With little compass other than our appetites, we of course enlisted Caitlin, Cody’s world-traveling sister and current resident of Geneva, to plan our five days in Switzerland. And plan, she did. While we weren’t able to completely keep up with her impressive itinerary, we were met with a lovely welcome to the land that flows with fine chocolate and gruyere cheese.
Just here for the food? You can jump to the food scoop here.
We arrived around 11 in the morning after a quick flight from Paris (more on that later), dropped our bags off at the apartment, freshened up and stepped out of the building and into a walking tour of the city, led by James, Caitlin’s boyfriend. Through Parc des Bastions, James showed us where various events from local music festivals to a festive Christmas market take place. Past the Reformation Wall, a life-sized game of chess and the Museum of Art and History, we soon found ourselves treading uphill to charming Old Town Geneva, where a long row of benches acts as a front row seat to the city.
Our tour landed along Bains des Pâquis, a jetty of sorts where locals can soak up the sun in the summer or rendezvous for fondue at La Buvette during the winter. That day in April, rain was drizzling, and no swimming was going to happen, other than the fluffy pieces of bread, meat, pickled pearl onions and cornichons into the bubbling vat of gruyere and vacherin fondue melted down with crémant. Accompanied by a Swiss gamay, fondue for four is what we ordered and for 23 francs per person, it was worth the splurge. (Fun fact: The Swiss consume most of the wine they produce, with only around 1–2 percent being exported, so it was a treat to be able to enjoy this local wine while there.) Walking into the room, there were rows of turquoise community tables overlooking Lake Geneva; the funky, yet alluring, stench of fondue hit me, but I embraced it anyway. As if the fondue itself wasn’t enough, once we got to the bottom, the waiter came by our table to scrape off the crispy, cheesy bits ensuring every last bit was feasted upon.
Blissfully full, we stopped by the farmers market, Marché de Plainpalais, where James carefully picked out the ingredients for his beef bourguignon. A bed of fluffy mashed potatoes beneath tender braised beef and vegetables, many Negronis and glasses of wine later, ‘twas the warmest welcome to Switzerland.
Many a mountain and lots of bubbly
We took the next day easy, strolling Geneva and shopping, still easing into the time change and Cody’s back injury he acquired during travel. The following day, we rented a car and headed to the seemingly endless mountainous backdrop of Saint Gervais, where James owns an apartment. Chic and cozy, he’d gutted out the studio and renovated it himself with an Ikea kitchenette, wet bath and loft bunk bed. Our favorite part? The patio—perfect for dining al fresco amid the French alps. Suffice it to say, Cody and I went a little bananas in their supermarket with multiple bottles of champagne (Side note 1: It’s so incredibly affordable. Side note 2: Hey, we were trying to redeem ourselves from the last trip when we left several bottles of champagne from Champagne on a train in 2017.). Accompanied by a homemade platter of the creamiest cheese and charcuterie, we spent the remainder of our afternoon and evening soaking up this sunny, spring day in Saint Gervais.
When we reached our cheese apex
Don’t travel with cheese; just eat it.
The next morning we stopped in the quaint ski town of Chamonix for espresso; then we were off to La Maison du Gruyère, or gruyere cheese factory, a roughly two-hour drive north of Saint Gervais. Narrated by a jubilant speaking cow via our headphones, she guided us through the intricate process to what we know and love as gruyere cheese. It was fascinating watching how cheese was made, churned, pressed, marked and prepared before it’s brined, matured and aged in cellars for up to 24 months! After our tour, we ordered fondue comprised of 100 percent gruyere; but truthfully, the fondue from La Buvette ruined us, and we preferred it over the factory cafe. With little time to spare as we had to return the rental car, we swooped into the Cailler chocolate factory to pick up some chocolate bars for ourselves . . . and for family as souvenirs (Caitlin highly recommends the tour as you get samples throughout!). That evening, we had some good family time out on the patio watching the sun set over Geneva while Cody whipped up his carbonara.
Our Final Day in Geneva
Strolling around the city and yes, more cheese
On our final day in Geneva, we gallivanted around the city, stopping for drinks at Cottage Café, then rode the water taxi across the lake back to La Buvette. It wasn’t fondue hour at the time (FYI there are designated fondue times; see more info below), but we were ok with it as Cody recalls reaching his pinnacle of cheese consumption at the gruyere factory. Yes, apparently there is such a thing! In a sort of vacation haze, we instinctively ordered some wine and a cheese plate for lunch—what were we thinking—then returned to the apartment to freshen up for dinner.
At Café du Bourg-De-Four, an intimate Parisian eatery set in Old Town, Caitlin and James highly recommended the steak and rösti. So we followed their lead and did not look back. The wonderfully juicy steak was served with a delicious rösti, a classic Swiss dish (think perfectly crispy and tender potato pancake), the meal was the quintessential dinner to send us back to Paris for the final days of our trip.
As a final word of advice, don’t travel with cheese. Just eat it. I can’t tell you how many times we ordered too big of a cheese plate or bought too much cheese because we were in cheese heaven at the supermarkets. Cheese autopilot is a thing! Cheese treasure turned into leftover cheese, which turned into car cheese (or plane cheese). At that point, we had to decide whether or not we should eat it or trash it. I’m reluctant to report we did our fair share of both. Suffice it to say we didn’t even want to look at a piece of cheese on our final days in Paris. Just buy the cheese you can consume, and don’t buy more (unless you can leave it with relatives who will cook it down into a delicious fondue).
The Food Scoop
the skinny on all the food we ate
top left to right: fondue from La Buvette des Bains, dinner at Café du Bourg-De-Four, the farmers market in Geneva; bottom left to right: meat and pickle platter from La Buvette, Cody at the gruyere factory, one of the many bottles we picked up from the supermarket outside of Saint Gervais
Café du Bourg-De-Four — A quaint, classic cafe in Old Town Geneva. We ordered the steak and rosti (which is a traditional Swiss potato dish) accompanied by some fancy sauces and a round of aperol spritzes.
Cottage Café — Lounge at this lovely spot to grab an aperitif, coffee or light dinner with a view of the Brunswick Monument overlooking the lake.
Intermarché Super — Not necessarily a food destination to cross off your list, but this is just a tip to visit the local supermarket in Domancy to stock up since it’s much larger compared to the markets in Saint Gervais. This is where we got all of our champagne, campari and cheese.
La Buvette des Bains — Get the fondue, pickles and meat plate, and order a bottle of Swiss wine. Certainly order extra bread for all the cheese. Note that you can only fondue from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then again from 6–10:30 p.m. during the winter and spring months. If you’re not in the fondue mood, they also offer a full menu with soup, oysters, salad, entrees and dessert. Just make sure to bring cash as it’s cash-only, and there’s not an ATM close by.
La Maison du Gruyère — If you love cheese (is that even worth asking?), then touring the gruyere cheese factory is a must! Learn about the whole process from the cow’s diet to the aging process, then see cheesemakers at work. At the end of the tour, you can view what seems like endless rows of cheese wheels aging on shelves. They also have a cafe where a full menu is available, including fondue, of course.
Maison Cailler — Though we did not get to go through the actual tour, Caitlin highly recommends touring the Cailler chocolate factory as you get to try plenty of chocolate along the way! If you don’t have time for the tour, there’s a chocolate cafe inside and plenty of sweet souvenirs available for purchase.
Marché de Plainpalais — Stop by the largest farmers market in Geneva flowing with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, poultry, meats, wine and handmade goods. Most places are closed on Sunday, but the market is a great place to linger for breakfast, lunch or a glass of wine as we did. Market hours are Tuesday and Friday, from 6:30 a.m. until around 2 p.m. with Sunday open all day from 8:30 a.m. until about 6 p.m.