What's the first sight that comes to your mind about Geneva? Quick: is it the majestic lakeside water fountain?
For me, Geneva brings up images of the Jet d'Eau. It is the iconic water fountain that blasts H2O as high as 140 meters above the lake surface. Yet while it is a must-see sight in Geneva, I have never had enough time to truly absorb it.
That's until a recent summer weekend when we check into a lake view suite at the five-star Beau-Rivage Geneva. On joint invitation by the hotel and by Geneva Tourism, we are about to be soaked by a refreshing wave of Geneva history, culture, food and wine.
The Beau-Rivage Geneva is a historic landmark
The late Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, once said: "There are great hotels, and there is the Beau-Rivage!"
I can only imagine why this renowned diplomat would place the Beau-Rivage Geneva in a category of its own. For one, the hotel’s prime location offers nothing but lake views. Constructed in 1865 on the corner of a city block, the hotel has expanded and evolved through the decades.
Just recently, an entirely new floor has been added onto the rooftop's attic. This clever extension created half a dozen luxury suites. I am sure Mr. Annan would have been as impressed as we are when we turn the key to our Elizabeth Taylor Suite...
Take the virtual elevator to your left and step into a top-floor suite yourself. Speaking of elevators: in 1873, one of Switzerland's first "lifts" was installed inside the Beau-Rivage.
Here's a look at our suite's living room with its feature chandelier:
The bedroom with its skylight as well as the master bathroom with a jacuzzi and steam room are located on the second floor:
The master bathroom comes with jacuzzi bathtub and steamroom:
From each window, we enjoy splendid views of the Jet d'Eau - day and night!
Have a look at the historic Beau-Rivage Geneva lobby! It truly deserves its own mention.
Why? Because inside the lobby, time comes to a standstill. “Where are we? And when are we?” The tiled floor is eye-candy, and the atrium style architecture invites us photographers to find ever new perspectives.
Right by the entrance, you will notice a door marked Privé. Ask the concierge to unlock it - you will find a treasure trove of a museum behind this door! I am especially fascinated by the huge guest registry dated 1933. And there are personal dedications by the rich and famous, from Angelina Jolie to Sting or Karl Lagerfeld.
Nowadays, few hotels remain in the hands of the original owner families. The Beau-Rivage Geneva is one of these precious houses, with the fourth generation of the Mayer family preserving what previous generations have built.
With as many hotels as we visit for Newly Swissed, Mamiko and I can clearly tell when the management has the backing of a dedicated owner. It shows in the persistently high service quality. And it becomes evident in investments with a long time horizon, such as adding a new floor to a rooftop...
Discovering Geneva from the back of a taxi bicycle
Now that our shelter is taken care of, we switch to discovery mode! My preferred way to tackle any new place is to gain an understanding of the neighborhoods and the distances in between.
We step out of the hotel and immediately spot a unique kind of vehicle: it's Aubin Delavigne pulling up with a bicycle taxi! As part of the Geneva Essentials tour, the co-founder of Taxibike will be pedaling his way across Geneva to show us all the highlights.
What a special treatment, because we can simply sit and enjoy the tour while Aubin is doing all the work.
We can tell the driver's passion for his hometown. It is in the way he points out the spots where only locals would go. And in the sheer wealth of knowledge about the history and quirky places of Geneva. We ride along the lakeside, then pass by century-old trees next to the WTO headquarters. After spending some "time" at the Flower Clock and marveling at an interactive art installation, we stop at the Jet d'Eau.
Finally, this is my chance to get up close to Geneva's iconic fountain!
Aubin points out a pole with a measuring device attached. Who knew that this allows you to measure the height of the water fountain?
Fun fact: below is a picture of the original location of the Jet d'Eau fountain in the River Rhône.
Aubin takes us to this vantage point in a special elevator, explaining the interesting history of what today is one of the world's tallest fountains. Back in 1886, the water jet served a practical purpose rather than a touristic one: it was a way of releasing excess pressure from a hydraulic plant in the river.
Our next destination is the Jonction where two rivers converge.
On the one hand, the Rhône with its clear lake water. And on the other hand, the Arve with its unfiltered, muddy mountain water. It is really mesmerizing to watch the two water sources merge.
By a show of hands: who has ever visited Carouge?
Our tour with Aubin ends in this charming town bordering the City of Geneva. The streets are lined with colorful houses, each having a boutique or artisanal shop on the ground floor. This almost feels like being in France. But then again, we are mere kilometers from the French border...
Try the daily special at Café des Négociants, a lovely bistro right in the heart of Carouge. We had a refreshing gazpacho followed by octopus risotto covered by safran foam:
Wine tasting in the vineyards of Stéphane Gros
Many might think of Geneva as a city canton. But wait, there's more! Our next adventure will be taking us to Geneva's countryside. Beyond the suburbs and industrial zones, there are sunflower fields and vineyards.
We only find out about Geneva's vineyards thanks to a Thai style electric tuk-tuk!
Our driver and tour guide is Sébastien Roevens, the other co-founder of Taxibike. Thanks to the zero emission engine, we zip across the countryside like Luke Skywalker in a Landspeeder.
During the nearly four-hour Vineyard Walk, we get to explore a side of Geneva that many are not aware of. Meet Stéphane Gros, a winemaker in the seventh generation. He welcomes us at a "capite", a small cottage in the middle of his Dardagny vineyard. Once a tool shed and shelter during thunderstorms, Gros has turned the cottage into a spot for wine tastings.
What better way to judge a rosé than by standing on the very soil that produced the grapes?
Stéphane Gros produces 24 different wines from 14 types of grapes. His signature is to push the maturity of the grapes, as he puts it.
What allows him to differentiate himself from his father’s winemaking - or his great-great-grandfather’s? "My rule is not to have rules," he explains. This very mindset must be the reason behind his innovative approach to winemaking.
For instance, Gros collaborates with hotelier schools, allowing students to work on projects in his vineyards. "I like to work with young people, they have not been influenced yet. And this way, I meet the world's future sommeliers..."
Our Thai tuk-tuk is parked nearby, reminding us of how we ended up in this parallel world. We have time for one more toast before heading back to Geneva.
But with harvest season coming up in mid September, I have one last question about the quality of this year’s vintage. Gros responds: "I’ll give you an answer by Christmas!" Thanks, Stéphane and Geneva, for this memorable experience! We will surely get back to you by Christmas...
Quai du Mont-Blanc 13
Phone: 022 716 66 66
(Disclaimer: For the purpose of this article, the Beau-Rivage has extended two nights in a Lake View Loft Suite, including half-board. Geneva Tourism has sponsored the Taxibike tours.)