Visiting Geneva Switzerland With a Small Dog
Geneva is one of those cities that too many people overlook. In fact we kind of did the same thing by only spending a day there rather than giving it the full attention it deserved; using it more as a pied-a-terre than a place to visit in depth. We regret this. We had heard from so many people “Oh it’s not that great … this or that city is so much better!”. But you know what? It simply isn’t true. And Mom should have remembered that since she lived in the area for over 4 years and knew Geneva well. It is kind of like Ottawa actually – overlooked and wrongfully so. And it is a shame. Because I actually really loved Geneva. So, I thought I would share with you our “walking tour” of the city.
Our walk is similar to the one Frommers recommends so, I guess we knew what we were doing!
After a good hearty breakfast at our hotel, we started with the most obvious spot: The shore of Lake Geneva (Lake Leman to locals and Francophones). No matter how many times Mom has seen it, the stunning views of the Alps, the clean crisp, fish filled lake, the friendly ducks and swans and the impressive towering Jet d’Eau (The world’s tallest fountain) never gets old. You stand there and you know you are in Switzerland. You do. I can’t explain it but as we strolled along the water’s edge, watching the light reflect off the water, planning our next day’s jaunts to Lausanne and Montreux, we just had this immediate “feel” for the country. Everything was the way you would expect it to be. Picturesque, pristine… and wonderfully logical.
Take Geneva’s famous landmark for example. That huge water jet. It has a story you know! Yep, originally just a logical thing, this water jet was used to relieve the pressure of the city’s water pipes. Of course, people loved it and it became Geneva’s landmark and so, even when modern improvements meant it was no longer needed the Swiss kept it. It’s about 140 meters (459 feet) high and the strong pumps work all year round. At any given moment there are about 7,000 liters (1849 gallons) of water in the air. That is a LOT of water! *shivers*
There is a nice area right “downtown” where you can go for a swim called Bains des Pâquis, complete with lockers, a restaurant, massage parlor and even a Tai Chi school. It has some fun things like rocking horses in a child’s playground and steps that go into the lake and although it was chilly and already October, we saw a few die hard swimmers. Crazy people I tell you! Crazy! There was one guy doing his book launch right there on the steps, complete with Champagne, friends, a guy playing guitar and a pet CHICKEN! It was lovely! Although the jetty isn’t really pet friendly per say we went and no one said anything. Of course it IS Switzerland so be warned, you break the rules and get caught – there will be a fine. They don’t do “verbal warnings”. But with my being so little, and tucked under Dad’s arm and thus nearly invisible we took the chance. But do not worry, the entire promenade along the lake is pet friendly even if the Bains des Paquis isn’t. As long as you have a leash for your canine you can wonder almost anywhere. Yep, in fact Geneva was pretty darn pet friendly. I was welcomed at the tables of many of the “pop-up” sandwich places, café’s, restaurants, and inside shops and more.
We followed the water’s edge towards a busier road/bridge called Saint Gervais des Bergues, then took a little path “under” the bridge and continued along Geneva’s park-like promenades and on across to the English garden and into Geneva’s ritzy shopping and banking district.
Shopping isn’t really our thing and the prices in Geneva are far far FAR outside of our budget, so we didn’t linger very long but rather moved on and into the old town. But the English garden is worth the visit to go see the Flower Clock. Because watches and Switzerland. Right?
The Old Town
Geneva’s Old Town (Vieille Ville in French) is an ancient, gothic maze of small, cobblestone streets and picturesque squares, filled with homey cafés, restaurants, galleries, museums and historical sights. It is row upon row of historical buildings adorned with beautiful facades and the fact that it is gothic architecture that dominates rather than medieval, renaissance or classicism as one is accustomed to in Europe, gives it a unique vibe. You’re whisked back in time almost immediately. All the more surprising is the fact that Switzerland’s largest lake – that is so predominately evident from every other area in Geneva – is barely noticeable in the Old Town. You can take a trolley to the foot of the hill, but after that you are on your own and only local traffic (and Taxi’s) may drive through. At about 25 meters (82 feet) higher than the lake – expect a little climb.
Place du Bourg-de-Four
In the very center of Geneva’s Old Town is Bourg-de-Four, a must-visit square and the oldest one in Geneva. This is where a long time ago the Roman marketplace occurred and now a touristy spot full of shopping and a great place to have a cup of coffee or a light lunch. It is still a place for people (and dogs) to gather. The middle of the square is decorated with simple medieval fountains and the is surrounded by restaurants and coffee shops with plenty of outdoor seating. There is a hum in the air from all the people taking in the atmosphere. The “how” and “why” of the spot may have changed over the centuries but it’s still about connecting people!
Just 6-7 minutes down the streets from the place du Bourg-de-Four is Geneva’s shopping street Rue du Marche and of course the Park des Bastions with the famous Reformation Wall. It honors many of the main individuals, events, and documents of the Protestant Reformation. It’s big, white and imposing. On a much lighter note, you can test your chess skills on the life size chessboards or relax at the pavilion café before heading out the gates to Place Neuve, home of Geneva’s oldest and most beautiful performance and exhibition halls.
Or … do what we did and head upwards!
St. Peter’s CATHEDRAL
St. Peter’s Cathedral, is Geneva’s 850 years old Cathedral (1160-1252) located in the center and top of Geneva’s Old Town. It’s an odd combination of various architectural styles from Ancient to Gothic. This slow and progressive growth, like so many Cathedrals, shows in its bones the rich history of the city. It is famous for Jan Kalvin, an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation working there. The Swiss seem to find this to be a big deal and I am ashamed to say that not one of us in the Montecristo Travels trio knew who he was. Thank you Google and free WiFi on our smartphones for the quick, on location, save!
Standing where there previously was a basilica from the 6th century, the Cathedral was rebuilt several times with the last reconstructions taking place in the 18th century. Sadly, interiors of the Cathedral were mostly demolished in 1535, when Geneva’s residents accepted the Reformation and destroyed all the altars, statues and most of the paintings in a “rage”. I just don’t understand humans. *sigh* Luckily the Pulpit and some paintings at the tops of the pillars were preserved.
The Cathedral is rented for concerts sometimes so you should check before entering so as not to disturb a paid performance. Otherwise, there is no entrance fee for the St. Peter’s Cathedral and no – dogs are … ahmmm… not allowed inside…. ahmmm.
What stunned us the most? The huge pipe organ and the masterful player that was practicing when we visited. From the front, the organ looks a little bit like a gold-silver-red crown. But what makes it really stellar is the astonishingly clear sound. Dad noticed the Bang and Olufson speakers here and there in the Cathedral that may be part of the reason for the powerful sound. Regardless of the reason. We had to sit down a moment to listen.
You can climb up the two tall towers with long spiral staircase to get a 360° view on the whole of Geneva. The two towers are the South Tower and the North Tower and are connected by a corridor at a half-way point so you can walk from one tower to another one without having to go all the back down. How very … efficient. There is an fee for the towers (at the time of our visit it was CHF 4 for adults and CHF 2 for children 6-16) but we couldn’t go because … me.
A really gorgeous space in the South-West corner of the cathedral is the appended Maccabee chapel (the last chapel on the left). It is really beautiful painted in the gothic style. Hard to believe it was originally just a storehouse and later used as a schoolroom. But it is true, it wasn’t until 1878 that it was remade into the Maccabee chapel. But glad they did because … wow.
Archaeological Site and the Clock Tower
Don’t miss the recently found remains of the basilica that was standing before the Cathedral was built. Some mosaic paintings, walls, rooms and flooring from buildings several centuries older (dating back to the 4th century) have also been uncovered. All proving that Geneva has been around for a long long time. There is a little museum on the spot that is open to the public. It is small enough to visit that you can do a hand-off thing if you are with your dog. There are Café’s nearby for the one waiting. The museum has artifacts, a Roman Crypt, some Monk’s Cells, The Allobrogian Tomb and several Audio Shows. If that is your cup of tea go for it!
What you must stop and see (and try to time perfectly) is to be near the Clock Tower when the hour strikes. On the hour every hour, the big clock strikes the time, followed by a play of “bells”. Most commonly it plays the Swiss National Anthem but sometimes it plays other tunes.
Should we return, and thus have a bit more time, there are a few things I would add to our trek:
- The United Nations Building and Red Cross Museum. Actually really close to our hotel, this is something worth doing if you have the time. A tour of the European Headquarters of the United Nations followed up by a visit to the Red Cross Museum across the street. Note that it is NOT PET FRIENDLY inside – so you will need to leave your companion at the hotel. What I could visit is the “water park” like grounds, and the many sculptures including the “Broken Chair” monument to land mine victims at Place des Nations.
- Plainpalais Flea Market. Ah to mingle with the locals at Geneva’s largest outdoor flea market open Wednesdays and Sundays from 08:00 to 17:00 rain or shine (even though during rainy days it’s almost empty). Antiques, records, vintage clothing and other curios await savvy bargain hunters. Even if you don’t like to buy anything Mom assures me the atmosphere is lively.
- The Saleve. Ride the gondola up Geneva’s “backyard mountain” and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding Alps and the city below. Of course if you’re feeling fit, you can hike up along one of the Saleve’s many marked trails. Seriously, I can’t believe we did not make time for this!
But it will have to wait for a future visit. We walked back towards our hotel, stopping at an eerie neo-gothic construction of pink marble that was rather mysterious if a bit … more garish than Geneva’s “clean” gothic lines. A little research told us that it was a tomb, built in 1879. The last resting place of the controversial character, Charles Frederic Auguste Guillaume, Duke of Brunswick. A fabulously rich eccentric philanderer. He was dispossessed (his brother took over) of his throne and spent his entire life travelling across Europe, getting involved in numerous political and moral intrigues, before retiring first to a fortified palace in Paris and then finally to a suite at the Beau-Rivage Hotel in Geneva. In the end, he was found in a bathtub filled with formaldehyde, after he suffered a fatal stroke in 1973. There was a lot of gossip around his death. In his will the Duke bequeathed his enormous fortune (22 million gold francs, about 22 billion francs today) to the city in exchange for an eternal tomb to be erected at a “preeminent and dignified location.” Well, he certainly got his wish!
Right behind the tomb is a plaza and park. This is where we ate at an odd and out of place looking little restaurant called “The Cottage”. We had some tapas on the outdoor pet-friendly terrace, watching the stars, listening to the local lilting French (it has its own sound very different from France or Belgium) sipping a glass of wine and later a herbal tea… and then slowly … slowly made we made our way back to our hotel. Tired but happy.
In review: Give Geneva the time that it deserves! A city with much to offer and an unusual feel about it, don’t hesitate to hop-on and hop-off the pet friendly tramway to get around. Take full advantage of the well-priced three day ticket for tourists often available at your hotel reception desk. Take your time to enjoy the surrounding hills, the large lake, and beautiful Old Town. Don’t make the mistake we made by not giving Geneva it’s due…because this walking tour BARELY scratches the surface of what there is to see. (Here is a map of Geneva you can download!)
[fbalbum url=https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a. 728577357251588]