Travel

Chasing Christmas in Geneva – A Swiss Weekend

April 20, 2018

In the spirit of cutting the crap and just getting work done, I’m trying to be more intentional about putting out the blog posts I’ve been sitting on FOREVER, and stop waiting for the PERFECT time.

So bringing you all a little Christmas in April – won’t build you a house, but taking you right back to the festive season for sometime!

When I was living in Paris, I got a chance to travel a lot through Europe. In December, I got the opportunity to see how several different cities celebrated Christmas!

My first stop was Switzerland. I would start off in Geneva, and then head into a neighboring town, Nyon, where my brother’s friend was staying. Geneva wasn’t particularly on my list of top European locations to visit, but who can pass up the opportunity to see an old friend in a new location?

Visiting Geneva for the weekend was an impromptu decision. And that’s one of the beautiful things about living in Paris – or Europe in general. You can just hop on a relatively cheap form of transportation and be somewhere else entirely. There is so much jam-packed into a relatively small geographic region.

I took an overnight bus, to Geneva. I slept most of the way there and arrived quite early: 7:30am. Most breakfast places weren’t even open yet. This time, I had made a more concerted effort to plan out my time in Geneva: top sites and eateries. Despite that, my plan got derailed and I just rolled with it.

 

After wandering about a bit, I ended up getting a way overpriced Starbucks coffee and a sh*tty croissant. I chilled there until 9am when the tourist shop opened and got an audio self-guided tour. The tour led me to a few main sites along the river that splits Geneva in two. Geneva’s iconic location is the jet d’eau, but it wasn’t on when I was by it. My initial though was maybe because of the weather, but turned out it was just off whenever I was around it.

I also saw the Swatch museum and wandered my way through the narrow cobbled streets of Old Town. I ended up seeing a group of girls run by near Rue Du Rhone – a very popular street. As I was taking a corner, I heard what sounded like thunder and then suddenly a large group of girls came running around the corner.

It turns out I was in Geneva the weekend of l’Escalade – see below.

Around 11, it was time to meet up with my brother’s friend, Solomon. It turns out that the Rod Cross Museum is not on Red Cross Road – just a heads up. I had to find my way all the way to the other side of the river and hike to Avenue de la Paix (Avenue of Peace). By hike, I mean figure out the bus system.

So with that here are some highlights of other things I did in Geneva and then Nyon and how you can also enjoy the Christmas festivities that Geneva has to offer:

 

Red Cross Museum 

The Red Cross Museum was actually really cool and really interactive. They trace what they call “The Humanitarian Adventure,” and not only highlight well known humanitarians, but also the stories of victims of humanitarian crisis. You can read a bit more about the museum here and check out their website to learn more about what they do.

One thing that was interesting was that they had a guest book where people were meant to express their views on the museum, but many people used to to criticize some unsuccessful humanitarian efforts carried out by the Red Cross and the international community.

 

Auto Show

Geneva is known for it’s Auto Show in March, but we got lucky and somehow wandered in an auto show mid December. So I’m starting to wonder if they just have things on display year round. The one we entered was a Tesla exhibition and you got to get in the car and have a feel for what it’s like to sit inside.

 

What to eat and drink

Geneva’s hot meals are delicious, so make sure you take some time to check out the awesome restaurants in the area. The city has French, German and Swiss influences (with a little taste of other European cultures), so you have easy access to all those gastronomes, as well as the international selection you can expect from any cosmopolitan area. One thing you must try if you are ever in France or Switzerland in the winter (or even summer), is fondue. No, not chocolate, but the melted cheese. It’s especially great if you can spring for the meat platters where you cook your meat at your table!

I can’t remember where we stopped for our delicious meals above, but I can tell you where we stopped for cocktails. It was actually a random girl we met on the train or somewhere else that invited us out for drinks. We showed by at this chic place known as L’Apothicaire. They are a lounge/bar/nightclub type vibe and they were popping! They have a lot of signature cocktails, but I went with the Passion du Rhum, pictured above. Definitely a must check out.

 

Nyon & Nyon Castle 

Nyon is a small quiet town right outside of Geneva. Although I was staying with a friend, I would suggest looking here for accommodation if prices in Geneva are looking ridiculous. Getting in and out of Geneva via the train system was really easy and we even left quite late at night.

One highlight of the town is the Nyon Castle which also houses a history museum and porcelain exhibition. It’s a small and underwhelming museum and castle, but worth a stop if you are in the area for nothing more than the views. The castle is located on a hill that over looks Lake Geneva and you can see the Alps on a clear day. You can read more about the castle and visiting it here.

 

A Geneva and Swiss Christmas 

Don’t miss what’s hidden in front of you!

So when I started writing this post, I was going to talk about how Geneva wasn’t all that Christmas-y, that it was a very business town and that’s it. But actually, that’s just the surface. Geneva is rich with Christmas traditions that span centuries. And these traditions are hidden in plain site.

L’Escaslades

So like I said earlier, I saw a bunch of girls racing by. I stopped and asked someone about it, and from my understanding it was a very popular race that happened annually in December. Unbeknownst to me (until I started doing the research for this post), I was there the weekend of the L’Escalade. This is perhaps the best weekend to visit Geneva because it’s when all their Christmas traditions are on full display.

L’Escalades is a commemoration of the thwarting of a late night surprise attack on the state of Geneva in December 1602 . The intruding army tried to climb/scale (escalade in French) Geneva’s city walls. A lady named Catherine Cheynel was cooking soup when she noticed the attackers and poured her large cauldron of hot soup on them as they were climbing the walls. The soldiers’  screaming woke the city and the militia defended the town!

So as it turns out, the race is part of L’Escalade tradition. And they have different divisions throughout the day. They finish the day off, with a night walk/run where participants wear costumes.   which commemorates a apart of the history. You can read more about the history of L’Escaldes and the different traditions assocaited with it here. And you can find out more about L’Escalade events here.

 

Chocolate and Chocolate Pots

Switzerland is already known for it’s delicious chocolates, but during Christmas, you can also find store windows lined with chocolate pots to match the festivities of the season.

We got amazing chocolates, but for the life of me can’t remember where, but I want to say Du Rhone Chocolatier since I know for sure I was on that street. But in case I’m wrong, here are 4 other awesome chocolate shops in Geneva…you really can’t go wrong with any of them.

 

Christmas Decorations

Like I was saying before, Geneva doesn’t do much in terms of Christmas lights and decorations strung throughout the city. But to be honest, those aren’t the only markers of a good Christmas city! Their own traditions are wonderful in their own right. But here are some decorations from Nyon. They were a little more creative with decorations in streets, corners and houses:

That said, there are definitely lights and decorations to be seen throughout, especially in more consumer focused areas and particularly in shops. And if you want to get your fill of lights and decorations, definitely check out the last two suggestions.

 

Cirque de Noel

One thing we also wandered into was the Cirque du Noel which ended up being an amusement park. We didn’t do any rides, but we walked around a bit and admired the festivities.

 

Christmas Markets

You certainly can’t go wrong with the Christmas markets all around Switzerland (and Europe actually). The only one in Geneva is the Rue du Mont-Blanc Christmas Market that starts in November and runs most of December. I think I saw it in the morning near where I got Starbucks….long before it was open. So I only got to see a skeleton of the event, but I’m sure it’s awesome! Here are the other 8 Christmas markets in Switzerland. The largest and most known one is Montreax, which is right on Lake Geneva and even has it’s own Santa’s workshop!

 

 

From the outside looking in, Geneva doesn’t look Christmas-y. But if you suspend the idea that being a Christmas town means every building is decorated from top to bottom and there is a Christmas tree at every corner – you can start to appreciate all the traditions that Geneva has to offer tourists and locales to bring in the Yuletide.

Have you been to Switzerland in the Christmas time? And what does your town do during that season? I’d love to know! And let me know if you’re planning a trip to that area during any time of the year!

 

Always,

Omolayo Nkem

 

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