Relaxing on Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)

Paddle Steamer with the Jet d'Eau in the Background

We are having unseasonably warm weather here in France and a good part of Europe in general right now.  The kind of weather that makes you want to put aside all of your good intentions and mammoth to-do list and just get out and enjoy yourself.  Why not go and visit a good friend?  I lived in Geneva, Switzerland for several years and have been wanting to get back for a visit for some time.  Thanks to low-cost airlines, we can now fly to Geneva for less than it would cost us to drive to the south of France!  With friends and free accommodation, a taste of Switzerland was just what we needed.

Sail Away

While there are plenty of things to see and do in Geneva, we just wanted to catch up and relax.  A cruise on the Lac Léman seemed the perfect solution!  The Compagnie Générale de Navigation sur le lac Lémam or CGN as it is more commonly referred to, owns and operates several turn of the century paddle steam boats on the lake.  While they also operate modern commuter boats, it’s the giant paddle boats that make for neat memories.  You buy your tickets and board the boat on the waterfront along the Quai du Mont-Blanc in Pâquis.  This is one time you should splurge–buy first class tickets for your journey!  First class passengers have the upper deck to themselves and, more importantly, can sit outside under the shade of the deck awning.  Even with sunblock, I burn easily and am wary of getting too much sun.  Second class passengers can also sit outside on their deck but there is no shade.  Indoor seating is available but it is just that–indoor–and the whole point of the cruise for me is to enjoy a little fresh air while watching the world float by.  Refreshments are available on board, however, you can also bring a picnic with you.

Belle Epoque Beauty

Admire the Jet d’Eau while you wait for the boat to arrive.  The Jet d’eau is one of the Geneva’s symbols and one of the world’s biggest fountains shooting water up to 140 meters into the air.  If you’re feeling brave (and aren’t afraid to get a little wet), you can walk out the stone jetty where the fountain is located to get a closer look during your stay in the city.  When you’ve finished your cruise, go to Les Bains de Pâquis, the swimming spot a little further down the Quai and enjoy a light meal.  The food is simple but the view is superb; you get to dine with the fountain and the Salève (the mountain behind the city) for a background!  If you’re visiting in the winter time, this is where I love to eat fondue in the evening.

The Engines at Work

We took the Savoie, a paddle-steamer, commissioned in 1914, from Geneva to Yvoire (France).  We weren’t the only people taking advantage of the weather–according to the CGN’s website over 5,500 people went sailing with them this past weekend!  It take slightly over 1.5 hours to go from Geneva to Yvoire.  If you prefer a shorter cruise, you can sail directly from Nyon to Yvoire.  Make sure you go inside for just a few minutes to watch the engines turn!  My photo doesn’t do them justice.  The sheer size and power of the machinery is worth seeing in person.  The engines date to the ship’s launch in 1914; Swiss quality at work!

The Savoie took us to Yvoire, a cute village on the French side of the lake.  I’m almost tempted to call it a tourist trap but it does make for a nice cruise destination.  Yvoire is a lovingly conserved medieval village and is consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful French villages.  Flowers everywhere, cute little stores, quaint cafés, and postcard views greet you as you stroll around.  It’s lovely but it feels a bit too “perfect” to me.  I wouldn’t spend any money visiting sites here–walk around, enjoy the views, have tea and then head back to Geneva on the boat.

Getting Ready to Dock

While there is nothing cheap about travel within Switzerland be it by tram, train, bus or boat, you do get what you pay for–it’s clean, safe, systematically on-time and (almost never) on strike.  In all my time in Switzerland I experienced only one strike and it was on a cantonal level.  Unfortunately, public transportation and strikes seem to go hand in hand here.  The CGN and Swiss Rail system use the same rebates/pricing system.  All the information here is thus accurate should you want to buy a train ticket.  Children under 6 sail/ride for free with a paying adult; older children (6-16) pay half fare.  If you live in Switzerland and have a Demi-Tarif card (Half-Tarif card), you can use it with the CGN as well.  If you are planning to stay in Switzerland for any serious length of time, the Half-Tarif card is well worth your money.  As its name suggests, the Half-Tariff card lets you buy all tickets for half their normal value for the entire Swiss public transport network.  The card exists in a yearly format (1,2, or 3 years) for residents, however, there is also a month-long card aimed at tourists.  The month-long card currently costs 110 CHF (aprox. 91€)–think about what you want to see and do the math!  While spontaneity is a necessary ingredient of any vacation for us, I also like to have a basic idea of what I want to see, where I want to go, and how much we have to spend going in.  Enjoy the weather!  We’re counting down the days until our next boat ride….

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