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The Jet d’eau or fountain on Lake Geneva spews water 140 metres in the air, one of the most recognisable symbols of the city, by Vincent Sung

Having the hots for Geneva

Switzerland’s second city may look staid from the outside, but beneath the surface is a tantalising world of possibilities.

Uncover the secrets that the city has to offer, from the arts to gastronomy.

Switzerland’s second city may look staid from the outside, but beneath the surface is a tantalising world of possibilities.

Geneva actively cultivates an image of mystery and secrecy. After all, this is where diplomats negotiate the future of the world behind closed doors and private bankers count fortunes in wood-panelled offices overlooking the lake. Opulent hotels line the lakefront and the world’s most skilled watchmakers come here to practice their intricate art. But despite the wealth, which is considerable, this is not a city given to obvious flash and bling.

A rewarding cruise on Lake Geneva reveals pretty little buildings that beckon a traveller to explore, by Vincent Sung
A rewarding cruise on Lake Geneva reveals pretty little buildings that beckon a traveller to explore, by Vincent Sung

Since Calvin preached his brand of religious reform here in the 1530s and 1540s that is still an integral part of the city’s personality, its inhabitants have valued discretion over ostentation, blending into the crowd rather than standing out.

Paddle wheel boat cruises, a unique heritage, run by the CGN on Lake Genenva, by Vincent Sung
Paddle wheel boat cruises, a unique heritage, run by the CGN on Lake Genenva, by Vincent Sung

Locals pride themselves on efficiency and punctuality (don’t be late to dinner), but there is none of chaotic hustle and bustle of other international centres. From across Lake Geneva, their French neighbours taunt Genevans with the expression “It’s not as if the lake’s on fire,” spoken with a deliberate drawl that is supposed to imitate, and gently mock, the relaxed attitudes on this side of the water.

Beau-Rivage Geneva’s Duplex Elizabeth Taylor Suite, by Vincent Sung
Beau-Rivage Geneva’s Duplex Elizabeth Taylor Suite, by Vincent Sung

Don’t mistake a noncommittal response for an absence of vitality and initiative, though. Local author and cultural celebrity MetinArditi who is a Genevan by adoption calls the unhurried demeanour “a ruse” used by poker-faced Genevans who don’t want to reveal their hand. Behind the unassuming veneer, Geneva is abuzz with creativity and innovation. Chefs, designers, entrepreneurs and free-thinkers choose Geneva for the boundless opportunities the city offers.

Charlie Ganache artisan chocolatier, by Vincent Sung
Charlie Ganache artisan chocolatier, by Vincent Sung

Stuffy and cool, pragmatic and playful, dynamic and lackadaisical, cosmopolitan and parochial: Geneva is a bundle of contradictions. But it is because Geneva constantly defies expectations that visitors never know what surprises await them at every corner. Subscribe to the magazine to read the full article

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© This article was first published in June-July 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.

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