Geneva: A unique travel experience

Geneva is one of those cities that is on everyone’s must travel list; I know it was on mine before I finally visited.GVA

My mother and aunt lived there and attended college in a nearby city, Lausanne. Hearing their stories about this magical city made me want to visit, especially that I know many Saudis own properties and like to spend their vacations there.

I talked my friend into traveling with me, and so we embarked on our journey using our Etihad Airways miles, which secured us a business class ticket to Geneva. We were looking for a relaxing and short vacation, so we reserved our rooms at the Mandarin Oriental, encouraged by their deal with Etihad Airways, which allows you to collect more miles by booking a room in the hotel.

I arrived to the city refreshed and relaxed after a relaxing journey in my comfortable airline seat. December in Geneva is very cold and the sun rises at 9 a.m., so when we arrived to the hotel to check in at 7 a.m. we were delighted when the receptionist informed us that breakfast is ready in our rooms. What a better way to start our vacation? The room was elegant and cozy, smelling like freshly brewed coffee from the breakfast table, which also displayed freshly baked croissants and a selection of Swiss cheese.

I asked the concierge for recommendations, but the list was short, given the winter season, which forces some coffee shops and open-air markets to close. However, the concierge did recommend other activities that required a short travel by train outside of Geneva.

For lunch we went to the famous Café de Paris, which is the first of the restaurant’s chains to open in the world. It even opened before the one in Paris. The restaurant is small, cozy and above all warm; there is no menu to choose from only one dish served for all, which is the entrecote, a deliciously made steak served with green sauce and French fries. It was the perfect meal for a cold day.

Just a few minutes walk from the hotel and right in front of the train station I saw a group of kiosks selling different Swiss made products.

We then decided to burn the calories by walking around the area, reaching Manor department store, which sells everything you need. Walking around the department store, the Christmas spirit was uplifting and festive. The underground floor is the grocery market, entailing a bakery section, which brings back memories of Parisian bakeries.

Switzerland is known for three things, watches, cheese and chocolate; lots of chocolate, which is why we asked the concierge to book us a private visit to one of the famous chocolate houses and factories in Geneva. He chose Philippe Pascoet located on Carouge Street. This brand provides chocolate to elite hotels in Geneva, such as Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons. We were lucky enough to meet the founder and the co-founder who gave us a one-hour tour, including a history of chocolate and the art of making it. We also had the chance to make our own chocolate and take it home.

Carouge is also an interesting shopping area, where one can find local products and clothing boutiques. One of the boutiques that caught my eyes is a small bath and body shop that sells organic and homemade soups and bath salts presented in beautiful packaging.

Nigh-time began to set in, so we decided to head back to the hotel and book a table at the Rasoi Indian restaurant. The restaurant seats around 60 diners and Michelin star Chef Vineet prepares the food. The food is interesting because it is one of the few formal dining Indian experiences in Europe. After the spicy meal, taking a walk around the river is a must, so we ventured outside to enjoy the breezy weather, hoping to burn Chef Vineet’s famous cheese naan bread.

The next day, we took a private tour designed especially for the Luxury of Time Suite guests at the hotel, to the Swiss luxury watchmaker Hublot Manufacture. The tour around the factory gave us the opportunity to see first-hand the creators behind the artistic watch, directed by our tour guide who spoke perfect Arabic.

To complete our experience in watch-making, we visited the M.A.D Gallery that specializes in mechanical art devices. This is a must see gallery where beautiful mechanical inventions are displayed from MB & F’s horological machines to carefully-curated pieces – or, as MB & F like to call them, mechanical art devices – from around the world.

For dinner, we decided to take by my mother’s advice and try the popular restaurant that she loved visiting when she was a student. Charbonnade is a casual dining restaurant where you grill your own meat. Each tables has its own small grill and the menu offers a variety of raw red and white meats and you get to make your own sauce and control your own cooking style. It’s a beautiful and indeed new cooking method to me.

We were lucky that Cartier opened their second biggest boutique in Europe during our stay in Geneva, as this gave us the opportunity to see Italian actress Monica Bulucci in our hotel lobby. This confirmed to us that we had chosen the right hotel.

Mandarin Oriental contains197 spacious guestrooms, including 27 suites with stunning views of Rhone River and Geneva’s old town. Hint: Choose the suites with the river view; the sunrise from your window will take your breath away.

The hotel is located within the heart of the city’s shopping, historic and business districts, making it a walking distance to most touristic destinations.

After crossing chocolate and watches from our list, we had to find the best restaurant that offers cheese fondue, the Swiss delicacy. Les Armore restaurant is known for the best cheese fondue in town, located in the heart of the old town of Geneva in a small cottage look a like restaurant. The restaurant also offers various dishes with a Swiss twist.

One of the beautiful things about this city is that you can visit three countries in one day. Due to its ideal location and international context, Geneva makes it possible for you to live unique experiences, such as a helicopter flight over the Mont-Blanc, enjoy the scenery in the middle of the UNESCO Lavaux or a day trip where you can have breakfast in France, lunch in Italy and dinner in Switzerland.

Email: Rima.almukhtar@arabnews.com

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