With its outdoor lifestyle and uncrowded streets, Geneva is ideal for a socially distanced city break that doesn’t scrimp on culture or glamour, says Abra Dunsby
It’s dusk in the leafy, rose-scented Parc La Grange, and as I walk up the hill to admire the view of boat-dotted Lake Geneva, I hear the sounds of a saxophone lingering in the breeze.
As I walk further I discover the park’s Orangerie theatre, where a band is playing to locals who swill happily on their beers as they chatter.
Summer is a great time to visit Geneva, as I discovered for myself when I visited last year, before Covid-19 shook the world.
With Switzerland’s borders now reopen to UK visitors and the destination on FCO exemption and air bridge lists, clients who want to dip their toe into international travel this year or next on a short break should consider a trip here, not least because a recent report conducted in conjunction with the World Economic Forum revealed that Switzerland was the country that had best dealt with Covid-19.
With a population of just fewer than 500,000 Geneva never feels crowded, making it easy to maintain social distancing.
And in summer, the city’s many outdoor bars, restaurants and parks also mean clients can enjoy the sunshine and ambience while staying relatively safe.
While most clients are generally more likely to visit Geneva in winter on their way to ski or snowboard in the nearby Alps, the destination makes for an enjoyable, culture-filled city break in summer, when its many parks are dotted with picnicking locals, and where the lake’s shores are an inviting place to while away a lazy, sunny afternoon.
With its smart boutiques and well-heeled locals, Geneva’s ambience feels refined – not surprising given that it’s home to some of the world’s most important international institutions, from the headquarters of the World Trade Organization to the United Nations Office.
This city clearly values its culture, so there’s plenty of it to enjoy. On a private tour of the old town, I learn more about the city’s Protestant heritage, its struggle for independence from the Savoy region and its importance as a trading route to Italy and France due to its central location in Europe.
Climbing the steps of the southern tower at the impressive, Roman-style St Pierre Cathedral is the perfect way to end the tour, revealing beautiful views of the city, the lake and the mountains beyond.
In unpolluted, uncrowded Geneva everything centres around the green-blue lake, from bars to paths for evening strolls.
In the sunshine, locals gather at Eaux Vives beach to sunbathe and swim (the beach reopened to visitors on 10 August). Across the lake, and reachable by yellow water taxis, is the trendy Bains Des Paquis, where hip locals laze on the pier and drink in bars.
It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a pre-dinner, outdoor cocktail, looking out across the lake with the city’s iconic Jet D’Eau – a fountain whose water sprays to heights of 140 metres – within easy reach.
Geneva’s proximity to France’s Mount Saleve also means clients can spend a day there, taking a short taxi ride and then a cable car to its 1,100 metre-high summit. Here, clients can hike along trails, take pictures of the rather surprising Buddhist temple, paraglide, or simply soak up the gorgeous views of France and Switzerland from Le Panoramique restaurant – recommend the fera, or local lake fish, if it’s on the menu.
Eating out in Geneva is costly, but the food is excellent. Standout eateries that enable social distancing include Cafe du Centre, a famous fish restaurant that’s perfectly located in one of the pretty central squares, and laid-back La Potiniere, with outdoor seating set just metres away from the lake, whose menu features tasty tapas-style starters, as well as salads and burgers.
For those who want to totally blow the budget, suggest Yakumanka, the Peruvian restaurant located at the classic-chic Mandarin Oriental hotel, where I enjoyed a delightful stay during my trip.
The restaurant is headed up by Lima-born chef Gaston Acurio and offers both indoor and outdoor seating. Lime and chilli-drenched ceviche, soft bao buns filled with crispy deep fried chicken and a dessert of coconut and dulce de leche are all standouts – as are the peppy pisco sours.
For something more rustic, clients can visit Carouge, a quaint part of Geneva that’s been nicknamed “Little Italy” thanks to the 18th- century, Mediterranean-style shuttered houses that characterise its cobbled streets.
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Carouge hosts a farmers’ market where locals shop for fresh flowers, honey, bread, cheese and fruit and vegetables.
If Carouge is the postcard-pretty Mediterranean corner of Geneva, then the Quartier des Bains arts district is its hipster, Berlin-style counterpart.
Formerly an industrial area of the city, Quartier des Bains has become a hub for contemporary art, comprising 17 galleries, venues and cultural institutions, including the Musee d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (Mamco), which is open with restricted visiting hours due to Covid-19.
The free gallery, located on the site of a former science laboratory, is a minimalist, airy space with concrete floors and floor-to-ceiling windows, displaying a range of intriguing, thought-provoking local and international artists.
“Quartier des Bains is Geneva’s cultural hub and it’s also one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods with a skatepark, flea market and lots of cafes and bars,” says Mamco’s moustachioed Garrett Landolt as we explore the district.
The Quartier des Bains association organises three Nuits des Bains events a year, when museums and galleries stay open until late and host events – due to Covid, this year the city is hosting just one, taking place 3 September.
As we stroll in the sunshine, Garrett tells me why he loves the city in summer: “It’s all about spending as much time as possible outside, either on patios, in parks, or along the lake. Geneva in the summer offers a perfect balance of culture and nature.”
Book it: Osprey Holidays offers three nights at the Mandarin Oriental in a Superior River View room including breakfast and flights from £1,225pp. Price based on 4 June 2021 departure.
Smarter: Since 22 June, public and private events of up to 1,000 people have been permitted on the condition that contact tracing is guaranteed, so parks including La Grange and its Orangerie theatre are still offering
a host of live events, albeit with a reduced schedule.
Better: The Mandarin Oriental is suited to clients celebrating a special occasion – featuring large, stately rooms; two restaurants; a fitness and wellness centre and an ideal location beside the Rhone river, minutes from the old town. mandarinoriental.com/geneva
Fairer: Clients can travel around the city sustainably by bike – Geneva Roule offers free, four-hour bike rentals from mid-April to mid-October, with each bike being disinfected after use as an anti- Covid-19 safety measure geneveroule.ch