About Us

Contact Us



Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters


Romilly Golding gives analternative take on the Geneva.

I can’t deny it – Geneva is a strange place. Some people love it, I know a few that hate it, and personally, I just I can’t fathom it. To be honest, unless you are a diplomat, banker, chocolatier, or gold magnate, I’d be surprised if you’d already visited the city.

I’ve lived in Geneva for the past 10 months and I have discovered it’s a really interesting city. I must admit though, the city has a weird atmosphere. A history of openness and peacekeeping tempered with banks, bunkers and bullion. A country that boasts the Red Cross and the United Nations alongside (ahem) yearly defence spending of 4.5 billion Swiss francs (9% of state spending) and which should make it the most efficient, yet untested army in the world.

Unlike cities such as Paris or Amsterdam, Geneva doesn’t attract an artsy, bohemian crowd. In spite of this, there is enough of an alternative scene to make checking out these places worthwhile. A few of these places are off the beaten track, literally, so what follows is an alternative take on the city.
Photo: Nick Constance

I’m a great one for saving time when I arrive somewhere - I want to get to the cool stuff NOW. I don’t want to wait for a likely looking arts student or moody writer to point me in the direction of the hippest underground bunker happening, so if this sounds familiar, listen up.
Stepping out
If you’ve just disembarked, note that the ‘cool’ areas are (arguably) Plainpalais (flea markets, cafes, antique shops, bookshops), Paquis (red light district and home to some great restaurants and a fab jazz club, Sud des Alpes) and Carouge (sits on the outskirts of Geneva and is just like a small French town with a slow, shuttered Mediterranean feel.)

The Genevois may disagree, but unlike most European cities, Geneva’s old town isn’t a welcoming mix of cobbled streets and cosy cafes – rather it’s full of expensive art galleries, overpriced coffee and old ladies riding the novelty tourist bus. It’s worth a fleeting visit as there is some interesting architecture, (including a rather spooky cathedral) but to be honest, it’s a bit soul-less. So apart from the Irish bars in the area, notably Spring Brothers and the Roi Ubu on Grand Rue there are more interesting quartiers to uncover.
Cafes, bookshops and flea markets
The ‘Plain’ of Plainpalais is, to be honest, a rather desolate and dusty wasteland – like a sprawling overgrown car park. In spite of this though, it is the natural heart of the city housing a flea market, a fruit and veg market, circuses, fairs and, in the summer it’s a great place for outdoor weekend festivals.

From 6am on Saturdays and Wednesdays, the Plainpalais flea market is a fantastic place to while away a few hours and pick up some real bargains. After a hard bout of haggling, reward yourself with a panini (delicious fat-filled, high-carb Italian toasted sandwiches) from Panini Show (a mobile van) for the best paninis in town.

Rest tired legs in the Remor café (top of Plainpalais). This cosy old-school café is home to intellos poring over leftie papers and black-clad beatniks smoking moodily and struggling with film scripts. Order a renversé (Swiss equivalent to café latté) and enjoy a spot of people watching on the terrace.

Another great hangout in this area is ‘Les Recyclables’, (rue de Carouge) a friendly second-hand bookshop-cum café with sofas, whole-food lunches and Miles Davis on the stereo. Piles of books (French English and German) and industrious students from the nearby faculté make for a chilled out atmosphere.

Retail therapy

If a spot of serious shopping is in order, continue down rue de Carouge and stop off at Flying A –stockist of urban street-wear from Diesel and Hello Kitty. There’s also a groovy range of kitsch household accessories.

Also worth a visit is the completely divine Septième Etage at the foot of the old town. Owners Katarina and Thaddeus are both ex-New Yorkers and it shows. This stylish boutique is packed with hip American designs (including Kateyone Adeli and Isabel Toledo). In addition to some completely off the wall clothes, you’ll also find gorgeous make up, to-die-for bags, exceptionally yummy candles and the delicious Aesop cosmetic range. Prices are steep though - I once bought a coat from this place that had me living off tuna fish for months afterwards…

Saturday Night Fever

This is tricky. Catering mostly for the city’s gilded youth, Geneva’s club scene leaves a lot to be desired. Unless you fancy hanging with hardcore Eurotrash in all their (un-ironic) 80’s glory, head for some of the city’s better bars. The 2eme Bureau (rue de Stand) has a funky, retro feel, great music and is popular with trendy media-types. Check L’Usine for off beat happenings, homemade techno/hard rock bands and the occasional musical gem on a Sunday night. Q’ai GB is a tiny cosy lacquered Chinese puzzle-box of a club situated next to the deliciously hip Comptoir restaurant – both are seriously worth a visit. (Rue Richemont). For an early evening aperitif check the Alhambra, (rue de la rotisserie) a fantastically bewitching, enchanted place full of magical hanging lanterns, movie projections, glittering beads, feathers and other flights of fancy. Also features tea dancing and jazz brunches here on Sundays.
Carouge also has some good night spots. Bar du Nord (rue Ancienne) is a small stylish bar stuffed with Bauhaus inspired furniture. L’Equinox (at the first tram stop in Carouge) has a wholefoody atmosphere and is a favourite of local artists and boho types.
photo: Nick Constance

Grub’s up
Luckily for you, I’m about to give away a trade secret on the best restaurant in town. Called L’Amalgam, this eclectic place on rue Léman has no telephone… so if you don’t know it, you’ll be hard pressed to find it…or call it! This place is always packed, drawing a local crowd who flock for the truly excellent home cooked food. There’s only ever one menu each day, which will be anything from spicy Mexican rice and beans to coconut and lime Thai chicken. The prices are also tasty – an extremely reasonable 18 - 20 francs a head for a three course meal. (Approx £8) Cafe des Bains on rue des Bains is perhaps more ‘stylish’, as is the food – this serves up east-meets-west cooking and prices start at 40CHF a head. The restaurant has a great minimalist café next door featuring stacks of magazines, a chilled, trendy vibe and perhaps the best latté in town. Both are opposite Geneva’s contemporary art museum, MAMCO.
Lakeside Diner -Photo: Nick Constance
Here comes the fun
Okay! Summer! Run to the Bains de Paquis – Beach! Cafe! Food! Swimming in the lake! Music! Just go as soon as a heat wave hits the city – it’s a great place to soak up the sun, and only two francs to get in. Speaking of summer, Geneva really finds itself at this time of year, and the festival season has just kicked off. Coming up in July is the Paléo festival – Six days, five stages and 100 concerts, this is Switzerland’s answer to Glastonbury. Paléo is held just outside Geneva in Nyon (15 min train ride). This year Texas and Pulp are playing, as are St. Germain, Red Snapper, Ash, Ben Harper Manu Chao and….Kool and the Gang! The festival runs from the 24th – 29th of July and a six-day ticket pass costs 210 Swiss francs. (180 CHF students)

© Romily Golding 2001 (photos Nick Constance)

For a glimpse of Geneva on film, see THREE COLOURS RED -Kristof Kieslsowski's last film.
also by Romilly Golding
SWITZERLAND IS SO COOL Romilly Golding: Basel is the new black. It's official

More Travel in Hacktreks

< Back to Index