Swiss Watch­ing

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - FOOD -

‘the land of milk and money’. If you think, for the most part, these are the only two Swiss com­pul­sions, think again. Just a few days in the coun­try will throw so many new im­pres­sions at your in­ven­tory of Hei­dis and heifers, high­est­wealth - per - adult rat­ings and pre­cious-as-gold Swiss francs. Milk and money, yes. But also bizarre by­laws, movie-star mo­ments, kitsch car­ni­vals and fash­ion to ri­val that of Paris. Just when you want to roll your eyes at how pre­dictably ‘ plus-que par­fait ’ it all is, you stum­ble across a lit­tle nugget that is so truly un­usual or un­ex­pected that it un­bal­ances your ex­pec­ta­tions all over again.To pro­tect cit­i­zens from a rude awak­en­ing, for ex­am­ple, Switzer­land for­bids the use of lawn mow­ers on a Sun­day. It also for­bids re­cy­cling on this day. But for the last 20 years, the coun­try has run a pro­gramme that legally dis­trib­utes heroin to ad­dicts.

A LAND OF CON­TRASTS

In Geneva, the coun­try’s sec­ond most pop­u­lous city, an at­mos­phere of ‘se­ri­ous­ness’ per­vades. It’s not the spirit of self-im­por­tance one might en­counter in neigh­bour­ing France, nor an air of rigid­ity as one may ex­pect to find in nearby Ger­many – al­though, cer­tainly, a Swiss pre­ci­sion has made this na­tion fa­mous for its time­pieces over the cen­turies. But you just know in your ‘knower’ that this is a sig­nif­i­cant city. Since it is home to the in­ter­na­tional head­quar­ters of many UN agencies, and the Red Cross; has been a his­tor­i­cal cen­tre of Chris­tian the­ol­ogy; and is the site where the Geneva Con­ven­tions, gov­ern­ing the treat­ment of war­time non-com­bat­ants and pris­on­ers of war, were signed, this is not sur­pris­ing. But then, drive along the banks of Lake Geneva in sum­mer and you’ll en­counter a five-kilo­me­tre stretch of kitsch fair­ground, so packed with merry fes­ti­val-go­ers you’d swear this was a city of no work, all play. Ex­tend­ing along Quai Gus­tave-Ador and Quai Wil­son, it’s part of the an­nual Fêtes de Genève (Fetes­de­gen­eve.ch) and, ev­i­dently, the Swiss love a good fête. Bumper cars, fly­ing chairs and spin­ning wheels line the busy boule­vard, along­side dance floors with live bands and DJs, and stalls sell­ing Swiss spe­cial­ties or the na­tional dishes of other far-flung cor­ners of the globe.

This – the coun­try be­hind the stereo­types – is the sub­ject of au­thor Dic­con Bewes best­selling book Swiss Watch­ing. He points out that in a land known for its clean­li­ness and cour­tesy, you’ll find some of the worst graf­fiti in Europe.Its cit­i­zens also con­sume the same amount of chew­ing gum per head as Amer­i­cans, and most of it ends up on the pave­ment. And, while Switzer­land gave us the Red Cross and an army knife, it is also the birth­place of Toi­let Duck (1980). What’s more, its people own more guns per head than those of Iraq.And as for that flaw­lessly punc­tual pub­lic trans­port? The tram we alighted on our way to the air­port came to a grind­ing halt, be­fore spout­ing an alarm­ing shower of sparks.We waited sev­eral min­utes un­til the prob­lem was re­solved and we were able to con­tinue with our de­layed jour­ney.

LIFE­STYLES OF THE SWISS AND THE FA­MOUS

Speed­ing along the im­mense façade of Lac Lé­man (that’s French for Lake Geneva) in a sil­ver bul­let of a boat is highly rec­om­mended. Re­clined against soft, white leather that re­flects the sun’s rays like the snow on the moun­tain peaks in the dis­tance, there’s noth­ing quite akin it to make you feel like the star of your very own James Bond film. In fact, so much of Geneva is so very ‘Bond’ that it be­comes clear why Switzer­land fea­tures as strongly as it does in au­thor Ian Flem­ing’s tales. Bond him­self is half Swiss, on his mother’s side, and whether the suave and suc­cess­ful (oh-soSwiss) de­fender of hu­man­ity is stay­ing at the Ho­tel

des Ber­gues in Geneva and weav­ing along Alpine roads in an As­ton Martin, as in Goldfin­ger, or strik­ing up a duet with Dr.No’s bikini-clad Bond girl – Swiss ac­tress Ur­sula An­dress – James is the very essence of Swiss so­phis­ti­ca­tion. We might men­tion Basel-born Roger Fed­erer here as a more mod­ern in­car­na­tion of this je ne sais quoi, but he’s half South African, so we could be ac­cused of some bias on that one.

Kristina Bazan’s blog Kay­ture.com at­tracts over a mil­lion read­ers a month. Aided by pho­tog­ra­pher boyfriend James, the stylish Geneva-based fash­ion blog­ger is ‘sin­gle-hand­edly mak­ing Geneva, Switzer­land, the French-speak­ing fash­ion cap­i­tal of the world’, as one in­ter­na­tional glossy framed it. Name a lux­ury brand, she’s worked with them, in­clud­ing a Chopard col­lab­o­ra­tion for her 20th birth­day. Of course, Geneva of­fers up plenty of op­por­tu­nity to get your hands on some of these fa­mous names yourself (and the coun­try’s own stal­warts – think Rolex, Ebel, David­off, TAG Heuer, Tally Weijl). Put your plas­tic to good use at the lux­ury stores on Rue du Rhône, or find many of the best names un­der one roof at depart­ment store Globus (Globus.ch). Par­al­lel Rue du Marché of­fers other pop­u­lar Euro­pean sta­ples, in­clud­ing H&M. For de­signer vin­tage, head to Vêt’Shop Vin­tage (Croix-rouge-ge.ch), run by the Geneva Red Cross.

Rue du Rhône is also home to Le Re­lais de l’En­trecôte restau­rant (Re­laisen­tre­cote.fr). An in­sti­tu­tion here and in Paris, they don’t take book­ings so you’re likely to be met with a queue at the door. It’s worth the wait. They also don’t take or­ders. To start, you’ll eat a salad of crisp, sweet let­tuce leaves topped with plump wal­nuts and a heav­enly mus­tard vinai­grette. This is fol­lowed by steak (ten­der, flavour­ful and cooked to your lik­ing) and melt-in-your-mouth golden frites, all served with their trade­mark sauce – a rich, herb-based sen­sa­tion. A sec­ond help­ing also comes stan­dard.

THE GREAT OUT­DOORS

Don’t forego the mag­nif­i­cence of the Swiss coun­try­side. No beauty I have yet en­coun­tered quite pre­pared me for the sights of Cham­péry, a vil­lage 130 kilo­me­tres from Geneva, in the fa­mous ski­ing re­gion of Les Portes du Soleil. The streets and sur­round­ing coun­try­side are lined with chalets that fea­ture carved bal­conies, slop­ing roofs and win­dow boxes spout­ing puffs of red gera­ni­ums. (While there are lodges and ho­tels, these chalets of­fer a truer Alpine ex­pe­ri­ence, and can be rented via sites such as Chalet. myswitzer­land.com.) I mostly just sat star­ing at the snow-cov­ered ma­jes­tic peaks of the Dents du Midi (the ‘Teeth of the South’). I lis­tened to the cow­bells of wan­der­ing cat­tle and, through a te­le­scope, watched wa­ter­falls gush­ing down the moun­tains across the val­ley. Hikes will lead you through pas­tures, along riverbeds burst­ing with wild sum­mer blooms and up shaded ravines, where rocky ledges plunge into deep, icy pools. The re­gion also of­fers a mul­ti­tude of sum­mer­time ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing moun­tain bik­ing, climb­ing and ac­ro­branche (zip-lin­ing) ex­pe­ri­ences. Wan­der the charm­ing streets of the vil­lage, then drive the eight kilo­me­tres to the ther­mal baths and spa in the Vald’Il­liez, Ther­mes Parc. Here, you can linger in in­door and out­door ther­mal pools, whose min­er­al­rich wa­ter springs from in­side the Valaisans moun­tains at a tem­per­a­ture of 29-34°C.

As dusk falls, sip on a beer on the green lawns of Can­tine Sur Coux (Can­ti­nesur­coux.net) be­fore you move in­side to eat.The Roesti Cam­pag­nard is a soul-warm­ing Swiss spe­cialty of soft potato cubes topped with salty ba­con, juicy pick­led onions, a fried egg, slices of tart gherkin and lash­ings of Switzer­land’s finest creamy cheese. Come night­fall, gaze at the black­est night sky punc­tured by glit­ter­ing sparkles and free your cere­bral cortex from any­thing re­main­ing you might have had listed un­der ‘Switzer­land’ be­fore you jumped on a Geneva-bound plane.

Clock­wise from top left Geneva-based fash­ion blog­ger Kristina Bazan of Kay­ture.com; Les Bains du Val-d’Il­liez in Ther­mes Parc; Rue du Rhône is the most em­blem­atic lux­ury re­tail street in Geneva.

The east part of down­town Geneva, as seen from Cathé­drale Saint-Pierre.

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