The moneyed streets of Geneva are almost too pretty to be real – there’s no shortage of natural or man-made beauty in Switzerland’s financial capital. The 15-minute drive from Geneva International Airport into the city takes you through squeaky-clean streets lined with luxury cars, manicured gardens and mansions like the cribs seen on MTV, straight into the heart of the city, set on the banks of the turquoise Lake Geneva, and the famous Jet d’Eau fountain shooting a stream of water an impressive 460 feet into the sky.
Backed by the snow-capped peaks of Mont Saleve and Mont Blanc, the cobbled streets of Geneva’s Old Town are contrasted by the striking modern architecture of the banking and shopping districts. In the daytime, the city teems with young professionals in sharp business suits and ladies who lunch, and at night the elite come out to mingle in its gourmet restaurants and swanky bars. It’s easy to feel like royalty when you’re staying in one of the wealthiest and most expensive cities in the world. Here’s our VIP list of what to do in and around Geneva...
Sleep like a Queen
From the minute you pull up at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues and clock the Bentleys, Rolls-Royces and Lamborghinis idling in valet, you’ll know that when it comes to opulence, this hotel means business. Handsome uniformed doormen usher you into the marble lobby, adorned with chandeliers and ornate flower arrangements amid walls and ceilings trimmed in robin’s egg-blue and gold. This hotel was the first to open in Geneva in 1834, and the style is classic French elegance with rich fabrics and authentic paintings throughout. This doesn’t mean it’s old and stuffy by any means; there are modern additions. Step into the lavish Presidential Loft Suite on the hotel’s top floor, where fireplaces light up at the touch of a button, TV screens materialise in the bathroom mirror on command, and the shower doubles as a hammam. And should you need anything during your stay, simply pick up the phone and dial your butler – there is one dedicated to each floor.
Dine on exquisite Italian fare at Il Lago restaurant, where breakfast, lunch and dinner are leisurely rituals taken inside or on the terrace, overlooking Lake Geneva and the Jet d’eau fountain.Sample the lobster risotto and save some room for the patisserie cart, featuring the day’s delectable French pastries and choccies.
INFO: Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, 33, Quai des Bergues 1201 Geneva, Switzerland, +41 22 908 70 00, www.fourseasons.com/geneva. Rooms cost from CHF700 (Dhs2,718) per night. Presidential Loft Suite is CHF6,100 per night (Dhs23,763).
Shop till you drop
Despite its small size, Geneva is a luxury goods haven offering some of the best high-end shopping in Europe. Its easily navigable streets mean you can scour shops and sightsee at the same time. Start in the banking and shopping district and make your way along Rue du Rhone and Rue du Marche for designer clothing, leather and jewellery boutiques. Geneva’s watch-making industry dates back to the 1600s and you will be spoilt for choice if it’s a timepiece you’re after, with Patek Phillipe, Omega, Swatch and Piaget occupying ritzy retail space here. Geneva’s sweetest indulgence is its gourmet chocolate shops – look out for Auer and Christian Constant for handmade truffles from some of Europe’s most skilled sweet-makers.
INFO: Auer, Rue du Rive 4; Christian Constant, Place du Marche 23. Most shops close at 7pm on weekdays and all day Sunday, so plan accordingly.
See the alps in style
The upper echelons of European society have long been taking their ski holidays in the Swiss Alps, and from Geneva it’s easy to hop on a helicopter for a first-class tour by air or a day of powder-crashing heli-skiing. St Moritz, Gstaad, Zermatt and Verbier are within one hours’ flight from Geneva, meaning you can hit the slopes early and be back in the city by suppertime.
If you’re visiting Geneva in the summer, soar above the breathtaking Bernese Alpine range for a tour of some of the highest peaks in Europe.
Land in the pretty town of Lauterbrunnen and take the practically-vertical train ride up to the mountain-side village of Murren. For a truly 007 experience, make use of revolving restaurant Piz Gloria’s helipad at the summit of the 2,970-metre Schilthorn mountain, where the 1969 Bond classic On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was filmed.
INFO: Swift Copters offers VIP helicopter tours and flights, including private customised itineraries from Geneva. +41 22 717 83 83, www.swiffcopters.ch.
Visit the thermal baths of Leukerbad
Just a two-hour drive from Geneva, the quaint alpine village of Leukerbad in Valais offers postcard-perfect scenery, crisp, mountain air and a plentiful supply of healing thermal spring water, which you can indulge in via the public thermal baths, or the more exclusive private hotel spas and thermal baths.
Leukerbad has the most voluminous reserves of thermal water in Europe, which have been used for medicinal purposes since the 2nd century AD. Goethe and Charlie Chaplin chose to rest and recuperate here. Today it remains a sleepy village with its charm hidden below its unassuming exterior.
Sit in the warm spring waters, breathe in the fresh air, then head to one of Leukerbad’s many spas for a fango mud treatment, hammam or massage. You’ll be hungry after all your pampering, so book in for a gourmet meal at La Malvoisie restaurant.
INFO: Leukerbad is accessible from Geneva by helicopter, road and rail. Hotel Source des Alpes, a Relais & Chateaux property, has private thermal baths, a top-rated spa and fine dining at La Malvoisie restaurant. +41 27 472 20 00, www.sourcesdesalpes.ch.
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1. Flight Approximately 6.5 hours from the UAE.
2. Money Swiss Franc (CHF); Dhs1 is 0.25 CHF (approx).
3. Languages French, German, Italian, and Romansh. English is widely spoken.
4. Best time to go June to August is warmest; ski season is from December to April.
5. Swiss Capital Bern
6. Getting around Taxis are expensive, but the city is small and easy to get around on foot. Public transport includes buses, ferries and a tram that runs through the downtown area.