Being a European city with banking and diplomacy at its core has given Geneva a rather staid reputation. But scratch the surface and you will find a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with an alternative side, replete with bohemian neighbourhoods, flea markets, live music clubs, contemporary art, and independent design. According to Business Traveller India, here’s how and where to uncover Geneva’s ‘cool factor’.
A short tram ride away from the city centre, on the other side of the River Arve (one of the two rivers that flow through the city along with Rhône) is Carouge, Geneva’s West Village. This is where indie shops, cafés and artisans come together in the striking Italianate setting of pastel walls, painted shutters, and stone archways.
Don’t miss the baked delights at Boulangerie Wolfisberg or the unusual flavours at Chocolat Pascoet – try coriander or sage if you’re adventurous or passion fruit to play it safe. Go on Saturdays or Wednesdays when Carouge’s bi-weekly farmers’ market is in full swing at Place du Marché (market place). Pick up some fresh bread, local cheese and honey, fruits, and wine and have a picnic, or just soak in the vibe and then head to the nearest restaurant for refreshments. Try the relaxed bistro Café du Marché or the classy French brasserie Café des Négociants by Swiss celebrity Chef Philippe Chevrier. Carouge also hosts a Thursday evening market, perfect for a pre-dinner wander, followed by a drink at one of the lively bars in the area – for example, the live music club Chat Noir is a local favourite, as is the funky Le Cheval Blanc, which hosts local rock bands and improv nights at its basement venue, Le Box.
Just behind the main train station and in close proximity to downtown Geneva is the decidedly bohemian neighbourhood of Les Grottes. This formerly gritty area, which attracted immigrants and squatters, has been cleaned up (a bit) and gentrified. It’s a multicultural neighbourhood that teems with artist studios, vintage shops, cafés, bars, and farmers’ markets. Admire the colourful building façades and turn-of-the-century apartment buildings as you walk its narrow streets and explore its leafy squares. Check out the funky Schtrumpfs Building on 23-29, Rue Louis-Favre, a 1980s Gaudi-esque apartment complex with a hodgepodge of styles and clashing colours. Every Thursday, the Place des Grottes comes alive with a lively evening market where local vendors sell vegetables, bread, cheese, wine, and beer. Wind up at one of many bars and restaurants in the Grottes – Les Trois Phéniciens, Le Quai Des Grottes, and Nomades are popular spots. The Parc des Cropettes (a garden) hosts a contemporary jazz festival every March.
MAMCO (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art), Switzerland’s largest contemporary art museum, is a must-visit for any art enthusiast. Opened in 1994, the museum is housed in a cavernous four-storey factory building. Drop in for a rotating programme of experimental modern art or check out the evocative installations from well-known artists (mamco. ch). MAMCO is part of Geneva’s Quartier des Bains, an association of 17 cultural entities including art galleries, museums, and cultural institutions. Three times a year, the Quartier hosts La Nuit des Bains, an evening of art appreciation when MAMCO and the art galleries in the area stay open until 21h00. It’s a great way to discover new local and international artists as you weave in and out of galleries, a glass of wine or beer in hand. In 2020, La Nuit des Bains will be held on March 19, May 14, and September 17. quartierdesbains.ch
While you should surely splurge on fine watches and luxe chocolates in Geneva (and rightly so), you must also make time to scour the flea markets in the neighbourhood of Plainpalais for antiques, vintage clothes, second-hand furniture, and other bric-a-brac. This is one of Switzerland’s biggest f lea markets and is held at the Plaine de Plainpalais every Wednesday and Saturday, and also on the first Sunday of every month. The square also hosts a huge farmers’ market every Sunday from early morning until 17h00.
For more upscale retail, head to Rue du Rhône, the city’s most glamorous shopping street, which is home to designer f lagship boutiques like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, Gucci, and more. Major watch brands like Omega, Piaget, Patek Philippe, Bucherer, and Hublot also house their boutiques on this street. For trendy high street brands like Bershka, Mango, and Jack and Jones, stop by at Rue du Marché.
On the other side of the Rhône River, Rue du Mont-Blanc has independent Swiss boutiques as well as the famous department store Manor. You cannot visit Geneva and not come back with hoards of Swiss chocolates. The city is home to several historic boutiques that are known for their handmade chocolates – try Auer Chocolatier, Du Rhône Chocolatier, Favarger, and Teuscher.
DRINK AND DINE
There’s no dearth of dining options in Geneva, from casual cafés to fine dine restaurants. A popular spot is Cottage Café, a charming restaurant in a former gardener’s cottage located in the heart of Brunswick Park near Lake Geneva.
For a more traditional experience, drop in at Café Papon in the heart of Vieille Ville (Old Town); the restaurant dates to 1808 and is located in a historic building with a sun-washed terrace.
But to truly get a pulse of the city, turn your attention to Geneva’s burgeoning cocktail scene. L’Apothicaire cocktail-club and L’Atelier cocktail club serve imaginative craft cocktails in relaxed lounge settings. You can also try the lively Barbershop with a colourful, Cuban flair or the shabby-chic speakeasy La Verre à Monique. Nearby is Bleu Nuit, a hip restaurant that has a hidden bar Le Frigo, which is accessible through a vintage refrigerator door. End the night in the Pâquis neighbourhood, Geneva’s red light district that has seen a surge of cool bars and restaurants popping up with some regularity. Here, try Kampai for upscale Peruvian-meets-Japanese Nikkei cuisine accompanied by a mean yuzu-infused pisco sour.