We’ve now lived in Carcassonne for over 6 years and during that time we’ve had lots of family and friends from outside of France visit us here. When we have the opportunity to see some of those same folks again, we like meeting up with them elsewhere in Europe that gives all of us the chance to see something new. That was the case with our English friends, Gaynor and Pete, who were attending a reunion in France near the border with Switzerland. Since they had to fly into Geneva and we could easily get there by train, that made a logical meeting point for the four of us.
Every website, travel brochure, and guidebook that we looked at always suggested starting with the same well known landmark, Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). Even if its location weren’t obvious enough the giant fountain of water, Le Jet D’eau, (photos above) gives you a clear reference point. What started in 1886 as a safety valve for a hydraulic power plant is now an easily identified monument for the city.
A short walk from this water jet is the city’s largest park, Parc de la Grange, where humans have lived since at least 4500 BC. We were on the lookout for the ruins of a Bronze Age (1000 BC) building and a 2000-year-old Roman villa. The Rosarie had just been replanted with 200 different rose varieties and we were told that we should return in 5 years to see them at their best. Another garden hugging the same shore is the Jardin Anglais (English Garden) that features a huge working clock with blooming flowers as its face.
Leaving sea level we started the climb up towards the Vielle Ville (Old City) and the highest point in town occupied by Cathédrale Saint-Pierre from the 12th century. We could have gone up even higher using the 127 steps of one of its towers or just the opposite since it was built on the foundation of a 4th century basilica and there is an archaeological site underground. During the 16th century Protestant Reformation this cathedral was transformed into a temple in which John Calvin preached for about 30 years beginning in 1536.
Only a few streets from there but dating to hundreds of years later is a memorial to that Reformation. Within the Parc des Bastions is a wall of monuments including a grouping that includes two names that we recognized, John Calvin and John Knox, plus a separate sculpture of Martin Luther, all leaders of the movement. Behind this wall in the square called La Promenade de la Treille is said to be the world’s largest wooden bench with a length of 120 meters (394 feet) built in 1767.
Now we began winding our way back downward through the cobblestone streets of the old city towards the oldest private home in Geneva. Maison Tavel was rebuilt in 1334 when a massive fire destroyed much of the city and today many rooms are decorated in styles that represent life over the centuries from the Middle Ages through the 19th century. Entrance was free.
On the other side of the cathedral we found Place du Bourg-de-Four thought to be the oldest square in the city. Its many uses have included being a Roman forum, a market site since the 9th century and a refuge for exiled Protestants in the 16th century. We found lots of choices for a quick coffee break.
Switzerland is famous for its chocolate but July during a heatwave is not necessarily the best month to transport them home in your luggage as souvenirs. However, warm temperatures did not prevent us from sampling a variety of treats available in the air-conditioned comfort of several chocolatiers. The tourist office sells a 24-hour pass that gives you tastings at 7 shops (one blogger said that she tried 40 samples) but we were content to stop into just a few. It was tempting to try more than just the specialty of each shop but by doing so we avoided “chocolate fatigue”.
Our visit to Geneva continues next time by crossing over to the other shore plus sailing on the lake. I’ll also include some tips that might make your trip to this Swiss city even more enjoyable.