What comes to mind when you think of Geneva? For us it was diplomacy and business. And while this is certainly a theme there are so many other layers to the city. As a pair of fun-loving newlyweds, my wife and I decided to make Geneva the first stop on our multi-destination honeymoon. We wanted to scratch the surface of this intriguing little city to discover what makes it tick.
Our challenge was to experience as many things as we could over a two-night stay. I’m writing this while we wait to depart for Annecy and I regret not booking an additional night in Geneva. So, what does this city have to offer? Let’s take a look.
The Swiss eat more chocolate per person than any other country in the world, and for a good reason. It is delicious! World-renowned chocolatiers equalled only by the Belgians, the Swiss really know their craft.
There is nothing more romantic and self-indulgent than spending a morning sampling some of the finest chocolates in the world. We booked our tour with Local Flavours Tours because they were the top-rated chocolate tour in Geneva. It’s always exciting to taste the true flavours of a region so we were happy to discover the tour focuses on local artisanal chocolatiers based in Geneva.
Rather than give away too much about the tour I’ll give you a flavour of what to expect. Probably the most surprising thing we discovered on the tour was the sheer complexity of chocolate. We love our wine and have spent time educating ourselves on the topic. It turns out chocolate is even more complex and can be experienced with all five senses. We looked for the perfect gloss on the chocolate, smelled the fragrant bouquet of aromas, felt the texture, listened to the snap and finally we tasted its subtle flavours. Yes, chocolate can offer more than a simple chocolatey flavour – especially if it’s high quality.
Some chocolate facts:
- Chocolate was originally consumed as a drink
- The popular dark chocolate and chilli combination is not a new pairing and actually dates back to 450BC
- Charles V, the King of Spain can be thanked for bringing chocolate to Europe
- He is also said to have commented upon tasting the bitter drink “I think this needs a little sugar”. And so the sweetened hot chocolate we know today was born. Thanks Charles!
The tour takes about three hours. During that time you will visit some of the best chocolatiers in Geneva and sample enough chocolate to satisfy even the most enthusiastic chocoholics. As you walk between tasting locations you are treated to a chocolate-dipped education in the history of Geneva.
At the beginning of the tour our lovely guide, Juliane, explained the mythology and early history of chocolate over one of the most incredible hot chocolates I have ever tasted. I think liquid joy is the best description for it. As we progressed through the tour we learned a lot about the history of the city and its relationship with chocolate.
If you’re a chocolate fan, I highly recommend taking the tour. And, if you try everything offered on the tour I guarantee you will reach peak chocolate. A point where even the biggest chocolate fan will feel full.
As with pretty much every city in the world, a bus tour is a great way to see the sights and soak up the area. Our guide was really friendly and knowledgeable. Starting off in the main bus depot in Geneva we boarded a large tour bus along with people from every nationality – all laden with cameras.
We were struck by the number of diplomatic and United Nations buildings in Geneva. It’s hard to imagine the impact this compact city has had on the rest of the world. The World Health Organisation, European United Nations Headquarters, Unicef and over 200 international organisations all reside in Geneva.
The bus journey brings you on a whirlwind tour of each of these important institutions. At the United Nations building, we were given time to walk around and take some pictures. The friendly guards even let me lean in through the gate to get a better shot of the avenue.
The tour also covers Geneva’s rich history taking you through the different battles fought over the years. One such battle is still celebrated every December to this day. The story goes that the Duke of Savoy wanted to take Geneva as his own. His plot involved a small group of men scaling the city walls in the dead of night. Their mission was to get in and open the city gates to allow entry for the larger army waiting outside.
As luck would have it, a hard-working woman happened to be up late making soup for her large family. She spotted the would-be invaders and hauled her cauldron of soup over the wall on top of the men. The commotion attracted attention and the alarm was raised. Every year the Genevan people, young and old, break little chocolate cauldrons to commemorate this pivotal event every year.
The tour is full of interesting stories about the city’s rich history of watchmaking, the curious religious laws practised during Calvinist rule, chocolate making, diplomacy and countless other interesting facts. If you would like to get to grips with Geneva’s culture and history, I’d recommend taking the tour. There’s even a fantastic little train ride through the old city at the end. Very cool!
I highly recommend trying out some authentic Swiss Fondue. It’s a little different to the French style. Our lovely chocolate tour guide, Juliane, suggested we try out a local haunt called Bains des Paquis situated right on the lake. It’s very central and absolutely packed full of locals. There are no frills here and everyone sits together. It’s a great way to rub shoulders with Genevans.
The atmosphere was electric during our visit – lots of cheering, laughing and conversation at every table. The prices are reasonable by Swiss standards, we paid about $70 for a massive pot of fondue, bread, cornichons, pickled onions and meat platter.
The staff have a little English so you should be able to navigate the ordering process just fine. It’s a little confusing so here’s the breakdown:
Step 1: Walk into the eating area and wait just in the door to be seated.
Step 2: You will be asked do you have a reservation. We didn’t and managed to get a spot despite it being quite a busy time of the evening, about 20:00.
Step 3: Once seated, a lucky person will have to get back up and go to the outdoor bar to order the fondue. Be aware that they don’t take card so bring some cash (they accept euros).
Step 4: Head back to your seat and wait for a member of staff to enter the food hall calling your name while carrying a massive pot of bubbling cheese.
Step 5: When you finish the fondue, call over a member of staff to scrape the delicious hardened cheese off the bottom of the pot. This is an extra little treat to enjoy if you aren’t already fit to burst.
Step 6: Treat yourself to a free bowl of fruit dessert. There should be a line of them close by, just look out for them.
And that’s it! I think this is a must-do romantic activity while in Geneva. It’s really special and a great way to share a culinary experience with your significant other.
Watches and Watchmaking
Any article about Geneva would be lacking if it didn’t at least mention Swiss watchmaking and the many tours available. The heritage of watchmaking in Geneva is impressive, so take the time to immerse yourself in 500 years of precision and craftsmanship. A quick search on Tripadvisor will yield a few decent guided tours. If you have the money to spend, there are even watchmaking courses. Yes, you get to make your very own Swiss watch. Prices start around $2000.
If you would prefer to leave it to the professionals and just buy a watch then there are a number of streets to check out. High-end watches can be found on Rue du Mont-Blanc, Rue de la Croix d’Or and the Rue du Rhone. For similar quality at better prices, you just need to find the Manor and Globus shopping centres. Here you’ll find more affordable ranges.
While shopping and fashion were not on our to-do list, it’s hard to resist the many fashion outlets and jewellers. The city centre is packed full of designer stores, from industry leaders to small boutiques. Rue du Rhône is probably the best-known street for high-end fashion. You’ll find designers like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Fendi, Versace, Giorgio Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo and Prada and Gucci. Other streets worth mentioning are Rue du Marché and Rue du Mont-Blanc. Happy shopping!
Geneva is a charming little city, both affluent and rich with history and activities; the people are friendly and the food is great. Being Switzerland, it is definitely pricier than other European cities but I think it’s well worth it. If you plan on visiting a number of different locations on your honeymoon or romantic break then it’s worth adding it to the list. We started in Geneva, then went to Annecy, Florence, San Gimignano and finally Rome.
It’s worth mentioning that this article only scratched the surface so I highly recommend having a look at Genevalive, the official tourist information website for more information. They are extremely helpful and will gladly assist the planning of your trip.