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Sunday, 22 November 2009

In praise of ... Geneva

Thought you might like to see article published this week in the Sunday Telegraph travel section on Geneva - setting for my latest international bestseller (hey, modesty never sells...) The Geveva Deception. Actually what follows is the original unedited version as they took out all the gags - presumably because of a lack of space rather than because they weren't funny...

Geneva, Switzerland: My Kind of Town

The novelist James Twining offers a guide to the best sights, bars, hotels and restaurants in the Swiss city of Geneva.

Harry Lime was wrong. While the warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed of the Borgias may well have produced the Renaissance, Geneva is proof that 500 years of democracy and peace in Switzerland have led to far more than the invention of the cuckoo clock. Hotbed of Protestant dissent, witness to Byron’s seduction of Mary Shelley, crucible of the luxury watchmaking industry, and now the international home of the UN, WTO, multinational companies and tax exiles alike, Geneva's riches are lying waiting to be discovered.

What do you miss most when you're away?

Mont Blanc in the distance. Boats skating across Lake Geneva's glass mirror, sails snapping in the wind. The clean air and sense of calm. Cheese fondue. Chocolate.

What's the first thing you do when you return?

Wander through the cobbled Old Town ("La Vieille Ville") with old friend and local insider George Hammon, admiring the unspoilt medieval architecture and debating where to have dinner.

Where's the best place to stay?

The recently renovated Mandarin Oriental Hôtel du Rhône (0041 22 909 0001;; two-day "festive break" from £145 per night), which blends the qualities of a traditional deluxe hotel with a very modern interior. At the other end of the spectrum, the Hôtel St-Gervais (732 4572; is a well-located budget option with double rooms from £68 per night.

Where would you meet friends for a drink?

In winter, the Parc des Bastions, where you can have a game of life-size chess before a warming glass of vin chaud. In summer, the Place du Bourg de Four, the oldest square in the Old Town. Have a beer and soak up the sunshine in one of the bars and cafés that surround the 18th-century flowered fountain.

Where are your favourite places for lunch?

The bistro Les Papilles de Lavinia (rue de Coutance 3; 732 2222) in Geneva's best wine shop, Lavinia. Enjoy Lyonnais food with one of the 40,000 bottles on display to wash it down. Amazing food, great wine, and brave attempts at British humour from the manager, Stéphane.

And for dinner?

Café Papon (rue Henri-Fazy 1; 311 5428). Vaulted ceilings and a terrace stretching out onto the medieval fortifications of the Old Town. Classic French cuisine with a twist, with main courses from £18. At the Mandarin you have the gourmet Indian restaurant Rasoi, by Michelin-starred Vineet Bhatia, with tasting menus from £45. And Les Antiquaires (Grand-Rue 35; 311 2416) is a no-nonsense fondue restaurant serving the finest moitié-moitié (half Gruyère, half Vacherin cheese) in Geneva (and possibly the world!) for £14.

Where would you send a first-time visitor?

The Martin Bodmer museum (route de Guignard 19, Coligny;; adults £8) is a breathtaking collection of literary treasures ranging from second-century New Testament papyri, and Egyptian Book of the Dead to a Gutenberg Bible and a Shakespeare first folio. It embodies the essence of Geneva – a wonderful place but so well hidden that even many locals have never heard about it.

What would you tell them to avoid?

The area around Cornavin train station, a hideous example of Soviet-style Fifties town planning that has you reaching for a block of semtex and a detonator.

Public transport or taxi?

You can easily walk around the centre of Geneva – it's tiny. But for the full experience be sure to take a mouette (a river shuttle) across the lake and, of course, hop on a tram. Taxis are prohibitively expensive and are best avoided unless you want to be mistaken for a Swiss banker.

Handbag or moneybelt?

Manbag - dare to be continental!

What should I take home?

Empty your bags and load up with Swiss chocolate. Try Rohr (rue d'Enfer 4; 311 6876) or Auer (rue de Rive 4; 311 4286), two family-owned traditional chocolate-makers who have mastered and perfected the art of chocolate-making over five generations.

James Twining's latest thriller, 'The Geneva Deception' (HarperCollins, £6.99), is set in Geneva.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

James you should know that the cuckoo clock is and never was a SWISS invention.
Handbags in Geneva? only firmly clasped to your chest, I speak from experience.

November 22, 2009  

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