Geneva is relatively small – but it plays a huge role in world affairs, attracting the wealthy and famous from far and wide.
The city has always been at the “eye of the storm” in Europe’s cataclysmic history and the locals sensibly adopted a policy of neutrality and religious tolerance. This has not only helped them survive, but has also attracted exiles such as John Calvin, refugees from the English civil war and even Lenin. This neutrality, and the tax friendly environment, has made it a significant corporate centre – major financial and business enterprises are amongst 200 international organisations that have located their headquarters here, including the League of Nations (predecessor of the United Nations), the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Health Organisation.
The city is undeniably wealthy, boasting plenty of exclusive stores and boutiques. Most are to be found along the chic Rue du Rhône, Rue de la Confédération, Rue du Marché and Rue de la Croix-d’Or – these streets are quite literally lined with gold, thanks to the sheer profusion of watch and jewellery shops. There’s also no shortage of Swiss Chocolate and a wealth of antique dealers and art galleries in the Old Town.
Geneva’s attractions can easily be covered on foot, but there’s also the tram system. The Old Town is dominated by the Cathédrale St-Pierre, situated next to the Auditoire, the church in which Calvin taught and John Knox preached and supervised the production of the Geneva Bible. The Ile Rousseau, a little island in the River Rhône, has a famous statue of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, plus (until January 10th 2010) a remarkable exhibition explaining everything you ever wanted to know about the human genome!
Geneva is known as the ‘City of Parks’. As well as the Jardin Anglais, the city centre boasts the Promenade des Bastions, below the Old Town walls, which contains the famous Reformation Wall, giant outdoor chess boards and open-air winter skating rink.
Lac Léman is also a large part of the Geneva’s appeal. Motorboats, affectionately named mouettes (seagulls), crisscross the waters, providing excellent views of the city, castles, monuments and surrounding mountains, as well as a close-up shot of the city emblem, the spectacular Jet d’Eau. This famed fountain is an impressive 147 metre plume of sparkling water that dominates every view of the city.
Other attractions include the International Red Cross Museum, which pays tribute to the extraordinary deeds of those who have served humanity for over 100 years. The Museum of Art and History gives a fascinating insight into the city’s past while the Patek Philippe museum reveals the history and development of Swiss timepieces.
There’s no shortage of enticing and entertaining ways to spend the evening. Gentlemen with curled white moustaches in smart suits enjoy the same bars as the young professionals and students, while all generations take pleasure in soaking up the evening sun during the summer nights. My personal favourite is the Hotel d’Angleterre’s Leopard Room Bar, open to residents and non-residents alike – I’m obviously a little biased but many of most discerning Geneva locals agree!