City Guide: Geneva

For the first time in its 27-year history, the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie has opened its doors to the general public, welcoming watch lovers from around the world to come and view the latest timepieces from the Richemont Group, Kering, and a growing list of upmarket independent watchmakers.

Geneva has long been the epicenter of the horology world, with many of the preeminent brands claiming the city as their home. Its idyllic setting at the junction of two rivers—the azure Rhône and the silty, mocha-hued Arve—on the banks of Lake Geneva, and in the shadow of the snow-topped Alps, is quintessential Switzerland. The classic fondue restaurants and chocolatiers are still there, as are the grand hotels. Yes, there are a few new surprises too, but this European metropolis preserves an enduring timelessness—an unexpected quality for a place obsessed with time.

Geneva is endowed with a watch culture that could only grow up in a place where timepieces are a central part of the economy. (It starts at the airport where visitors are bombarded with ad after ad from the industry’s leading brands.) In recent years, a new generation of horological entrepreneurs have made their mark on Geneva, opening establishments like Roy and Sacha Davidoff and the MAD Gallery, breathing fresh life into a city with a reputation for quiet conservatism. Here, we present those venues and more of the best places for collectors to stay, eat, play, and shop on their next Genevan jaunt. – Jon Bues


Aerial view of outside Geneva

Play: La Bottega

By: Logan R. Baker

Switzerland’s love affair with Italian cuisine hit an unprecedented high last year after five-month old La Bottega was awarded a coveted Michelin star. The restaurant, launched by two young chefs, Paulo Airaudo and Francesco Gasbarro, has quickly become the most sought-after meal in town. Its success even encouraged the duo to move the restaurant to a larger location at the base of the ramparts in Old Town. (The former space now houses their new concept, L’Osteria.) La Bottega has made its mark by breaking away from traditional Italian staples and introducing new flavor profiles and cooking methods into dishes such as “liquid pizza,” tomato juice served in a shot glass and garnished with olive oil, dried oregano, fried bread crumbs, and a mozzarella cube; or Japanese persimmon atop Iberico pork pluma. A substantial European-focused list of over 200 wines will satisfy even the most particular of oenophiles. For a look at the restaurant’s artful plating, order the tiramisu, which arrives bedecked in colorful flower petals.

Dining Room at La Bottega
Dining Room at La Bottega

21 Rue de la Corraterie;
Tasting menu from $50 per person. 

Stay: Four Seasons Hotel Des Bergues Geneva

By: Radhika Rajkumar & Shyam Patel

Rococo revival and neoclassicism converge at this Genevese landmark. Situated at the mouth of the Rhône River, near St. Pierre Cathedral and the hyperrealist Bel Air Fine Art Galerie, it was the city’s first hotel when it opened in 1834. The Four Seasons took the reins in 2005, giving it a full-scale renovation by the award-winning French design firm Pierre-Yves Rochon. The present iteration showcases nostalgic Louis Philippe-style interiors with richly colored social spaces and 115 sunlit rooms dressed in swagged curtains, opulent fabrics, and ornate rugs. The culinary scope ventures beyond Switzerland’s borders: the Michelin-starred Il Lago on the ground floor turns out an aromatic Northern Italian tasting menu crafted by chef Saverio Sbaragli, a veteran of the lauded vegetable temple L’Arpège in Paris. Expect dishes like cheese tortellini perfumed with lemon and mint, and herbaceous, citrus-dressed scampi. At the new rooftop restaurant Izumi, guests view the trams dipping in and out of Old Town while enjoying Japanese-Peruvian mashups such as the signature tiradito, thinly sliced sushi-grade fish doused in spicy sauce. In a country where wellness venues take on an almost mythical form, the property’s most recent addition, Spa Mont Blanc, lives up to the high standards. Book the alpine aromatherapy massage and a facial by Swiss Perfection, the celebrated cosmetics brand born out of an anti-aging clinic in Montreux.

Lobby of the Four Seasons
Lobby of the Four Seasons

33 Quai des Bergues;
Rooms start at $690 per night. 


Getaway: Évian Resort

By: Samantha Swenson

On the south shore of Lake Geneva, Évian Resort has served as a retreat for royalty and film stars since its inception over a century ago. (Past guests include the sultan of Zanzibar, actress Greta Garbo, and Aga Khan.) The luxurious 47-acre compound is made up of three hotels, numerous spas, a casino-converted château, a pine-and-cedar musical auditorium, and an 18-hole championship golf course—all in the backdrop of the Swiss Alps. At the center lies the Hotel Royal, a complex of Belle Epoque architecture with marble archways and tiled domes. Now, thanks to a 2015 makeover, the French palace has been reinvigorated for a new era, though it still retains an aura of Old World grandeur. The 150 spacious rooms and suites are done up in warm woods, plush navy blue carpets, and private balconies. Hydro-circuit pools filled with the town’s famous natural mineral water and caviar-infused treatments are highlights at the spa. For a taste of the region’s bounty, head to the Les Fresques restaurant, where chef Patrice Vander serves elegant dishes—locally sourced crayfish with foie gras, Mariniere-style shellfish with lemon foam—under original frescoes by artist Gustave Jaulmes.

View of Lake Geneva from the Royal Suite.
View of Lake Geneva from the Royal Suite.

13 Avenue des Madeirons;
Rates from $265.

Insider Advice:

“La Réserve is my favorite hotel in town because they treat you like family; I still remain faithful to it after 15 years of good service. It’s only a few minutes from the city center and airport, meaning you avoid all traffic. If you’re looking to play golf, the Domaine Impérial is a beautiful course by the lake. It’s not easy, especially the first nine holes, but it has the best location. Get out of Geneva and go to Dully to check out the restaurant Auberge. It’s low key, and the smell from the roasting chickens, the only main course they serve, is incredible. No meal should end without the traditional tarte à la crème.”  – Francois Henry Bennahmias, CEO, Audemars Piguet

“Weekends at home are rare for me, and therefore I like them to be relaxing. I live just outside of the city and love to take one of my classic cars out and enjoy the breathtaking scenery while driving along the shore to Geneva. Wine is a passion of mine and the Caveau de Bacchus is a must stop. My wife and children join me for lunch at Roberto’s, a nice Italian place next door. It’s a real institution. In the afternoon, just opposite of the restaurant, we go to the famous market La Halle de Rive, where you can find fresh vegetables and fish and seasonal delicacies, followed by a stroll through the picturesque old town. Before leaving the city I often look at the latest cigar selection at Gérard’s.” – Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, Chopard copresident

“Even in a city famous for chocolate and desserts, the castricher forêt noire at Chocolaterie Stettler is inimitable. For lunch, I love the inventive cuisine at the family-managed Cafe de Certoux. Check out Le Relais de L’Entrecote for dinner. It’s a famous restaurant that serves a single menu: small entrée salad, entrecôte (rib steak) with herb and butter sauce, and homemade fries. The best Swiss wine experience can be had at Domaine des Balisiers; try the ones from Christophe Pillon, son of my friend and fellow automotive enthusiast Gerard Pillon.” – Laurent Ferrier, Watchmaker

“A boat tour on Lake Geneva is a must during the summer. I also like to visit the Bodmer Foundation, a library and museum located in Cologny that specializes in manuscripts and precious editions. For a good dinner with friends, I go to the Café Papon or Chez Philippe, the best-grilled steaks in town!” – Daniel Riedo, CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre  

Collector’s Agenda:

The Patek Philippe Museum

The venue’s name is itself something of a misnomer. Upon entering the large building in the heart of downtown Geneva, visitors encounter one of the most comprehensive, museum-quality horological collections in the world. Whereas other watch company-owned museums tend to dedicate themselves to advancing the narrative of their own brand, Patek Philippe takes a more holistic view. On display are many of the Geneva maison’s most important accomplishments, set beside the works of other masters. The Stern family, fourth-generation owners of Patek, have acquired a diverse and growing collection over the years, and representatives of the museum are fixtures at the most important auctions around the world.

Insider Tip: Go anytime but July, when many of the most impressive rarities will be packed up and transported to New York for a Grand Exhibition to be held at Cipriani Midtown. —Jon Bues

The Patek Philippe Museum
The Patek Philippe Museum

M.A.D. Gallery

The brainchild of Max Büsser, M.A.D. Gallery unites the worlds of kinetic art and horological design. The first location, opened in 2011, is situated near the MB&F offices. Not only is it a showroom for the brand’s masterpieces, but also a trove of curiosities, or, as the name suggests, mechanical art devices. Current exhibitions run the gamut in terms of content and theme. The common thread? The unconventional nature of the exhibitions. Swiss photographer Fabian Oefner’s exhibition, “Disintegrating II,” currently on view, is a photographic collection of five exploding iconic cars—think Maserati and Bugatti. Using a trompe l’oeil effect, Oefner superimposes more than 2,000 photographs to create a single image. The first exhibition, “Mechanical Entomology,” features insect-inspired sculptures from four artists, including the clockwork butterflies of Paul Swan Topen and the scissors spiders of Christopher Locke. The highly unorthodox and conceptual “Rhodium Prodigy Birdfish,” by Ulrich Teuffel, is unexpectedly one of the best technical electric guitars in the world, capable of versatility and exceptional sound quality. The gallery also acts as a boutique, where MB&F timepieces and art curios are sold. It is, perhaps, the museum equivalent of an enchanting shop of oddities. — S.S. 

Inside the MAD Gallery
Inside the MAD Gallery

Roy & Sacha Davidoff

There is no shortage of watch shops in Geneva. The streets of the city’s posher neighborhoods are lined with brand-owned boutiques and independent retailers that sell the most prestigious marques of horology. But if acquiring a vintage watch is the goal, visit this shop owned and operated by brothers Roy and Sacha Davidoff.

Despite their relatively young age—Roy is 40 and Sacha 33—the Davidoffs have more than 35 years of combined experience working for some of Switzerland’s finest watchmakers. These days, the Davidoffs are mostly interested in vintage tool watches from the 1940s to the 1980s, which they sell through a shop on rue Verdaine, in Geneva’s old town.

Perusing the extensive collection, one notices a large and diverse range of Omega Speedmasters. It’s fitting. Roy’s first watch, a gift from his father, was an early Speedmaster Mark II with a racing dial. The store has come to be known as a destination for those seeking out the cult classic. In fact, more than half of the inventory, which typically hovers around 100 pieces at any given time, is vintage Speedmasters.

“We opened the store because we wanted to do what we love and be our own bosses,” says Roy. “We have very high standards for the watches that enter our shop, and we back that up with a guarantee to buy back any one we sell.” —J.B.

Roy and Sacha Davidoff
Roy and Sacha Davidoff