Stylish shops, modern museums and lakeside cocktails: Why Geneva is the (unexpectedly) perfect destination for a girls' weekend away

  • Geneva's low-key bars and restaurants are the perfect place to catch up with friends over a delicious cocktail
  • From boat cruises on the lake to a tour of the UN headquarters, the city also offers plenty to do during the day
  • Weekend trips to the Swiss capital are made much easier by an enviably efficient public transport system  

My decision to go to Geneva on a girls' weekend was met with widespread bemusement from friends and family.

It wasn't that they didn't know anything about the Swiss capital - watches, skiing and international diplomacy all came to mind quickly - it was that it didn't evoke the sense of spontaneity, indulgence or style one might seek out for a girly getaway.

Despite their reservations - and, I must confess, some of my own - I remained determinedly excited about the trip.

Centre of the city: Geneva sits on the stunning Lake Geneva, pictured. The Jet d'Eau fountain shoots water more than 450ft into the air

Centre of the city: Geneva sits on the stunning Lake Geneva, pictured. The Jet d'Eau fountain shoots water more than 450ft into the air

Where next? Dipping into the Geneva Girls' Guide
Geneva Girls' Guide

Where next? Dipping into the Geneva Girls' Guide (right) offers a carefully curated selection of the best places to visit, eat and shop

Well connected: Excellent train links means tourists can be at the central Gare Cornavin station, pictured, in just six minutes

Well connected: Excellent train links means tourists can be at the central Gare Cornavin station, pictured, in just six minutes

My sister Samantha and I turned to the Geneva Girls’ Guide for ideas of where to eat, shop and visit during our stay. 

The pocket-sized book, produced by Geneva Tourism, offers offers carefully curated highlights as chosen by a network of businesswomen, stylists and foodie experts, based in the city. This local knowledge added so much to our trip and allowed us to experience places more off the beaten track.

An efficient public transport system might not define a city, but it can enhance the enjoyment of one. Within minutes - 12, to be precise - of walking into the departures hall at Geneva Airport, we were pulling our wheel-along weekend bags through Cornavin train station in the centre of the city. 

The speed and regularity of this train service minimises the ‘dead’ travel time that so often eats into short weekends away.

Our first hotel, the Hotel Rotary Geneva, was tucked away on a quiet road just five minutes’ walk from Cornavin station. The staff - all of whom spoke wonderful English, saving me the embarrassment of stammering through my A-level French - were informative and helpful, doing everything they could to make our stay comfortable. 

The recently-renovated property was stylish, well-appointed and offered plenty of storage. What stood out most about the hotel was the ‘Inspired By Her’ programme for female guests. 

The service provides dressing gowns and slippers in a range of sizes; hair straighteners available to loan from reception; and an in-room menu offering a collection of cleansers, exfoliators and moisturisers to forgetful holidaymakers.

Guests at all hotels, youth hostels and campsites in Geneva also receive a transport card that gives them free use of the city’s buses, boats, trains and trams, for the duration of their stay. While free transport is a huge bonus in a city where so much is expensive, the size and layout of Geneva means it is also easy to explore on foot.

Carouge, a Mediterranean style hamlet modelled after Nice, hosts a market offering fresh produce
One furry visitor

Morning market: Carouge, a Mediterranean style hamlet modelled after Nice, hosts a market offering fresh produce. Right, one furry visitor

Local delicacies: No trip to Switzerland would be complete without sampling some of the country's world-famous cheeses

Local delicacies: No trip to Switzerland would be complete without sampling some of the country's world-famous cheeses

Cave of wonders: Les Enfants Terribles
The shop is filled with quirky homeware and light bites

Cave of wonders: Les Enfants Terribles, a boutique and cafe backed with quirky furniture, homeware and light bites for lunch

Refuelled: The cobbled streets are filled with delicious restaurants to duck into while out shopping serving snacks such as pizza

Refuelled: The cobbled streets are filled with delicious restaurants to duck into while out shopping serving snacks such as pizza

Feeling creative: The city's museum of modern art
At the museum of modern art

Feeling creative: The city's museum of modern art, 'Mamco', is filled with challenging and innovative pieces - and is definitely worth a visit 

Sunset stroll: The size of the city means it is easy to walk from hotel to restaurant for dinner, and take in the lake at twilight

Sunset stroll: The size of the city means it is easy to walk from hotel to restaurant for dinner, and take in the lake at twilight

It is also worth mentioning the stunning natural landscape. The city is built on both sides of the southern tip of the breathtaking Lake Geneva and boarded by both the French Alps and the Jura Mountains. 

Boat cruises along the river are said to make for a perfect summer excursion while day trips to one of the ski towns is a popular winter pastime for both tourists and residents, although the timing of our trip meant we were unable to enjoy either.

After unpacking our bags and freshening up, we headed out for our first night on the town. The evening started with trip to beauty bar Chez Louise, run by the charismatic Alexandra Ray Peufly. 

The shop, split between two rooms on the first floor of an inconspicuous office building, offers hair, make-up and nail treatments. We had consultations with two of the highly-qualified and friendly therapists before being given hair and make-up looks that were perfect for dinner and drinks.

Crossing a bridge to the Old Town on the other side of Lake Geneva, we found Italian restaurant La Bottega on a deserted cobbled street. The restaurant offers diners exquisite dishes made from the highest quality ingredients in a warm and welcoming setting. We sampled a delicious cocktail before indulging in the seven-course tasting menu with wine pairing. This is the perfect way to explore the culinary delights on offer, including some, like quails’ eggs, that were very unexpected.

We stopped off at the trendy L'Apothicaire Cocktail Club for a couple of drinks - the mint julep was a favourite - before heading back to the hotel.

Dainty dishes: The quails' eggs and delicate serving of broccoli went perfectly with the cocktail we sipped on at La Bottega 
Fresh: After indulging in a spa treatment at La Reserve, sample some of the delicious - and healthy! - plates at the adjoining restaurant

Dainty dishes: The quails' eggs and delicate serving of broccoli went perfectly with the cocktail we sipped on at La Bottega 

Room with a view: The suit at La Reserve looked out over Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps, captured here at twlight
Plenty of history: It is worth spending sometime exploring the old buildings of Geneva, which also make for great photo backdrops

Room with a view: The suit at La Reserve looked out over Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps, captured here at twilight (left) and Steohanie explores the old buildings of Geneva (right)

The next morning we took the tram out to the hamlet of Carouge, billed as the Greenwich Village of Geneva, where we shopped for fresh food and local cheeses at a food market in the square. 

Dipping back into the Geneva Girls’ Guide, we selected a handful of independent Swiss shops to drop into on our way back to the city centre. One of our favourites was Les Enfants Terribles, a boutique and cafe backed with quirky furniture, homeware and light bites perfect for lunch. Mid-afternoon shopping fatigue led us to Du Rhone Chocolatier, where we picked up some locally-made chocolates to take home.

The unexpected highlight of our weekend away was the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, which looks back at 150 years of humanitarian work through a series of interactive exhibitions that will engage even the most reluctant museum-goers. 

Our exploration of Geneva’s important role within international relations continued with a visit to the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the United Nations.

A quick detour to the painfully cool MAMCO, Geneva’s museum of modern art, finished off our evening.

Dinner was at the Bottles Brothers, one of the city’s trendiest dining destinations. With both a bar offering light bites and a restaurant with a more extensive menu, the nightspot is perfect for a girly catch up. We sipped on delicious cocktails from the extensive list before tucking into dishes that were full of flavour without being heavy. Not quite ready to go home, we popped across the road to a couple of low-key bars before hailing a taxi back to the hotel.

Ready to recover from a whirlwind couple of days, Samantha and I headed out of Geneva town centre to La Reserve Hotel and Spa on the banks of Lake Geneva. 

This expansive hotel resembles an American family resort like the one featured in Dirty Dancing, complete with a two pools, a number of restaurants, and activities for children. While people of all ages looked happy to be there, we spent most of our stay lounging by the spa’s heated indoor pool. 

The adjoining eatery, Cafe Lauren, was the perfect place to enjoy a lunch made from the lightest and freshest ingredients - making it easier to get back in my bikini. The treatment menu offered an extensive range of scrubs, massages and facials sure to impress even the most discerning spa goer.

Our time away ended with yet another delicious meal, the hotel’s own Chinese restaurant. As we shared dim sum starters and mouth-watering Peking duck, we took time to reflect on the weekend.

While Geneva might not ever compete with Marbella or Ibiza for girls looking to let loose, the city does have its own style and personality worth exploring.

Those same friends and family who doubted Geneva as a weekend destination city have now been convinced, at least a little, that there is plenty to discover about this gloriously efficient city. 

Day trip: Exploring the stunning Lake Geneva by boat is the perfect way to spend a warm spring day

Day trip: Exploring the stunning Lake Geneva by boat is the perfect way to spend a warm spring day

Plenty to discover: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum will delight even the most reluctant museum-goers

Discovery: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum traces the rich history of the Red Cross and the Geneva Convention

International hub: The Palais des Nations, pictured, is the second-largest of the United Nations' four offices around the world

International hub: The Palais des Nations, pictured, is the second-largest of the United Nations' four offices around the world

TRAVEL FACTS

Planning your trip

Be sure to pick up a copy of Geneva Girls’ Guide is available through Geneva Tourism’s Tourist Information Center, and tailored packages are available. For more information visit: geneva-tourism.ch.

Where to stay 

The Hotel Rotary Geneva offers stylish accommodation just feet from the city's main train station. Rooms from £155. More information here.

Escape from the centre of Geneva and indulge at La Reserve Hotel and Spa. More information here

Eat 

Sample innovative Italian cuisine in a low-key environment at La Bottega. More information here.

Book a table at Bottles Brothers and enjoy a night at one of the city's trendiest bars and restaurants. More information here

Sample delicious chocolates at Du Rhone Chocolatiers. More information here.  

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About Văn Khang Nguyễn

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