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Geneva, A Multifaceted City

Sep/01/2021 / by RASHMI GOPAL RAO
The exterior view of Saint Pierre’s Cathedral in Geneva
The exterior view of Saint Pierre’s Cathedral in Geneva. Photo by Rashmi Gopal Rao

Cosmopolitan yet culture rich, contemporary but with slices of the old-world charm, Geneva offers a kaleidoscope of experiences.

A global hub of finance and diplomacy, Geneva is located on the southern tip of its eponymous lake. It is surrounded by the picturesque Alps and Jura mountains and is the second most populous city after Zurich in Switzerland. While it is known as a center for international organizations, such as the United Nations and Red Cross, it also offers sights spanning history, culture, art, architecture and natural beauty. A gateway to the mighty Alps, it is located in the French-speaking western part of the country and lies close to France. Nestled between mountains and a lake, Geneva is a wonderful place to visit, irrespective of season.

HOME TO INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

The UN building in Geneva
The UN building in Geneva

Geneva for me was always synonymous with the United Nations, whose office here is the second most important after the headquarters in New York.
I opted for a guided tour of the place and it definitely proved to be a memorable experience. The Palais des Nations, as it is known, was built between 1929 and 1936 in Ariana Park, in the center of Geneva. Ariana Park is one of the most prestigious parks in the city, boasting a plethora of indigenous floral species and a stunning view of Lake Geneva.

The splendid Palais des Nations is an ode to twentieth-century architecture. The tour gives one some insight into the history, objectives and function of the United Nations, its member countries, official languages. It also goes into conference rooms to give visitors a feel of how high-level diplomatic meetings are conducted. The UN in Geneva is one of the main centers for international cooperation and multilateral negotiations in the world. Apart from the UN, Geneva is home to several other international organizations, such asthe World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Bank.

OLD TOWN

Also called Vieille Ville in French, Geneva’s old town is an eclectic quarter and the largest historic center in the country. Best explored on foot, the cobbled streets lead to a maze of alleys and passageways that host quaint cafes, boutiques and shops galore. Perched at a height, the old town calls for a bit of a climb but the trudge is well worth it! At the center of the old town is the renowned St. Pierre’s Cathedral, the symbolic location of the Reformation. Rebuilt several times, the cathedral dates back to the 6th century and has a majestic 210-foot tower. The interiors are largely plain, a lot having been destroyed around the 16th century when the city accepted Reformation. The Place du Bourg-de-Four, which is a must-visit square in the old town, is one of the oldest places in the city and dates back to Roman times, when goods were exchanged and traded here. Replete with fountains and a medieval vibe, it is a great place to hang around while enjoying a cup of coffee.

MUSEUM HOPPING

If you are a fan of museums, Geneva does not disappoint. The International Museum of the Red Cross is dedicated to the work of Swiss humanitarian, businessman and social activist, Henry Dunant. The Museum of Art and History is one of the largest, and houses about 650 pieces of art, including applied and fine art. The natural history museums comprehensively cover the world of flora and fauna.

Switzerland has always been known for its watches, and one of the finest horology museums is the Patek Philippe Museum. The museum is an ode to five centuries of watchmaking, and includes the antique collections going as far back as the 16th to 19th centuries, and the Patek Philippe collection, which has watches from 1839 to the present.

Maison Tavel, which also means travel house, is yet another unique museum in the old town. It is housed within the oldest house in Geneva, built in the 12th century. Belonging to the Maison family, this house was rebuilt in 1334 AD after it was destroyed by fire. The museum gives visitors a view of Geneva’s history, evolution and development including the city’s way of life, architecture and has several significant displays including a model of Geneva of the yesteryear.

ACTIVITIES

Lake Geneva offers a whole lot of activities, especially during summer. This includes swimming, cruising, boating on the lake as well as cycling and hiking along the shore.

The “Jet d’eau,” a water fountain in the lake that spurts water as high as 460 feet is a perfect spot to take a selfie. The public baths and spas at Bains des Pâquis on the lake worth visiting, too. Reasonably priced, these are extremely popular with locals and tourists alike. If you are in the city on a Saturday morning, there is nothing like scouring for antiques and collectibles at Plainpalais, which hosts one of Switzerland’s biggest flea markets. Soaking in the greenery Bastions Park and experiencing a slice of Italy in Carouge, a few minutes from Geneva, are other fun things to do in the city.