Freshwater sailors (and proud of it)

Geneva, like a fish to water

Claude Hervé-Bazin
Genève Tourisme | La Réserve Genève
Summer 2023

Geneva lies between two bodies of water: the usually calm Lake Geneva (or Lac Léman) and the impetuous Rhône River, which absorbs the Arve River as it passes through the city. So it should come as no surprise that water is a way of life for Genevans.

There’s no better way to truly understand Geneva than by setting sail, and one of the easiest ways is to join the local commuters aboard the slender yellow and red mouettes (water taxis). First launched in 1897, they replaced the earlier bateaux-mouches and the slow bateaux à manège, which used a paddle powered by circling horses on the dock (no joke!). Today, these boats link the city’s two riverbanks year-round through four lines running in and out of the bay through Molard, Pâquis, Eaux-Vives, Port-Noir, and Parc de la Perle du Lac. For just 2 Swiss Francs, the 10-12-minute cruise will get you where you need to go. With a Swiss flag flying along the stern, the varnished wood decks, and the long passenger benches with life vests perched overhead, the entire experience is quintessentially Genevan. And in keeping with the times, the mouettes are also solar-powered.

All Aboard

Visitors can also enjoy the water with the CGN (Compagnie Générale de Navigation), celebrating its 150th anniversary, since Geneva is a home port. As warm weather returns, the world’s largest fleet of steamboats reappears, harking back almost a century. Is Hercule Poirot aboard? One would swear it upon seeing the graceful, 78.5-metre-long La Suisse (1910) or Simplon (1920), two of the gems in the city’s fleet of eight vessels. Your eyes are immediately captured by the original engine’s perfectly polished pistons and giant connecting rods — the beating heart of the boat — their tapered bows, Belle Époque dining rooms, and chimneys that shoot white steam into the sky. These are Europe’s most powerful steam-powered machines, which announce their departure with a single toooot. Enjoy views of the Jardin Anglais, luxurious villas, the south-facing banks of the Petit-Lac, and hundreds of shades of blue and grey in the water. You may even wish to prolong your journey all the way to Lausanne, via the charming medieval French village of Yvoire.

Pearls of the Lake

There is public and private; the run-of-the-mill and the exclusive; travel by road and travel by boat. For the latter, La Réserve’s chic, all wood motoscafo (speedboat) is available for distinguished guests dining or staying at the 5-star hotel. The boat runs from Quai Fleuri from early Mai to mid-September (reservation required).

Looking for something more unexpected? How about a solar cruise aboard the Floatinn? This small, sun-powered boat travels slowly and offers expeditions ranging from a few hours to a few days. Up to five people can sleep, cook, and even shower onboard. From November to March, outside of navigation season, the same company opens a B&B aboard their large catamaran Juusan, which is docked in Eaux-Vives and boasts six cabins. You’ll get your sea legs in Geneva in no time!