I always tell people that there is something about Geneva–an uncanny quality to it that feels like I have been here before… in another era altogether. Whether its turning a corner to find a building or street I could have predicted was there or generally feeling like I am home, Geneva represents something truly unique and special to me.
Today, however, I really did have a strange rendezvous with this city. I ventured off to the old town section–vielle ville, amazed that I had still never seen this part of Geneva. It probably was an hour into my exploration that I realized that, wait… I had been here. For real. No deja vu necessary. Dismayed that I was already entering the time in my life where I was forgetting entire experiences, I decided I had a choice: I could walk strong into the Rhone river with galet stones tied to my ankles or accept my amnesiac self and simply enjoy my surroundings. I live to write this and so the latter it was…
As it all slowly returned to my pea-sized brain, I recalled that perhaps it left little impressed upon me because it was, in fact, a Sunday the last time I was here. All was closed, so I was left in longing to go inside the myriad of sweetly seductive shops–some wore chocolate goodies, some rare imported goods, others of art history books and of course dozens of smart-looking clothes boutiques (Klima, Scapa, Tendances, and my personal favorite–Septieme Etage–to name a few).
Should you ever find yourself in Geneva, even if only for business, you should try and stay near this section of town, as it affords great walking, shopping and eating. Plus, if you are a runner, you are right near the grand lake (Lake Léman) where you can hop on the trail and go for a jaunt. There were several hotels that appeared well work looking into such as Hotel Longemalle with pretty standard downtown pricing or bump it up a notch in luxury at the Relaix & Chateaux Hotel de la Cigogne. If you are an old history buff and wish stay in the very heart of old town, the Hotel Les Armures looked precious. Renovated in several phases over the past few centuries, this building that once served as a house to many well-known folk in the 17th century onwards was converted into a hotel in the late 1970’s. It was here, at their adorable restaurant, where Clinton dined (they proudly mount his letter near their doorway).
Up at the top, the bells of St. Peter’s Cathedral sing a song of high noon. I see people walking around it, taking pictures and feeling humble. I see a little staircase leading down into a exhibition called: The Secrets of Ancient Geneva. I am instantly curious and proceed. Inside there is the smell of old stone, relics as far as the eye can see of a time of the Allobrogians, Romans and medieval Christians. An impressive display of archaeological findings.
I got lost, unsurprisingly, at a couple bookshops. One was the Galerie Bernard Letu Librairie (rue Calvin 2Ter)–more of an art history lover’s dream shop. Books of Max Beckman, Rothko and Monet dot the shelves. Just when I thought that was the cat’s pajamas, I discovered The Librairie Ancienne (20 Grand Rue). Here, there were musty old books by Victor Hugo, Rabelais… I had to touch just about every old leather binding with crackled lines of gold. What is it about old books? They have a way of making you forget everything. I could pile them around me and lose myself for days.
A couple cute little eateries were along the Grand Rue, surrounding that imagination-born little bookshop. A little hobbit inspired crepery was just next door. Then, just up the hill, there was a promising place called the Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville (39 Grand Rue). Then again… the reviews are mediocre now that I search for the address. ‘Promising’ might be a little euphemistic? It is hard to tell what is good and what is trickery for bumbly tourists like myself. Geneva isn’t exactly known for its foodie flair. That said, I have found myself in many great little places around this town. In Old Town, I highly recommend a little place called Da Marcella for imported goods but also incredible paninis. If you want to sit down, Le Perron (5 Rue de Perron) nearly had a line out the door. For a romantic evening out, La Favola (15 rue Jean-Calvin) looked adorable and a half. It also gleans quite the following and high remarks, described as rustic, regional Italian-Swiss with a chic, sophisticated style. Here, the pasta is handmade and the chef is from Turin. I wish we had time to go here!
There were so many places left to see and dine in, according to a colleague who lives in the area. If you have time yourself, he recommended La Gruyerien for fondue (love that name–I believe I am one), Casanova for the famed filets de perche (nothing like a little Wisconsin nostalgia), l’Odeon for a neighborhood bistro, or Le Cafe du Centre for classic Parisian style bistro.
As for boring us, we can’t help but send this hallmark holiday at at Le Boeuf Rouge–our favorite. Here, we get filet de perche, a good bottle of wine and our bistro-feel fix all in one, chaotic, spot, where the walls are clad in random paraphernalia of the last century and our conversations fall out of our lips with ease (but that’s pretty typical). It is a happy spot–one that everyone seems to enjoy around us. No snobbery allowed–there is literally no room for that! Elbow to elbow we inch our way into our table and unwind. The only slightly crabby guy in the room might be the waiter who is there every single time. That said, he is outstanding, as he manages to attend to just about each table on his own. I look forward to seeing him each time I return to the city I must have once called home.