DIVING headfirst into the Geneva Arve is a shock for me.
Partly because the water rushed directly from the snow-capped peak of nearby Mont Blanc; partly because I didn’t expect to be thrown into a river at 11 a.m. on a Monday.
Geneva is full of surprises. Far from the austere outpost of bean-counting bankers and cuckoo clock makers that many have come to expect, it’s a vibrant young metropolis on the shores of Europe’s largest alpine lake – and an outdoor sports paradise. ‘adventure.
Lake Geneva is at the heart of everything here, with the city clustered around its coastline and locals loving to swim, paddle and sail its waters.
Between September and May, Genevans love nothing better than to strip down and dive into its cool, crystalline depths from Bains des Pâquis, a popular floating jetty and sauna complex.
But Geneva’s love of aquatic life isn’t limited to its beautiful lake. It is also centered on the two powerful rivers that cross this ancient city: the Rhône and the Arve.
It’s the latter where I find myself taking an impromptu swim, at the end of an epic morning of white-water rafting for my new TV show, Adventure Cities.
The program visits big cities that have adrenaline and extreme sports at heart, and Geneva is a perfect example.
Where else in the world can you ride rapids through an international downtown?
And that’s exactly what we did this morning: slide and bounce along countless waterfalls on our way to the city center, with a larger-than-life French-speaking guide, Gérald Beddiar, in the lead.
As we reach the town center itself, Gerald finishes the job with a bang – sliding and bouncing me off the boat for the TV cameras to watch.
Geneva is a veritable Mecca for adrenaline junkies – not only on the water, but also in the towering mountains that surround the city. The closest of these, Mont Salève, is nicknamed the Swiss town’s “native mountain”, as the summit can be reached in just five minutes by cable car.
This accessibility makes the mountain incredibly popular with locals – not just on weekends, but also on weeknights and even lunch breaks.
From the top of the Mont Salève cable car at 1,100 meters, there are a host of world-class hiking and biking trails to explore through the flowering alpine meadows – as well as incredible paragliding flights above the city. , as you return gracefully from the summit to the edge of the lake.
The ridiculous proximity of downtown Geneva to this adventure sports shopping list blew me away during filming, but the reverse is also true.
After a hard day of climbing, biking or dropping inflatable rafts, you’re never far from the city’s selection of world-class bars and restaurants. And what better way to warm up after an unexpected swim in the river than the spiritual home of the fondue?
Just be sure to follow the rules if you’re going to order this archetypal Swiss treat: only drink white wine or herbal tea with your fondue (beer is a serious no-no); don’t drop your bread in the common pot (or you’ll have to pay everyone else a round); and don’t forget the best: “the nun” — the golden, crispy crust at the bottom of the pot.
There are also plenty of non-extreme adventures to be had in Geneva’s pretty old town, from building your own watch at a fascinating little watchmaker called Initium to creating your own Swiss army knife at global flagship Victorinox.
But sooner or later, everything – from the random conversation to the choice of rooftop bars – returns to the lake in the heart of the city.
Genevans and water, it seems, go together like marshmallows and chocolate. And it is this harmonious and timeless symbiosis with the great outdoors that makes the city such a huge playground for sports enthusiasts and such a perfect city of adventure.
- The first season of Adventure Cities is now airing on the Discovery Channel. See discovery.com