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ONE FINE DAY

By on June 19, 2013
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Switzerland is a fascinating study in contrasts: renowned for winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding and mountaineering, it’s also a hotspot for summer sports such as hiking, sailing and mountain biking; famed for its soaring mountains but home to a central plateau of gentle rolling hills; meticulously neutral yet surprisingly diverse.

This small, landlocked nation nestled amongst the Alps and Jura mountains is not so much a cultural melting pot as a high altitude experiment in peaceful, cultural cohabitation. Three of Europe’s major languages are official in Switzerland (German, French and Italian) and those cultures have stamped their imprint indelibly on the country’s various regions.

(Romansh, descended from the Latin spoken by Roman era occupiers of the region, is recognized as the 4th official language, despite being the 10th most spoken language in the country. The Swiss are nothing if not inclusive!)

Travel to the Swiss-German speaking northeast and enjoy beer and sausages in a traditional beer hall; head to the Alps’ southeastern slopes and sip cappuccinos while you practice your Italian; or visit the French-flavored southwest for haute-cuisine and fine wine. Binding these disparate cultures together is a distinctly (and proudly) Swiss sensibility. In fact, if you travel around Switzerland for even a few days it’s like getting to see four countries in one.

Or, since you only have one day, you could visit Geneva, Switzerland’s most cosmopolitan and international city.

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Geneva stretches along the shores of Lake Geneva and the Rhone River which flows from it. The sparkling lake (Western Europe’s largest) against the backdrop of majestic mountains makes for an almost fairy tale setting. But the city itself is both sleekly modern and charmingly old world.

It’s also home to a staggering array of international organizations including the International Red Cross (which was founded here), the World Health Organization and the United Nations’ European headquarters. Strolling down the streets of Geneva, it’s not uncommon to hear conversations taking place in a dozen different languages.

And stroll you will, for Geneva is a very walkable city. And since there is much to see and do you better get an early start…

Rise and shine after a restful night at the Eastwest Hotel. Geneva can be expensive but this gem of a hotel, one of the top-rated in the city, is not a budget breaker. The Eastwest is cozy and chic but has spacious, well-appointed rooms, with hardwood floors adding another level of  warmth and sophistication. Great views and a perfect location — easy walking distance to the Old Town, the lake promenade, great restaurants and shopping — make the Eastwest a fantastic find.

Get an early start and head out for some light refreshment to start your day. Grab coffee and a pastry from one of the local patisseries (there’s a Boulangerie Tea Room & Patisserie across and up the street) or — if they’re open — pop in to Café Restaurant Art’s. This lovely little café has great breakfasts, delicious pastries and cakes and is a nice spot to relax, take the edge off your hunger and read the morning paper.

You’ll have quite the selection in choosing reading material: Switzerland historically has the greatest number of newspaper titles published in proportion to its size and population!

After breakfast it’s time to hop some public transport (efficient, clean and safe in Geneva; take public bus No. 8, 34, or 41 to Veyrier-Ecole or Veyrier- Douane) or catch a cab (if that’s your style) and head to the base of Mount Salève.

Though nicknamed the “Balcony of Geneva” the Salève is actually just across the border in France. A cable car will take you up the mountain to an altitude of about 1,000 meters. Your reward for braving the heights will be stunning views of Geneva, Mont Blanc and the entire region. If you’re feeling really brave, you can head back down the mountain by paraglider. Of course, the cable car return is always an option too!

Geneva’s fabulous lakefront is your next stop and now it’s about time for lunch. The place to dine is at La Buvette des Bains (“refreshment baths”), part of the Bains des Pâquis public beach/Turkish bath complex. Set on a jetty thrusting out into the lake, the Bains des Paquis affords fabulous views of the lake, the Geneva shoreline with its mountainscape in the background, and the famous Jet d’Eau fountain… shooting its plumed spray almost 500 feet into the air.

In the summer season you can swim, tan and enjoy breakfast in the open air terrace by the lake. In the winter, relax in the Turkish baths before dining in the warm, welcoming cabin (heated by wooden stoves) and sampling some of their renowned fondue… a Swiss treat you won’t want to miss! Walk off lunch with an audio tour of Geneva’s gorgeous and historic Old Town. Pick up your headset and map at the local tourist office (located at Rue du Mont-Blanc 18) and head across one of Geneva’s many footbridges (or ponts) to the left bank. Your path will take you past the English Garden and the Flower Clock before leading you through the myriad of narrow streets and small squares, restaurants and cafes that form the heart of the old city. Be sure to check out Maison Tavel, a fascinating local history museum located in Geneva’s oldest home (built in 1303), the Cathédrale St-Pierre, and the Hôtel-de-Ville, or historic town hall.The audio tour will take about 2.5 hours at a leisurely pace, but feel free to stop and browse through the many interesting art galleries and antique shops you’ll pass along the way..

And if you want to take a break, the Old Town has some of the most charming cafés in the city where you can have a coffee and enjoy some of the world famous Swiss chocolate. Don’t sweat the calories… your walk has earned you a treat!

It’s about time to drop by the Eastwest Hotel to freshen up and drop off any goodies you’ve picked up. You might want to change clothes depending on the season. Afterwards, stroll towards the waterfront and on into the Leopard Room Bar — the 5-star Hotel d’Angleterre’s swanky lounge. It’s a fun place to check out as you sip a fine cognac or one of the excellent local wine vintages. Enjoy excellent views and live music… jazz early, rock and pop later on.After your aperitif, it’s time for the evening’s main event: a dinner cruise! From the Leopard Bar you are virtually steps away from CGN’s Geneva-Paquis pier. You’ll board one of their paddle steamers and enjoy a gourmet 3-course meal — along with breathtaking views of Geneva at night, sparkling along the lake — as you sail towards the beautiful medieval village of Yvoire on an indulgent three hour cruise.

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When you return to port later that night it will be close to the witching hour… and maybe you’ll want to call it a night, maybe. But if you’re still in the mood for adventure, Geneva does have a vibrant nightlife. The super-hip La SIP, located just west of the Old Town, is one of the hottest nightclubs in the city. You may have to wait in line — and deal with moody bouncers — but with the several bars and a dance floor spread over two stories it’s worth the wait. Open till 5am, this is the place to go if you’re just not ready for your perfect day in Geneva to come to an end.