If you’re anything like me, then packing for a weekend-long trip abroad can be something of a headache.
I needn’t have worried; on my short flight from Edinburgh to the second largest city in Switzerland, Geneva, I had a flick through the brochure for Hotel Bristol, the place I’d call home while in the city.
I was to experience one of the hotel’s Ladies First rooms, recently designed with women in mind.
Hair straighteners, an espresso machine, an excellent back-lit dressing table area, not to mention the complimentary Molton Brown and Dior goodies, this was a hotel room that had everything a girl could need.
Handy, because I was spending my weekend with the Geneva Girls Guide handbook as my guide – a book packed with ideas and advice, compiled by some of Geneva’s most prolific women.
Not only that but, when I arrived at the hotel – all in all less than 20 minutes from airport to hotel lobby due to a super efficient train service which was free to boot – I was given a Geneva Transport Card, which meant I could travel the city on public transport for free.
I also made good use of my Geneva Pass, given to me by the hotel but available from the Tourism Board from around £21.
This pass gives you the freedom to explore the city and enjoy free or heavily discounted activities, like The Mermaid’s Cruise, Mont-Salève Cable Car and museum access, which Geneva has plenty of. I enjoyed the Amazonia exhibition at the MEG, which is there until January 8.
As well as the stunning surroundings like the world-famous lake and the Jet d’Eau Fountain – quite a sight to behold, reaching 140 metres high – I was surprised by the gastronomic culture that I found in Geneva.
We dined at the plush Restaurant du Parc des Eaux-Vives, a 16th Century manor house overlooking the lake.
The brasserie, headed up by chef Julien Schillaci, looks modern and simple, and the same could be said of the food; clean and beautiful by way of presentation, but outstanding in terms of taste.
I dined on Swiss beef Carpaccio with vinaigrette of passion fruit and ginger, followed by vendace fish from the very lake I could see from my chair. To finish, and just by way of sheer greed rather than need, I polished off a Satilia 62% chocolate fondant with praline sorbet.
Accompanying all of this food was a few select bottles of Swiss wine – less than 2% of which is actually exported and is mainly enjoyed within the country. Dining here for an evening will not be the cheapest way you’ll eat in the city, but it’s most certainly worth it for a special night of delicious food.
Even the little cafes went that extra mile, serving the freshest produce and most delicious coffee.
We particularly enjoyed trendy Birdie Cafe, located in the Bath district. I have it on good authority that the coffee here, lovingly chosen and brewed by its very passionate owner, is the best in Geneva.
Coffee culture is prevalent here. Streets are littered with tables and chairs, filled with locals and tourists enjoying punchy espressos and al-fresco brunch. This was especially salient upon taking a tram to the district of Carouge, just a stone’s throw from the city centre which feels like a world away.
Known as Geneva’s small Italy due to its architecture and Sardinian roots, this town is quaint and oh-so-pretty, with shuttered townhouses leaning over cobbled streets, and independent shops selling artisanal chocolate and handmade leather bags and shoes.
The market, open on Wednesday and Saturday, sits on the Place du Marché. You’ll struggle to resist the stallholder’s wares: honey, fruit, fragrant blooms and homemade cakes and biscuits line the trestles, all with reasonable price tags attached.
After a weekend of over-indulgence, a visit to the Bain Bleu Hammam & Spa was very welcome.
As soon as you walk inside the doors, you know you’re in a place of complete relaxation, with dim lighting, and soothing music.
The staff here speak French and all signage is in the mother tongue, so take a look at the website before you visit to get an idea of what to do when you get into the hammam. Being wrapped in a thin linen sheet isn’t everyone’s idea of chilling out, but the spa does have a ‘ladies only day’ on a Tuesday, should that make you feel more comfortable.
Relaxation doesn’t come cheap here though – admission to the baths and hammam will set you back around £38, so make sure you spend the entire morning there to get your money’s worth.
Overall, Geneva really is a hidden gem, coming up alongside its weekend getaway rivals like Barcelona and Paris and, although certainly not the cheapest destination you could visit, is a great place to come with your girlfriends for culture, great food and wine, and relaxation.
For more information visit www.geneve.com