When in Geneva, nothing beats a visit to Greenwich Village in the district of Carouge, writes David Bowden
WHILE most of us know it as Geneva, in French-speaking Switzerland (where the lakeside city is located), it is known as Geneve to the locals.
Everyone loves to shop in an open-air market and every Saturday the preferred market in Geneve is in the district of Carouge, just out of the city centre and across the Arve River.
Once a separate town, the city’s expansion has created an urban sprawl that has engulfed the township but its French-Italian architecture has survived to create a unique community that’s different to other precincts in the city.
While the area has been settled for centuries, it underwent a Renaissance in the 18th century when it was basically rebuilt by the Turin-based Dukes of Savoy in order to rival neighbouring Geneve on the other side of the river.
Carouge has always had a Bohemian feel to it and has earned the reputation as the Greenwich Village of Geneve.
It’s well worth a visit and spending half a day here especially when the market is in full flight along the Rue du Marche (Market Street) in the middle of this suburban enclave.
TO THE MARKET
As I head by tram to Carouge on a mid-Saturday morning, I catch a glimpse of an iconic Geneve sight.
There are several historic Belle Epoque paddle steamers that cruise on Lake Geneve (or Lac Leman to the locals) with a lunch cruise being one of the most pleasant ways to appreciate much of what the lake has to offer.
Another popular cruise is to travel from Geneve in the westernmost part of the lake along what is known as the Swiss Riviera which extends eastward to Montreux.
Maybe it’s Geneve’s location near the lake but there is a Mediterranean atmosphere here especially in summer.
In the distance, I admire Mount Saleve which rises above the city and the lake and demarcates the border with neighbouring France.
Upon arriving in Carouge, visitors need to delve deeply past the façades of modernity but there are expressions of a Sardinian heritage in the architecture.
In the mid-19th century, the Dukes of Savoy controlled parts of present-day Switzerland, Italy and France as well as the Italian island of Sardinia.
An important philosophy of the House of Savoy was openness and towns without walls and this extended to creating towns that were meant as homes for all people to settle.
Sardinia’s architects worked in the Italianate style with the Eglise Sainte-Croix (Holy Cross Church) at the top of Rue du Marche being a landmark feature along with the fountain in the middle of the market place.
Perhaps it is this openness that ensures Courage is still to this day a place for all people. The traders who set up along the Rue du Marche confirm this. People of all nationalities and religious persuasions appear to operate here with a range of items on sale sourced from many parts of Europe and northern Africa.
This multiculturalism is reflected in much of the produce on sale including plump olives from Spain, nuts for Turkey, dried fruit from Tunisia, spices from Asia and fresh locally-grown purple garlic.
There is also specialist organic tea available from the Taiwan highlands. One of my favourite stalls is a macaroon seller. Everyone loves a sweet macaroon but the ones I sample and purchase are savoury with a foie gras style. A real treat.
I chat with a Palestinian trader and a woman from the Cameroons (who is selling some amazingly colourful clothing from her home country). People are out in the sun, sipping coffee, chatting, reading and the children are playing a game on the pavement in front of the community’s local cinema called Cinema Bio.
TO THE STREETS AND COURTYARDS
As interesting the markets are, it isn’t until I venture down a side street named Rue Saint-Joseph that I discovere lots of little shops and boutiques. Some of them have cosy inner courtyards, installed when the houses were initially built.
Some are cafes with two of the most impressive being Wolfisberg Patisserie and Cafe du Marche extending out onto the pavement to make the most of the summer sunshine.
The patisserie is a thriving trade in its breads and pastries while other patrons are enjoying brunch of pancakes, fresh juices, bircher muesli and eggs with bacon or salmon.
It would be impossible to be in Switzerland and not indulge on chocolates, with Rue Saint-Joseph being home to two artisanal chocolatiers in Patisserie Mr and Mrs Renou and Chocolat Pascoet Chocolat.
The former is the new kid on the block and garner a lot of attention.
Christophe and Vanessa Renou only opened a few weeks ago so I am one of the first. Vanessa calls herself a sensory analyst while other recognise Christophe as one of the smartest people around pastries (he was recognised as the France’s best chocolate confectioner in 2015).
The shop isn’t big but it makes this up with one of the most tempting selections of pastries, pralines, cakes, tarts and individual and block chocolates that will impress chocolate lovers.
The lemon meringue of death is rich and flavoursome but not that rich as I survive.
Another artisanal shop is nearby and sells every conceivable tea and tea product known to the world.
Betjeman and Barton Tea Shop is a treasure-trove of tea paraphernalia and there’s always a sample of an exotic tea available at the counter.
I’ve also heard about wines being produced in the region and along the famous Lavaux terraces near Montreux. I wander into 19eme Cave a Bieres to inspect the shelves.
Striking up a conversation with the staff and with them discovering my interest in all things wines, bottles are produced and samples are consumed — for research purposes only, you understand.
Being summer, it is only fitting that time is spent relaxing in the brilliant sunshine so I join the happy patrons of Gelato Mania to savour the delights of pineapple and basil ice cream accompanied by another scoop of creamy pepper, orange and wasabi.
How to get there
SWISS (www.swiss.com) flies from Singapore to Zurich with connecting flights from Kuala Lumpur on partner airlines. Geneve is just three hours by train from Zurich and many Swiss people and tourists travel by train. Buy a Swiss Travel Pass (www.SwissTravelSystem.com) online to gain access to most Swiss trains, buses and ferries. Passes can be purchased for periods varying from three days to several weeks and offer substantial savings on single tickets. The pass provides access to Carouge on inner city Genève trams number 12, 15 and 18 plus bus number 4.
Where to Stay
Hotel Auteuil on Rue de Lausanne (www.hotelauteuilgeneva.com) is a centrally-located four-star, design hotel just 10 minute’s walk from Geneva Railway Station and a 15-minute bus ride to Carouge Market.
Switzerland Tourism (www.MySwitzerland.com).
PICTURES BY David Bowden