Staying in Geneva but looking for some nice day trips outside the city? Check out my top 3 day trips from Geneva, Switzerland – Lavaux, Gruyeres and Annecy. I recently went on a trip to Switzerland and in my last blog post on what do in Switzerland for 7 Days, I talk about all the places you need to see and things you need to do while you’re there. In that post, I mentioned that I didn’t love Geneva – it was like any other big city I’ve ever been to. Buuuuuuut I’m so glad we went there because it was a great home base for some AMAZING day trips outside of the city. So if you ever find yourself bored in Geneva, you must take the train, bus or drive to these 3 spectacular little towns.
Lavaux RegionI’ve never been to the South of France but I would imagine that it looks something like the wine region of Lavaux. The Lavaux vineyard terraces stretch over 18 miles along the coast of Lake Geneva. Picture 10,000 terraces of vines with a lake and mountains in the distance. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. No wonder it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. If you’re taking the train from Geneva, take it to Lausanne and then to Cully (about 1 hour travel time). Hike from Cully to Rivaz (about 1 hour or longer if you stop to take pictures every few minutes like we did). There are wineries along the way but they don’t open until 5pm on the weekdays so don’t be prepared to drink and hike if you visit M-F. Saturday is a different story though – most of the wineries are open all day.
But why venture all the way to Lavaux if you’re not going to sample the local wine? Have no fear. The Vinorama tasting room is here. Located in Rivaz, this tasting room is a great spot to sample multiple wineries. Its located next to a beautiful waterfall and the building itself is integrated into a rehabilitated natural site. The bar inside is intimate and cozy and is the perfect retreat if it decides to start raining while you’re hiking :). Before you sit down to sip some wine, be sure to watch the award-winning documentary film that they play in their viewing room, The Winemaker’s Year. They show it in 8 different languages and it is mind blowing just how much work goes into wine making each and every season. There is always work to be done.
Vinorama offers a few different tasting options as well as bread, cheese and charcuterie boards to pair with the wine. We had such a nice leisurely afternoon here – it’s a great spot to play the “European take your time card” and slowly savor your wine and cheese.
Gruyeres If I had to describe Gruyeres in one phrase it would be the magical fairytale land where all your cheese and chocolate dreams come true. We read mixed reviews of Gruyeres online, some saying it was a very small town with not much to do and that it wasn’t worth the visit. I’m here to set the record straight that Gruyeres IS worth the trip because it is such a small, adorable, quintessential, picturesque Swiss town where they produce…wait for it…Gruyere cheese!! You can be sure to find many cheese and chocolate shops in Gruyeres and the neighboring towns.
The medieval town of Gruyeres sits on top of a 270 foot hill overlooking the Saane valley and the Lake of Gruyere.
When in Gruyeres, be sure to stop at the Gruyeres Castle, which was constructed in the 1200s.
And check out the awesome views from the castle.
Have fondue or raclette for lunch because you are in the magical land of cheese!
And if you’re looking to taste “the best fondue in Switzerland” according to the Wall Street Journal, head over to Le Chalet. They have a cute little terrace next door so you can eat al fresco if the weather is nice. Truth be told, I thought the fondue I had in Murren was better but it was still very good.
And then if you’re in the mood to be weirded out and creeped out while indulging in a libation, head on over to the HR Giger Bar. Because nothing says an old cheese town in Switzerland like a creepy skeleton bar inspired by the guy who designed the alien for the movie Alien. So. Random. In their defense, HR Giger was Swiss…so I guess there’s that?
La Maison du Gruyeres and catch a cheese making demo! Anywhere between 4,000 and 7,000 wheels of Gruyere AOP mature in these cellars at 53-64 degrees F and 92% humidity. These 77 lb wheels of cheese are brushed with a mixture of water and salt and turned over every day for the first 10 days, then 3x per week for the following two weeks, then 2x per week for the next three months and once a week until ready for sale.
The flavor and texture of Gruyere cheese in dependent on how long its been aged. Gruyere aged 5-6 months is mild and soft whereas Gruyere aged 9-10 months is considered mature and has a stronger flavor and harder texture.
Grueyere cheese is produced in 53 small mountain pastures in the Alps and the Jura during summer. Its unique aroma is a result of the wide variety of grasses and plants growing in the mountain pastures.
There are 170 village cheese makers who produce AOP Gruyere cheese throughout the year. Its production is reliant on the 2,220 milk producers who deliver 345,000 million liters of milk, translating to 870,000 wheels of cheese.
Located in southeast France where the Thiou River meets Lake Annecy, the town of Annecy is known for its old town with cobblestone streets, winding canals and pastel-colored buildings.
To get from Geneva to Annecy, you should take the bus (13 or 14 euro each way), which is about an hour ride each way. You can buy your tickets ahead of time here. I spent one night in Annecy but you could easily do a day trip here. If you’re traveling on a budget, stay at the Hotel de Savoie. It’s a no frills, old hotel with small rooms and teeny tiny bathrooms, but IMO you can stay anywhere for one night. The owner of the hotel was very nice and helpful too. Plus, you couldn’t ask for a more central location – it’s right in the center of old town and only a few minute walk to the lake.
The old town of Annecy was bustling while I was there, most likely because it was a holiday weekend for the French. At times the streets felt a little too crowded but then I just retreated to the gorgeous lake for more space and tranquility.Also, make sure you stop at Boulangerie Rouge, one of the best bakeries in Annecy, before heading to the lake. Because nothing says a picnic by the lake like pastries! While you’re exploring the old town of Annecy, be sure to make your way up the hill to visit the Castle, which was a residency of the Counts of Geneva in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was abandoned as a residency in the 17th century and then used as military barracks until 1947.
And if you’re up for more walking, make your way even higher above the city to the Visitation Basilica. Built between 1900 and 1930, it was consecrated by the Cardinal in 1949. If you visit, make sure to check the visiting hours beforehand. In the summer, they are open from 7am-12pm and then 2pm-7pm. Of course, I got there around 12:30pm and missed out on walking inside.
If you’re looking for fondue or raclette, visit Le Freti. I had enough fondue in Switzerland but I hadn’t tried raclette yet. The word raclette is derived from the word racler, meaning “to scrape.” And that’s exactly what you do with raclette, you scrape the melted part of the cheese away from the hard part to eat. This tradition originated in Switzerland over an open fire but today restaurants use “raclette grills” or “hot plates” to melt the cheese. When I was in Ireland last year, I had raclette for the first time at a farmer’s market but they actually heated the wheel of cheese over an open fire so it got crispy and bubbly. The hot plate/grill doesn’t have quite the same effect. The cheese is still delicious but it doesn’t get crispy at all.
I also ordered a glass of kir, which we saw locals drinking on our first night in Switzerland. It’s an appertif made with creme de cassis (black currant liquor) and white wine. It was refreshing and sweet, but not too sweet.
The other thing I learned about eating in Annecy on a Saturday night is you need to make reservations ahead of time. Most of the nicer restaurants only serve dinner for a two hour period, from 7:30-9:30pm so all of the restaurants I wanted to try had a sign on the door, which I soon learned meant “full tonight”. But luckily, I finally made it to a recommended restaurant, Une Autre Histoire, that had a table for me outside. The menu here changes daily but is always a good deal. An appetizer, entree and dessert will run you about 30 to 35 euros.
I started with a salmon tartare with fresh dill and chives that was to die for.
Then I tried the seared scallops with lemongrass broth and scallion rice.
And to cap off the evening, I had a delicious banana tiramisu.
As you can see, there is plenty to do and see right outside of Geneva. It’s a great home base for lots of little day trips.
Stay tuned for one more blog post from my trip, what do in Lisbon on a six hour layover!
And if you missed my last post, be sure to check out what to do in Switzerland for 7 days!
Tell me, have you ever been to Lavaux, Gruyeres or Annecy?