Around Geneva
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Genevese countryside (©_OTG)

If you’re on an unhurried visit, there’s plenty of opportunity to get out into the beautiful countryside of Canton Geneva, Switzerland’s smallest. The tourist office brochure Sites naturels et cours d’eau de la campagne genevoise features eight two- or three-hour walks in the Genevese countryside, easily manageable from the city itself, but it’s also simple to strike out alone and discover bucolic villages, châteaux, views of the mountains or the lake for yourself. In general, the slopes of the Rive Droite (north bank) are winegrowing territory, those of the Rive Gauche (south bank) devoted to farmland. Public transport of all kinds – from boats to buses – extends to every corner, but you’d do just as well renting a bike or on foot.

As well as the nearest high mountain to Geneva, Mont Salève, which is a perfect place for sunshine when the lake is foggy, the Rive Gauche village of Cologny is worth a jaunt, both for its atmosphere and ease of access. In an entirely different vein, CERN, Europe’s leading particle physics laboratory and the place where the World Wide Web was born, straddles the French border at Meyrin to the northwest.

Mont Salève
First ridge of the Alps rising southeast of Geneva is Mont Salève (1380m), the Genevois’ principal retreat into nature, with wide-open countryside for walking or skiing, and views over the city, the whole canton and the Jura hills opposite. There are footpaths galore on top (which become cross-country skiing trails in winter), both through woodland and, higher up, across expansive green meadows dotted with wildflowers in season. In contrast to the sheer face presented to Geneva, the other, southern side of the mountain is a gentle slope, looking out onto Mont Blanc and the Savoy Alps.

Bear in mind that Salève is actually in France, so if you’re going to need a visa (either to get into France, or to get back into Switzerland), you’ll probably do best to give it a miss. Bus #8 terminates on the border at Veyrier, from where it’s a short walk through customs to the cable-car, which rises to a crest of the ridge (Fr.15 return).

Cologny and Hermance
The Rive Gauche lakeside slopes, all the way from Geneva to the French border, are dotted with peaceful, attractive villages that can offer some of the most beautiful and relaxing walking in the vicinity. The first of these, COLOGNY, some 6km northeast of Geneva, has long been known as an exclusive and somewhat refined suburb, and the difference from Geneva is striking, with country lanes weaving between fields and open woods, and many large detached houses set back behind walls. From central Geneva, you can either follow the Rive Gauche road past the Parc des Eaux-Vives, and take a turn-off to the right, Rampe de Cologny, up the hillside into the village; or grab bus #A, which takes a different route through Frontenex up to Cologny, remaining within Zone 10.

Byron wrote the third canto of Childe Harold in 1816 while staying in Cologny at the Villa Deodati at 9 Chemin de Ruth, and waxed lyrical about the rarity of seeing Mont Blanc reflected in the lake from up here. Milton, too, came visiting in 1639. If you follow Chemin de Ruth north, you’ll come to the district of Montalègre, and the Maison Chapuis, where Shelley and Clairmont stayed in 1816 with Mary Godwin, who began writing Frankenstein here. The association with fame has stayed rock solid over the centuries, and Cologny has its fair share of resident big-names, including Isabelle Adjani, Charles Aznavour, various sheikhs and Petula Clark. True to form, the tourist office has obligingly dubbed the place the “Beverly Hills of Geneva”.

Cologny also has an esoteric museum attraction, the Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, at 19 Route de Guignard next to the bus stop (Thurs 2–6pm, also first Tues in month 6–8pm; Fr.5). One of the greatest private libraries ever assembled, it takes in 160,000 works of literature, many of unique historical value, including illuminated medieval manuscripts, one of the few copies of the Gutenberg Bible and the oldest surviving text of the Gospel of St John.

Some 10km further along the lakeshore on a minor road, the tiny village of HERMANCE, last before you cross into France and reachable on bus #E (or summertime boats), is even more tranquil, with a gorgeous lakeside location, remnants of its thirteenth-century walls and many medieval houses. Its charming Auberge d’Hermance, at 12 Rue du Midi, has five cosy and attractive rooms, and is also celebrated for its French cuisine (022/751 1368, fax 751 16 31, auberge.dhermance@infomaniak.ch, www.kis.ch/hermance; c).

Northwest of Geneva, the suburbs dribble on either side of the main autoroute to Lyon, beyond the airport to the French border at Meyrin. The only reason to come out here – aside from possibly catching a concert at the huge Forumeyrin – is to visit the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, known by its old initials of CERN (022/767 84 84, www.cern.ch/public; bus #9). This awe-inspiring place is one of the world’s largest scientific laboratories, dedicated to pure research into the tiniest building-blocks of nature. A joint venture by a welter of European countries, which between them provide the near-Fr.1 billion annual budget, it’s truly international, with scientists from eighty countries conducting mammoth months- or years-long experiments. CERN’s – and the world’s – largest particle accelerator, a circular tunnel around which electrons are fired at just under the speed of light to see what happens when they hit their antimatter counterparts, is an incredible 27km around, buried 100m below the French-Swiss border here.

CERN has an exceptionally well-organized public visits office, which runs regular free tours of the entire site (Mon–Sat 9am & 2pm; 3hr), for which you should book ahead; if you visit between October and March, you’ll also get to stand inside the accelerator tunnel (it’s switched off in winter). There’s also a less engaging schools-oriented exhibition, Microcosm, explaining some of the work at the centre (Mon–Sat 9am–5pm; free) and providing free Internet access. It was a scientist working at CERN in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, who began to realize the limitations of the data-only Internet at that time, and the need for electronic transmission of texts, images and references to other data files; to fill the gap, he created the World Wide Web. CERN’s website is suitably encyclopedic on this and other matters.

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