28 March 2017
Words / Images: Sarah Freeman
Once an open pasture for grazing cattle and part of the town of Petit-Saconnex, Pâquis is now one of Geneva’s foremost bohemian and eclectic neighbourhoods. Over a century later, there are still a few green pockets such as Parc Beaulieu and Parc des Cropettes but no cows roam its picturesque streets. The district, or quartier, is now firmly rooted within the city parameters, bordered by Parc Mon Repos and Lac Leman, Rue des Alpes and Rue de Lausanne.
Pâquis is defined by two key areas, which juxtapose grittiness and wealth. The older area (the shabby) begins near the train station, while its manicured, moneyed area (the chic) flanks the waterfront. The lake’s history of luxury travel started when distinguished families would build their summer villas on its banks. Now, grand dames like Hotel D’Angleterre, historic President Wilson and Beau Rivage keep up appearances. Best explored on foot, you can stroll the length of the promenade – beginning at Pont du Mont Blanc and continuing to the Park Mon Repos – taking in flower gardens, notable statues like the Brunswick monument and lakeside sculptures along the way.
To soak up the district’s more bohemian character, you’ll need to head to the bustling labyrinth of streets wedged behind the city’s glitzy waterfront. And make sure you bring an appetite. This area is a hub for ethnic cuisine where you can graze on just about anything from Moroccan tagine to Spanish tapas, Lebanese mezze to Senegalese fare. Fast food joints selling tacos, Turkish kebabs and falafel are ten-a-penny, as are shisha cafes, which take up residence on Rue de Monthoux. If you walk far enough, you’ll find a plethora of antique dealers, trinket shops, second-hand book stores, vintage stores and lively bistros to explore. Sometimes, however, you just want to sit in the sun and relax. Pâquis is good for that, too.
The brainchild of former human rights and counter-trafficking worker Giji Gya, and luxury brand connoisseur Christophe, Downtown is the place to go for high-end vintage threads in the city. Promoters of slow fashion, the philanthropic duo are committed to working with brands with traceability, and the majority of their 1,500 items are certified as fair trade.
You can shop up a socially responsible storm with Veja sneakers made from natural Brazilian rubber, organic cotton Nudie jeans (that adhere to strict codes of ethical manufacturing) and Scandinavian brand Filippa K, which recycles everything from its tags to transit bags. Next door, sister shop Uptown is overflowing with pre-loved designer goods. Sift through Aussie-born Gigi’s carefully curated rails for second-hand steals like an Hermès electric blue toolbox bag, a vintage Valentino 1970s yellow silk dress and a Chanel rose tweed jacket.
Rue de Monthoux 32
Tel: +41 22 364 62 56
Also in the area...
Once a luxury hotel and now an emblem of peace, this historic waterfront building is the office of the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights.
Rue des Pâquis 52
This vast two-floor tri-space bar, restaurant and club is a magnet for the young and trendy. Don’t be fooled by its gingham tablecloths or open pizza kitchen that flank the entrance. This is not your average cosy Italian joint. A mash-up of retro ’50s furnishings, industrial decor and enormous disco balls, the interior is as eclectic as the music it plays, which span the genres from funk to folk. There’s even a piano in the unisex toilets, should you get the urge.
The former tinsmithing workshop has two resident DJs, live music at the weekends and also hosts regular art exhibitions. Its straightforward Mediterranean plates of pasta, salads, bruschetta and tapas are best washed down with a glass of the local vintage, harvested from the banks of Lake Geneva. Alternatively, dive into the never-ending cocktail list before throwing some shapes on the subterranean dance floor.
Rue de Lausanne 24, 1201 Genève
Tel: +41 22 731 83 73
Also in the area...
Sainte Trinité Church
This pink granite, spherical church is just as striking inside as outside, with 12 multi-coloured windows illuminating its retro-futuristic interior.
Rue Ferrier 16
Tel: +41 22 732 79 25
Behind the elegant, listed facade of this five-star boutique (which dates back to 1872) is an exuberant interior almost as impressive as the superlative lake views. The hotel’s 39 individually designed rooms and six suites are an eclectic mix of English manor house decor and Louis XV, peppered with antique furniture. Original artworks by the likes of Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall and Georges Braque grace the walls, while bespoke leopard-print carpets pay homage to the South African owners’ heritage.
Art lovers shouldn’t miss Sem’s belle epoque Parisian caricatures in the first floor’s Petit Salon. Sip on vintage South African reds (bottled at the owner’s vineyard, no less) in the hotel’s award-winning Windows restaurant, then head for a whisky tasting in the colonial-style basement bar, Leopard. The Out of Africa styling is reinforced by animal hide chairs, safari etchings and lifesize bronze leopard statues.
Quai du Mont-Blanc 17
Tel:+41 22 906 55 55
Also in the area...
Get an alfresco art fix, views of Mont Blanc and a waterside stroll in one hit with Artgenève’s collection of contemporary sculptures that straddle the lake shores.
Quai Président Wilson and Quai du Mont-Blanc
Tel:+41 22 761 11 1