Hayes & Harlington Gazette
IT’S SWISS BLISS
JESSICA GIBB FINDS LITTLE-KNOWN WINE, TOP CHOCS AND CULTURE IN GENEVA
MEANDERING through quiet country roads in the back of an electric tuk tuk, I take a deep breath of fresh mountain air and admire the rows of vines heavy with plump grapes.
It’s only the sight of the Swiss Alps peeking over the hills that reminds me I’m hardly in a country known for its wine production.
Swiss wine is a rarity on our shores as only about 1% of it is exported. That’s because the canny locals prefer to drink their produce themselves.
And I don’t really blame them. The different climates and the influence of Lake Geneva and the mountains make this region – or canton – of Switzerland a treasure trove of unique varieties. Every drop is organic too.
The city of Geneva is often overlooked by tourists and seen solely as the place to fly into on their way to the ski slopes. But this slick, cosmopolitan hub, financial centre and home of multinational organisations such as the United Nations and the Red Cross, has a lot going for it.
The setting is gorgeous – fringed by peaks, straddling the Rhone and with its famous crescent-shaped lake, it’s just perfect for a short break to indulge some of life’s simplest pleasures: wine, classic European food and Swiss chocolate.
The eco-friendly tuk tuk takes me to Clos du Chateau estate, which has provided the region with delicious Chardonnays, fruity Merlots and a firm favourite on discerning dinner tables throughout Geneva, the very quaffable Sauvignon Chasselas, since the 1700s.
Near the French border, the winery regularly throws open its cellars to visitors and I enjoy a pleasant
afternoon sipping some of its finest wines and nibbling on a selection of charcuterie.
You won’t want to leave without bringing home a bottle or two.
My base for the trip is the new Ruby Claire Hotel located close to the shores of Lake Geneva.
It offers “lean luxury” so you get all the essentials – a big comfy bed, rainfall shower and fluffy towels – but without costly extras.
The rooftop bar and restaurant more than makes up for the absence of a minibar, and there’s always a sunny spot to relax whatever time of day, whether you pop up for a morning cappuccino or a predinner Aperol Spritz.
The next day I check out the city’s vast cultural offering. The MEG – Ethnographic Museum of Geneva – has a collection of 70,000 objects from Africa, Indonesia, Japan, Tibet and beyond, mostly donations.
Access to the permanent exhibition, The Archives of Human Diversity, is free and a cavernous room holds the masks, statues, headdresses and tools that shine a light on the cultures of the world.
I’m drawn to a towering statue of Guanyin Pusa – a buddha of compassion dating from the 13th century. But it’s the shrunken heads from Ecuador, magic staffs of Indonesia and the armour of Japanese warriors that will have you lingering in the subterranean room. Blinking into the sunlight after my walk
through world history, I lunch at the lively Cafe du Centre in the heart of the city. Serving a mix of French, Italian and German cuisines, it is the perfect way to bring myself back to the present.
I jump aboard a tram across the cobbled town to the Du Rhone Chocolatier for a gourmet workshop. Dating back to 1875, it is one of the city’s oldest chocolate factories and a favourite of visiting diplomats including Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Grace Kelly.
The rich aroma of melting chocolate is overwhelming as you enter the laboratory, where the silky substance is glugging out of taps ready to be mixed into moulds. I tuck into bowls of white, milk and dark chocolate. Willy Wonka himself would be impressed by the relaxed and fun feel of the workshop.
When visiting Geneva, a boat trip on Europe’s largest alpine lake is a highlight, especially when it glides past the famous Jet d’Eau fountain that shoots 460ft into the air. Alternatively, take the Shore Path.
There’s something about the way the light catches on the water and the tranquillity of the sail boats criss-crossing the lake that makes this place truly magical.