x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

My kind of place: Geneva

The home of cheese, chocolates and a very expensive sort of shopping, the Swiss city offers a welcome respite from a hectic pace of life.

A view across the city of the famous jet d’eau, or water fountain, and Lac Léman, seen from the cathedral of St Peter.
A view across the city of the famous jet d’eau, or water fountain, and Lac Léman, seen from the cathedral of St Peter.

Why Geneva?

This small and expensive Swiss city remains a zone of polite refinement, where ladies wear cashmere, the pooches are pure-bred and everyone has time to chat at cafe tables. It's not buzzing - highlights include the International Museum of the Reformation, the Patek Philippe Museum, a large water jet and a floral clock, after all - but Geneva is undeniably a very pleasant place to while away time. Tourists leave with a shining new wristwatch or 10, boxes of rich chocolates or delicately flavoured macaroons and pleasant memories of floating across Lac Léman, as well as a taste for the local cheese served up in dishes such as creamy fondue moitié-moitié - half Gruyère, half Vacherin Fribourgeois cheese - completely delicious.

A comfortable bed

Given that visitors here need deep pockets, it's not surprising that big-name five- star hotels such as Kempinski and Four Seasons crowd its lakeside promenade. For a slightly more intimate welcome, try the Hotel d'Angleterre (www.dangleterrehotel.com; 00 41 22 906 55 05), a boutique five-star hotel on the Quai du Mont Blanc looking out towards that famous mountain. A double room costs from 470 Swiss francs (Dh2,260) per night, including taxes. The hotel can organise gastronomic tours to nearby Gruyères, home of the nutty-tasting hard cheese, as well as visits to a chocolate factory.

Boutique hotel, La Cour des Augustins (www.lacourdesaugustins.com; 00 41 22 322 2100), behind the cathedral square, is more modern in style, with stark white "open space" double rooms costing from 275 francs (Dh1,274) including taxes. Its spa boasts a hammam and a shocking pink, neon-lit sauna.

For a more affordable stay, try the plain but comfortable Hotel Lido (www.hotel-lido.ch; 00 41 22 731 5530) near the railway station, where double rooms cost from 160 francs (Dh741), including taxes and breakfast.

Find your feet

Geneva sits on the south-west shore of Lake Geneva, also known as Lac Léman, divided by the River Rhône River as it flows into France. Stroll along the promenade by the water's edge, looking out towards imperious snow-capped Mont Blanc and the green ridge of the Jura mountains. Paddle steamers and small boats, such as the tiny yellow public ferries or mouettes, will criss-cross your line of sight between the banks. Turn away from the water's edge opposite the floral clock in the Jardin Anglais and head up into the Old Town and the cathedral of St Peter; looking left and right you will see a barrage of well-known designer names as you cross the Rue du Rhône.

The cathedral square marks the heart of the old city and is home to the International Museum of the Reformation, which explains the city's role in cementing the Protestant Reformation in the mid-16th century. Opposite is the appropriately plain chapel of John Calvin, the French theologian who is credited with transforming the city into an autonomous state under the new religion and a centre for learning. Keep heading up the narrow streets lined with tall, shuttered town houses and stop to catch your breath in the cobbled Place du Bourg-de-Four opposite the Palais de Justice. Grab a table at La Clémence (www.laclemence.ch), a reasonably priced cafe and local institution where both the clientele and staff are friendly, before exploring the mix of clothing boutiques and fine arts shops and galleries nearby.

Meet the locals

Take a tram from Cornavin Station on the right bank to the weekend flea market at Plaine de Plainpalais, where local traders hawk everything from kitchen appliances to Swiss-army surplus. On a Saturday, continue your journey to the trendy suburb of Carouge, where a farmer's market transforms the lovely main square. You can buy all sorts of fresh produce, meats and cheeses here. After the day's business is done, the stall holders get together to enjoy the afternoon sunshine.

Book a table

Geneva is well known for fine dining, but for a table with a changing view, book a gourmet lake cruise aboard the Savoie paddle steamer. From May until September, diners can experience the talents of chef Philippe Chevrier, who normally oversees the kitchens at the two Michelin-starred restaurant Domaine de Châteauvieux outside the city. A four-course evening meal costs 103 francs (Dh486) per person (www.cgn.ch).

Shopper's paradise

Chanel, Hermès, Fendi, Dior, Yves St Laurent, Patek Philippe ... the list of design houses, jewellers and watchmakers offering VIP service along the Rue du Rhône is formidable. Fabergé has its one and only boutique in Geneva, which should tell you something.

What to avoid

Pâquis, the area directly behind the Quai du Mont-Blanc on the right bank, is where you'll find shisha cafes and authentic Middle Eastern restaurants - but be warned that it's also home to some seedy-looking, heavily curtained bars.

Don't miss

A small white tower jutting out into the lake off the right bank marks the Jetée des Pâquis, and a private beach known as Bains des Pâquis (www.bains-des-paquis.ch). For two francs (Dh9), you can unroll a towel on the shingle and take a dip in the lake.

Return flights on Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) from Abu Dhabi to Geneva cost from Dh2,870, including taxes.