As the people of Switzerland choose a new national anthem, let’s take a look at Geneva, topping the charts for its city break appeal.
Usually renowned for its quiet and reserved nature and neutral stance in all things political, Switzerland has been hitting the headlines in recent days as the near-two-year search for a new national anthem has culminated in an X-Factor style singing competition comprising three finalists, with the Swiss people having the deciding vote for their favourite song. Whether the new song is officially adopted remains to be seen, however it makes for an interesting story nonetheless and usefully turns attention to this lovely, often-overlooked country from a city break perspective.
And speaking of city breaks, there’s no better Swiss candidate with impressive credentials than Geneva, a city which, for the second year running, has taken the title of Europe’s Leading City Break Destination in the World Travel Awards. Easily accessible from across the UK with regular direct flights or via Eurostar and TGV Lyria (changing at Lille, a total journey time of just over 6¼ hours), Geneva is definitely a destination worth some serious consideration.
Set in the southwest of the country on the shores of Lake Geneva (locally known as Lac Léman), sandwiched between the Alps and the Jura mountains, Geneva is Switzerland’s second largest city after Zurich and is renowned not only as a financial centre but overwhelmingly as the worldwide capital of diplomacy. Indeed, Geneva plays host to some 200 governmental and non-governmental organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, the International Red Cross Committee and serves as the European headquarters for the United Nations.
Home to the UN since 1966, the Palais des Nations is the largest UN building after New York. A Geneva landmark in its own right, the palace itself dates back to the early 1930s and a guided visit inside (CHF 12) introduces you to the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room, the Council Chamber, the Assembly Hall (the Palais des Nations’ largest room) and the Salle des Pas Perdus, from which you can see the Armillary Sphere and the monument commemorating the conquest of outer space.
In front of the Palais des Nations meanwhile is the Place des Nations, Geneva’s contribution to world peace and where you’ll find water jets, mosaics and the striking Broken Chair sculpture, a most emblematic work of art created from wood and symbolising the campaign against the use of landmines.
Just a stone’s throw away is the International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent where you’ll discover 150 years of humanitarian history alongside details of current Red Cross and Red Crescent worldwide operations. The museum itself comprises three main areas, so divided to explore the trio of major challenges facing the world today: defending human dignity, restoring family links and reducing natural risks. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am, entrance is CHF 15 for adults and free for children under 12 years of age.
And whilst you’re there, be sure to take in the special exhibition entitled ‘Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Non-Violence’, the first exhibition of its kind to explore the visual arts and Gandhi’s lifelong mission to highlight non-violence, compassion and social justice. Running until early January 2016, the exhibition brings together some 100 works spanning several centuries and continents, with paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, sculptures, rare books and films on display.
Of course whilst Geneva enjoys its reputation as a centre for peace and diplomacy, there’s so much more to see and do whilst in the city. The Old Town, dominated by the Cathédrale St-Pierre, is Switzerland’s largest historical city and a wander around its charming cobbled streets will allow you to absorb the city’s heritage, character and atmosphere. A climb to the top of the cathedral tower (157 steps) meanwhile will reward you with sweeping panoramic views over the city, lake and beyond whilst underneath, you’ll find fascinating archaeological remains dating back to the 4th century. Keep your eyes peeled too for the Maison Tavel, officially the oldest house in Geneva dating back to the 12th century.
As well as being cradle of the Reformation movement – be sure to pay homage at Reformation Wall in the Parc des Bastions – Geneva is also famous as the birthplace of watchmaking and across the city, you’ll find tributes to and examples of this longstanding tradition and industry, from the fully-working Flower Clock in the Jardin Anglais (it boasts the world’s longest second hand) to the musical chimes of the fairytale clock in the Passage Malbuisson. Be sure to visit the Philippe Patek Museum (open Tuesday to Friday 2pm – 6pm, Saturday from 10am; entrance 10€), showcasing the history of one of Geneva’s premier watchmakers and a collection of antique watches dating back to the 16th century. And at the Cité du Temps, take in the top-floor exhibition devoted to one of Switzerland’s foremost watchmakers and iconic brands – Swatch.
Situated a short distance outside of the city on the Franco-Swiss border, you might like to consider a visit to CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research’s laboratory renowned for its research into particle physics and for its famous particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. It’s also the place where the World Wide Web was created. Visitors can tour the 27-metre-high illuminated sphere, the Globe of Science, offering a layman’s introduction to particle physics though its permanent exhibition, the ‘Universe of Particles’. Whilst this exhibition is currently closed until early 2016 for maintenance work to the globe, CERN’s second exhibition, ‘Microcosm’, is soon to reopen to the public. Here you can find out what is happening at the Large Hadron Collider and meet the people who build and operate this extraordinary machine. Both exhibitions are free and, when fully open, are available to visit Monday to Saturday.
Of course, no mention of Geneva would be complete without a mention of its distinctive landmark, the Jet d’Eau, spurting 500 litres of water per second at a speed of 200km per hour some 140 metres high! Centrepoint of Geneva’s harbour since 1981, the Jet d’Eau is best viewed from the Bains des Pâquis, Geneva’s city beach, or from a boat cruise on the lake itself and is a photo pre-requisite on a Geneva city break.