Apologies for the unintentional hiatus there. I moved! Just across town, but it sucked the life right out of me. I’ve cooked exactly twice since the move, and neither time was worth mentioning at all. There are still lots of boxes about, but I’m feeling more like myself again, so lets return to the regularly scheduled program, shall we?
This is a pretty dense informational post, so ogle the pretty photos and if you aren’t going to Geneva in the near future, this might be less fun for you. Saahrry.
Geneva isn’t the most popular vacation destination, but Cody wanted to see alps on our trip to France and I didn’t want to have to travel from Paris out to the alps and back again, so we decided to fly into Geneva, which is reasonably close to some good mountains. Researching what to do before our trip was tricky, simply because the info was a bit thin. I thought I’d share my experiences here in case any of you find yourselves there in the future.
First off, it’s small. We stayed right in the center of town, about a 2 minute walk from the big train station (there’s only one big one, Cornavin) and a 5 minute walk from the big bus station (Gare Routiere). I was obsessed with finding a place as close as possible to Cornavin, but I didn’t need to worry so much. Everything is in town is very easily walkable.
Everything in Geneva is expensive and the food is just ok. To put this into perspective, Switzerland uses Swiss francs and you get about .94 francs for every US dollar. Cody and I went to McDonalds for lunch once and two basic meals with sandwiches, fries, and sodas cost 30 francs.
For this reason, I recommend staying in an apartment so you can at least make your own breakfasts and save a little money. We used Airbnb and our experience was good, but book your place early because the pickings get slim about a month out. There are not a lot of supermarkets around Geneva, but if you’re near the Cornavin train station, there is a decent-sized shop inside called Migros that has a solid bakery section and all your basics.
The main food item that’s unique to Geneva is fondue, and theirs is particularly garlicky, which I like. Other than fondue you’ll find kebab shops, pub type places, and steak frites, plus McDonalds and Starbucks (of course).
My mom is always bugging me to put more pictures of me on this blog. There you go mom!
As far as sightseeing goes inside Geneva, the old town is the place to go. St. Pierre cathedral is right in the middle and it’s a really interesting mix of Roman and gothic architecture. They are currently doing an archaeological dig beneath the cathedral that has been set up for tours, which I absolutely loved.
The construction of the cathedral began in 1160, and buildings this old are hard to come by in the US, so I was pretty enthralled. I actually preferred my cathedral experience here to Notre Dame, because the crowds here were minimal and we had better access to the towers and ancient bits underground. If you like cathedrals or architecture at all, you must visit St. Pierre.
The other cool things about Geneva are it’s proximity to the UN (which we didn’t bother to visit) and CERN (which we did bother to visit).
To get a tour of CERN, you have to go to their website and request a spot EXACTLY two weeks before the day you want to tour. The tours book up fast, so you’ll need to get online as soon as the tour slots post at midnight and pounce right away.
Our tour was guided by a really cute, old physicist and he answered everyone’s questions as we went through the exhibits. Some of the exhibits were being revamped while we were there though, so our tour was a bit limited. We did get to see the lab that collects data from the huge particle collider though, and for a minute there I think I understood what all the scientists were attempting to do.
To get to CERN from the Cornavin, you take tram 18 to CERN (the last stop). It’s about a 4 franc, 20 minute tram ride followed by a very short walk to the visitor’s center (you can see it from the stop), where you will meet up with your tour group.
Without leaving Geneva, CERN and the UN and old town are preeety much it. Walk around, take in the lake views, snack on some fondue, and call it good. The best thing about Geneva is really it’s location: it’s a good home base for day tripping to a few interesting Swiss and French sites.
Day Trip Option 1: Montreux and Chateau de Chillon
It takes about an hour to get from Cornavin station in Geneva to Montreux by train. Tickets will run you around 70 Francs round trip per person (remember how everything is expensive in Switzerland?) but if you can swing it, it’s a fun trip.
From the Montreux train station, walk toward the lake and stroll south along the water. In about 3 minutes you’ll reach the ferry terminal where you can buy a ticket to Chillon for 10 francs.
Walking from Montreux to Chillon is very doable as well, just under two miles one way. The weather was great for us, so we took the ferry there and walked back while the sun was setting. It was dreamy. Once you get to Chillon, a ticket to go in and explore is 12 francs. It all adds up, but this castle is so fun to walk through and you get access to almost everything, so it’s a pretty unique experience in my opinion.
When you finish, walk back along the water toward the train station and maybe stop for a lakeview meal if you have time. Don’t miss the Freddy Mercury statue (you actually won’t be able to) because hello, it’s right there.
Day Trip Option 2: Chamonix and Mont Blanc
This was probably the coolest of the day trips we took from Geneva. 100% touristy but not too crowded, and so cool, and whatever, you’re a tourist. We booked the independent bus tour from Gare Routiere through Viator and were given the option to buy an all-access pass to the cable car at Mont Blanc and the cog train to the glacier cave during the bus drive up. I think it’s more expensive if you book those options in advance, so upgrade on the way if you want to save a few bucks.
The trip ended up totaling around $160 per person with the all access passes(again, Switzerland is expensive). Lunch in Chamonix was refreshingly cheap though because Chamonix is right across the French border and French prices are much more reasonable than Swiss prices.
The day we went was cloudy and snowy in Chamonix (though we left Geneva in 70 degree barely overcast weather) and even though the views were obscured by the fog, we enjoyed ourselves.
A word of caution though: this is a pretty physical trip with lots of stairs to climb at crazy high altitude. Our tour guide told us to expect to feel terrible when you get to the top of Mont Blanc (headache, dizziness) and try to rest for 20 minutes or so before traipsing about the peak. There are plenty of places to rest and have a snack or a drink though, and I saw people of all ages keep up without too much trouble.
The stairs to the glacier cave were the hardest, but the payoff was pretty great.
Day Trip Option 3: Gruyere
Yes, the town named for the cheese.
We liked the Chamonix tour so much we decided to book the Gruyere tour through the same company. We had been tempted by the prospect of visiting the Gruyere cheese factory and the Cailler Swiss chocolate factory in addition to the town of Gruyere, and you can’t really bounce around to all three places by train and we didn’t have a car, so bus tour it was.
The Cailler tour was cute, but more geared toward kids than adults. The “all you can taste” chocolate room at the end would have made it worth the trip, but it turns out Swiss chocolate isn’t really my favorite (very sweet and milky with lots of hazelnuts (nuttella isn’t my thing either)). Plus the tasting kind of happens in a line so you have about 20 seconds to eat each one, and there are at least 10 to try. Needless to say I did not buy any chocolate at the end of the tour (chocolate coma).
The Gruyere factory was kind of a let down. You walk around and look at posters explaining the cheesemaking process, view the room where the cheeses are made from a glassed-in hallway, and then get funneled into a gift shop.
They do give you a packet of Gruyere cheese at three different ages to taste and compare, but if you aren’t there while they are processing a batch of cheese the tour is a little dull and only about 15-20 minutes in length. I’m probably even more interested in cheese than the average tourist, so I’d say pass on the factory unless it’s very convenient for you.
The town of Gruyere, on the other hand, was fantastic. I got to try raclette at one of the little restaurants, which is a brick of cheese that’s melted with a tabletop broiler and scraped onto plates of bread and potatoes and pickles. Raclette is kind of the thing in Gruyere, along with a dessert of meringues topped with raspberries and drenched in local double cream. Go eat both, please. The scenery all around Gruyere is unbelievably charming, and there’s even a castle you can tour.
H.R. Giger, the artist responsible for the nightmarish creatures in the Alien movies, lived in Gruyere, so there’s a museum and a cafe right in town that both exhibit his work. It’s kind of jarring to see such extreme art juxtaposed with the cobblestone streets and farmland, but I loved it.
So my final verdict on the Gruyere tour: it’s probably worth it if you have kids to visit Cailler and the Gruyere factory, but if you are traveling with adults, I’d say skip the bus tour and hop on a train to head straight to the town of Gruyere.
That felt like it should have been three posts. But I made you wait a month for it, so there you go. Anyone been to Geneva? What did I miss?