I’m just back from a glorious three day long weekend in Geneva, to celebrate Philippa’s birthday. We had the most incredible time, exploring a city which I’ve only really passed through en route to visit Meriel in Lausanne, attend watch events, or stay in hotels outside the city centre.
The real surprise was how much there was to do, even without the summer lake-centric activities on Lake Geneva (also known as Lac Leman). I’ll be describing all our activities once I’ve edited the 1000+ images I took, but planning a trip to coincide with the annual L’Escalade, or Fête de l’Escalade, an annual festival which celebrates the defeat of the surprise attack by troops sent by Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy during the night of 11–12 December 1602, meant that the Old Town of Geneva was a complete delight. We also explored the Christmas markets, ate a series of delicious meals, some which include a quite astonishing amount of cheese, and some which were more, um, chocolate and cake based, and even had a watchmaking lesson.
I chose to fly with Swiss from London City which I cannot recommend more highly – both carrier and airport are legendary for their efficiency, and the super quick LCY check-in and minimal lines gave me an extra hour in bed, compared to travelling from Heathrow. You also get a wonderful view out over Essex and the Thames estuary as you head towards France.
The flight is just two hours, and arrival in Geneva is signalled by the first sight of the snow-covered Alps.
We were very lucky with the weather – it was very cold but clear on Friday, with snow flurries expected in the evening, and proper snow overnight. We spent the afternoon exploring the Old Town and eating chocolate with a wonderful guide, Viktoria, and replaced our burnt off calories by faceplanting into vats of fondue in the evening.
The promised snow arrived on Saturday morning, just in time for our tour of the Christmas markets in beautiful Carouge on the other side of the river. Luckily I was super prepared for the weather. (I visited Montreal in winter a few years ago where it is -25C and I bought out Uniqlo HeatTech in preparation.)
Waterproof boots with a grippy sole are a must. Geneva doesn’t get massive continuous dumps of snow in the winter, but when it snows, it really snows and it’s always icy. Sadly Hunter don’t make these amazing boots which they gave me a few years ago any more, but you could try their black insulated Commando boot, which I think I long for; if you’re after a toasty warm sheep-y lining then these Hunter Pac Boots are definitely the answer.
You need a hat to keep in the heat and stop your ears getting frostbitten, and it can be surprisingly sunny, especially when the light is bouncing off the snow. Most importantly you must bring a thick, weatherproof coat, preferably with a hood. I notice that a lot of Swiss wear long lightweight padded down coats – like this from Uniqlo in the sale, which are great for going in and out of shops and for travelling by car, but for continuous walking about and hopping on and off trams you need something a lot thicker. Don’t forget your coat needs to be at least thigh length to keep your bottom warm.
(If you travel a lot and don’t want to take a big, bulky coat when you don’t quite know what weather to expect then these lightweight long down coats are a marvel, and pack down to nothing.)
Inclement Cropped boot: Penelope Chilvers (gifted)
Although I was hand baggage only, I managed to fit in two pairs of weatherproof boots, one for before the snow, and one for after. (Walking all day in snow boots can be a bit sweaty.) For day one before the snow flurries started, I wore these Penelope Chilvers boots which are a weatherproof combination of oiled suede trimmed with supple cowhide leather, and a Sympatex ™ inner membrane that is water resistant, breathable and warm.
I love my navy knee length Uniqlo HeatTech socks, which aren’t at all bulky and really stop the wind cutting through your trousers. I also wear HeatTech lightweight leggings layered under my trousers.
I advise eating minimally in the run up to a stay in Geneva.
Sadly for us, the snow in London meant that we ended up queueing for five solid hours in Geneva Airport on Sunday afternoon after both of our flights were cancelled. So.Many.People lining up for new flights thanks to no flights leaving London, which meant no return flights back for us.
We were exhausted by the end of it, but huge commendations to both GVA and Swiss, who handed out water, and reassigned us flights automatically after a couple of hours (we were notified via the app and email). Sadly they were via Zurich, Philippa’s with an overnight, and mine for the next day, so we carried on queueing like good English girls, and were eventually re-routed onto direct flights 24hrs later straight from GVA to Heathrow.
Then we discovered the next huge line downstairs for hotel vouchers so HUGE thanks to our lovely friends at Geneva Tourism who were hosting us, and who arranged an immediate stay at the Hotel Bristol for us, complete with room service. Never have I been happier to get back on a train and into bed.
Next day, as we sat in the lounge watching the series of cancelled flights – we were so worried about getting home we got to the airport two hours early – we kept our fingers firmly crossed and thank goodness our flight, which was a codeshare flying in from elsewhere in Europe and not, crucially from London with its messed up schedules, was only retarde not annule, taking off just an hour late which, in the circumstances felt like a divine miracle.
I feel like this might also be the point at which I should mention the new and very shiny Swiss fleet of Bomabardier C Class aeroplanes, with their slimline yet very comfortable seating with lots of legroom and clever design detailing. Props also for their always delicious baked goods – this time a super fresh and buttered pretzel roll, with a chaser of that yum Swiss airlines hazelnut chocolate that I love.
And then, finally, home, a day later than planned. Although an extra day in Geneva is never to be sneezed at.
With enormous thanks to Geneva Tourism for hosting myself and Philippa for two nights
(and one extra!) in Geneva in December 2017
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