DAMIAN FANTATO enjoys his break in Switzerland’s second city – well, why try to defy convention in Geneva?
There’s something about the people of Geneva and their watches.
I noticed it as soon as I left the airplane: they’re everywhere.
Most of the advertising space seems to be taken up by expensive watch brands (the rest is taken up by companies offering financial services I’ll never understand).
My hotel had watches on display in the lobby.
Even one of the city’s parks, the English Garden (or Jardin Anglais), boasts a massive clock made of flowers – complete with the fastest second hand in the world.
One of the tourist highlights is probably the Patek Philippe Museum, which takes two hours to visit and has watches which have belonged to the great and the good of European history. It even has a watch in the shape of a gun.
Luckily there is a lot more to Geneva than costly timepieces.
In the sun, which shone incessantly during my visit, Geneva has very much the feeling of the Mediterranean riviera, and just strolling around the lake – one of the largest in Europe – is as much a pleasure as making your way through the small streets of the old town or flitting between boutique shops.
And on my first day in Geneva, that’s exactly what I did after hurling my clothes into my extremely comfortable room in the Hotel De La Paix, which sits on the waterfront.
Even though the lake sits in the middle of a large city, it’s easy to forget that on a lovely sunny day with the sound of water lapping in the background.
Many of the Swiss gather at the Paquis baths where they sip coffee in that very continental way and swim in the lake, which isn’t as uninviting as it may sound since the water is extraordinarily clear.
I made my way around to the Jet d’Eau, the huge fountain reaching some 140 metres in height, which makes Geneva look like it has sprung a leak.
The waterfront is lined by luxury hotels and exclusive shops though there is also space for simpler pleasures such as strolling through the green spaces. If you nip across the road into the city and on to the Rue du Rhone there are plenty of shops selling luxury items from watches to cigars and chocolate.
Just beyond the shops are the winding streets of the city’s Old Town with its quaint little cobbled roads which can offer some steep climbs.
They lead around the Hotel de Ville and the St Pierre Cathedral, the spire of which can be seen from across the lake.
When walking does become a drag, the city’s boat tours offer a wonderful alternative allowing you to see the city from the water. In fact Geneva has a system of waterbuses which mean you never really have to walk around the lake.
Looking at the houses is a bit like one of those “map of stars” tours around Hollywood, except in Geneva the notable names include the Rothschilds and the man who invented Colgate toothpaste.
The Alps surround the city like a wall, and heading out of the city offers some wonderful views, though such is the compact nature of the canton that I accidentally ended up in France.
For a city famed for its rich pickings, and for being an expensive place to visit, Geneva does in fact offer some wonderful opportunities for simpler pleasures, though staying for longer than a couple of days might put that to the test.
The Swiss may be neutral but that doesn’t mean we have to be about their second city.
* easyJet flies daily to Geneva from Gatwick, from £33. The Oxford Bus Company runs a regular service to Gatwick.
Visit easyjet.com or oxfordbus.co.uk. The five-star Hotel de la Paix is on the lake front.