. Everyone visiting the city centre can now fill up their water bottles for free with cool, clean, pure Swiss water fed by Lake Geneva (90%) and even choose between still and sparkling. The carbonation is from gas bottles which are 25% solar powered. A great environmentally friendly installation – keeping everyone well hydrated and reducing plastic waste at the same time – well worth the 30.000 Swiss francs installation cost and 1.500 francs a year maintenance costs. Geneva is proudly leading the way – will other cities follow suit?
Stop 3 - Quai du Mont Blanc - Watchmaker's Quay
All the famous watchmakers are represented here. Look for the small windows on the top floors where watchmakers strained to catch the last rays of sunlight to complete their meticulous masterpieces.
Stop 4 - One Clock with 3 Dials
There are many beautiful clocks in Geneva, but this one stands out. There once used to be 3 dials showing the time in Paris, Bern and Geneva before standard European time came in.
Stop 5 - La Rue du Rhône
The shop windows here are something else. Every famous name in Haute Horlorgerie and Haute Couture jostles for position. Rolex, Dior, Bulgari, Omega, Tiffany, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Patek Philippe – and that’s just for starters!
Admire the ever more exuberant window displays, but remember that – if you have to go inside the locked doors past the security guards to politely enquire about the price of your most coveted Geneva souvenir, then you probably won’t be able to afford it?
Stop 6 - Jardin Anglais - Flower Clock (Horlorge Fleurie)
The beautiful clock at the entrance to Jardin Anglais flowes all year round. The second hand is over 2.5 metres long, making it the world’s largest. You are unlikely to have the view to yourself though. If you have to pause a while before you can take your own photo, you can always give a hand to the passing tour groups as you wait your turn?
Stop 7 - The Sundial
A few steps from the Mont Blanc Bridge, at Rue du Jeu-de-l’Arc 15, you can find the Sundial. A luminous path displays the height of the sun from which you can work out the date. It takes a bit of patience to work out exactly how to do it, but persevere with it?
Stop 8 - The Round of Hours Clock
This is a hard one to find. It is tucked away in a shopping centre at 40 Rue du Rhône in the Passage Malbuisson. To find it, you need to look up towards the ceiling. It’s just by the ubiquitous McDonalds, which is much easier to locate!
Aim to arrive on the hour to watch 16 chiming clocks signal the time for the little door at one end to swing open and reveal a parade of 42 figurines and 13 horses which move majestically across to the other side under the clock.
Stop 9 - Bastions Park (Parc des Bastions) - Reformation Wall
Bastions Park is a convenient stop for picnic lunch on one of the many shady benches. Take a moment to pause at the Reformation Wall and admire the giant statues of the Reformation. Jean Calvin is one of them. Geneva remains ever grateful to him for his ban on outward signs of wealth which drove people towards buying luxury timepieces. Geneva’s talented craftsmen were particularly well poised to capitalise on this new trend.
Stop 10 - Patek Philippe Museum
The Patek Philippe Museum opens at 2pm (except on Mondays). The museum houses 4 floors of opulent watches and clocks of all descriptions – a truly outstanding collection you are unlikely to see anywhere else in the world. You can learn a little about the watchmaking history in general – and Philippe Patek’s unique role in it (inventor of the first keyless watch) – as you marvel at the exquisite exhibits. You can’t take any bags inside – even handbags. There are lockers where you can leave them. You can’t take any photos inside either.
Last - and Probably Least - The Hourglass of the Millennium
The Hourglass of the Millennium – the largest hourglass in Europe – resides in Domaine de Penthes, which is quite a jaunt from the centre of the Old Town. We ran out of time to visit it, but I think it was maybe something of a white elephant anyway though as the tonnes of plastic and wood used to construct it are not watertight, so the hourglass has to be kept inside a glass cage.
There is more to Geneva than watches and clock. No trip is complete without a few foodie firsts and Geneva doesn’t disappoint here either.
There is something so satisfying about a Swiss cheese fondue – maybe all the more so when it can be enjoyed sitting outside on a fine Summer’s evening in Geneva? Spear your bread cube, lower it carefully into the warm, gooey cheese that bubbles in your cheerful red fondue pan, wind it around several times – pause for it to cool a little – and then ENJOY! It’s way too delicious to leave any sticking to the bottom and sides of the pan. You can fondue meat in wine/broth and dip it into sauces, but somehow the classic cheese fondue is the real deal here?
The Auberge de Savièse is a great place to try one. They serve Malakoffs (see below) too.
How to Make A Swiss Cheese Fondue
- 200ml dry white wine
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 200g Comte or Gruyère cheese. grated
- 200g emmental, grated
- 2 tsp cornflour
- 1 tbsp kirsch or schnapps liqueur
- 1 garlic clove halved
- crusty bread
- Pour the wine and lemon juice into a heavy-based pan over a medium-low heat and warm until steam begins to rise.
- Add the cheese, a handful at a time, whisking between each addition until all the cheese has been added.
- Stir for 4-5 mins until the mixture is fully melted, smooth and creamy.
- Mix the cornflour with the kirsch in a small bowl, then stir this into the cheese mixture to gradually thicken it.
- Cook over a low heat for a minute more.
- Prepare your fondue pot by rubbing the garlic around the inside.
- Pour the cheese mixture into the pot and place it over the flame.
- Serve with boiled new potatoes, raw vegetables and cornichons alongside.
The Malakoff is a Vaud canton specialty, brought back by the Swiss soldiers on their return from the Crimean War. Its name comes from Fort Malakoff, which they besieged for 11 months. It was during this period that the soldiers got used to fry slices of cheese in a pan and which are at the origin of the succulent fried cheese Makakoff fritters. These make a nice starter before polishing off a cheese fondue.
The chocolate shops in Geneva are a sight to behold. You can choose a selection of delicately formed hand decorated chocolates, or just go for a square of your favourite flavour. It has to be the best souvenir – unless it is a day when the temperature hits 36 degrees – like today – when you just have to eat it!
Where We Stayed - Accommodation Review
Manotel Hotel Royal - and Aparté Restaurant
We chose the Manotel Hotel Royal for our short stay and it proved to be a good choice. It is a very convenient short walk from Geneva Station – just 6 minutes. The location is very convenient for exploring Geneva in a day – the only means of travel we used during the day was our own two feet, which walked a total of 12 kilometres during the day. The breakfast buffet has all you need and the rooms are quiet and air conditioned. What more could you want?
Well – there is also a Michelin starred restaurant – l’Aparté – in the hotel, which does make it rather special. Pre booking is essential as there are only 4 tables (14 covers). Chef Armel Bedouet works hard to ensure that his 5 course menu découvert delivers you a pleasurable gastronomic experience to remember for years to come. Just advise him of any food allergies/intolerances and leave the rest in his very capable hands.
This is what the Michelin Guide has to say about it:
“The Hotel Royal is home to a minimalist, Lilliputian restaurant with seating for only 15. Take a seat at one of the four tables and let yourself be guided. The chef personally serves his elegant, delicately crafted dishes, taking the time to describe and explain the ins and outs of each ingredient. A culinary pageant of outstanding produce including Swiss veal and beef, fish straight from Brittany and Bresse poultry, at the service of food sodden with rippling ambition and character. Book well ahead, particularly in the evenings as the handful of tables are snapped up fast. Bogie’s Bar next-door is ideal to begin or finish this superlative fine dining experience.”
Great for celebrating a special occasion. Merci à vous Monsieur Bedouet!
Tips for Future Travellers
A Day in Geneva - Plan to Arrive the Previous Night
A day in Geneva isn’t really very long to explore all it has to offer, so we arrived early the previous evening and stayed overnight so that we could make an early start on a full day’s exploring.
Airports and Trains
Switzerland has the reputation of being easy to explore by train. We were driving through Europe this time, but decided to leave the car at Geneva Airport (which is called Cointrin) and take the train in.
The airport is a convenient place to leave the car for a few days. You need to pre book your parking and pay by the hour, so you need to know when you will arrive and leave. You are allowed to arrive within an an hour earlier than your reservation and up to 4 hours after it, which allows you some flexibility.
The reserved parking is signposted longue durée P26 Resapark. It is hard to find! If you follow the signs for the Palexpo Arena, that should help, but be sure to allow enough time to search for the right barrier!
It is only a short train ride (7 minutes) from the station to the centre of town and trains are frequent. If you haven’t bought a ticket in advance though, allow an hour or so for your journey to give enough time for buying a ticket and waiting for your train to arrive. The train was clean, fast and empty, even though we were in peak season. It was also cheap – just 3 Swiss Francs for a single ticket.
Geneva Hotels will issue with a QR code which you can scan and access a website which will allow you to register for free travel within Geneva during your stay.for your stay. Good to know before you go. We brought no Swiss Francs with us and managed just fine without.
Are there any downside to visiting Geneva?
Yes – it is very expensive! A pint and a half of beer will cost you £15 – but then you do get a view of the Jet d’Eau thrown in for free.