Last Updated : 31/01/10
ell, this country is a bit of dark horse. Switzerland has suddenly become a place of micro brewers and brewpubs in the same vein as Austria and, in parts, France. Genève itself now has 4 brewpubs and one micro so a good weekend's scooping can be had in the home of the UN without venturing anywhere else.
Steve Westby's article of 2003 was the basis for our September 2005 visit to the country in addition to a lot of research which certainly paid off as we found a wine scooping festival whilst we were on the plane over there and scored 23 Swiss beers in 3 days!
Scooping in Genève and Lausanne September 2005.
eneva, or Genève to give it’s Swiss name, isn’t the obvious place to go scooping. Steve Westby had been a few years previously and given the beers a decidedly lukewarm reception but I was determined to go – it was the last country in central Europe I’d not scooped (unless you count piddly little entities like Andorra and Lichtenstein) so I’d resolved to get the place in the big orange book I keep telling you about, whilst Sue was resolute that we visited in autumn as there was a cow parade in progress – coincidentally! The problem had been that flights were plentiful enough but the prices veer towards the silly side when all the Henriettas and Tarquins go skiing in winter meaning that, with summer also on the expensive side, autumn it was.
I was fortuitous enough to find a return to Geneva in September for £46.99 each with easyJet from Luton so I booked it without hesitation; I’d not flown from Luton for a long time and, besides, it made a change from Stansted! (Still, you won’t have to listen to me complaining about the A14 this time, eh?) What I hadn’t bargained on was that hotel rooms in Geneva seemed to be priced as if you could take the furnishings with you afterwards – cheers then, and we needed three nights! The Rough Guide came to my rescue, as usual, and I booked 3 nights in the Hôtel Central which worked out at £45 for a double room including breakfast… this was a bargain compared to most of the hotels I’d looked at! The difficult bit sorted, I booked the airport parking via Airparks who I’d used before at EMA and that was it; done and dusted by mid-June! I’d booked 3 more breaks by the time we departed but those are other stories…
After our summer interlude from scooping trips abroad, brought on by wanting to avoid air traffic control strikes, baggage handler disputes and the inevitable school-holiday hordes of interbred cod-eyed chavs from council estates with snotty-nosed little Beckham-Ferrari and Kylie-Bacardi in tow, we were well up for the trip and I spent many hours on the internet looking for more gen about the beer scene in Geneva. It seemed that the number of brewpubs there had doubled since Steve Westby’s visit and there were now four available to be scooped in as well as a local micro for good measure. So, armed with a wad of public transport, beer, pub, cow parade and tourist gen culled from the net, we were ready to go!
Saturday 17th September 2005.
I’d forgotten what a pain in the arse it was to have to try to get some sleep on a Friday night before getting up at 01:00 for a mind-numbing drive down deserted trunk routes to an airport carpark. I was soon reminded as the alarms blared out at 01:00 (we always set at least 2 alarms, just in case!) and we reluctantly stumbled downstairs to whip up the stovetop espresso maker for our 02:00 motorway-strength quadruple shot of viscous caffeine. We’d sensibly packed the rucksacks the night before so we wouldn’t forget anything trying to pack bleary-eyed in the morning (but we still forgot the travel insurance and E111 cards…) so it was a simple matter of downing the searingly strong coffee before throwing the packs in the boot and heading off into the night. Easy, eh?
Well, sort of. Getting to Luton isn’t as easy as getting to Stansted, albeit it takes an hour less. The easiest move from Worcester is M5, M42, M6, M1 but that isn’t really a great idea in the middle of the night as the roads are quiet and, being tired, you can guess what might happen despite the espresso. So, we went the way Sue used to go to see me when I lived in Redbourn; M5, M42, M40, wiggly road, M1. The wiggly road in question goes via Bishop’s Itchington (yes, it really is called that) and Flore which joins the M1 at junction 16 and conveniently cuts the massive corner off that is the M6.
The road’s twistiness is a double edged sword – it keeps you awake and alert, but slows down the journey unless you know the road well (and I don’t). To make matters worse it mostly passes through countryside, meaning the chance of a collision with a critter on the road is greatly increased - and this isn’t the type of thing you want before a weekend away. Luckily, we traversed the road without harming a single living thing (apart from a few flying insects) although there were a lot of rabbits sat on the grass verges, munching away on the obviously superior grass, which, thankfully, made no attempt to leap in front of the car but kept me on my toes nevertheless; cheers, bunnies!
Slip End at 04:00.
We were soon turning off the M1 at junction 10 and following the instructions from the airparks website. As I’d previously lived in the area for 5 years I sort of knew where the car park might be and it soon turned out to be where I thought – in a tiny village whose residents must be delighted to have hundreds of cars storming past their houses all hours of the day and night. To be honest I’m surprised airparks got permission to have the operation where it is, but I’m not complaining – we saved around £15 on the price of the “official” airport carpark!
The procedure at airparks is slightly different than most carparks and explains why they are cheap – you leave your car in one of the entry queues then go into the office and show your internet receipt, whereupon you get a label to stick on your rearview mirror and a label for your key, which you post into the correct box for the row you parked in. You then get the bus to the airport and the airparks staff park your car for you (very tightly!) and extract it again when you return. It may sound complicated but it saves you loads of money on parking and, given the ludicrous prices charged by most airports, I say support the smaller guys whenever you can!
We passed through the sleeping village of Slip End at around 03:55 (assuming the residents could sleep through the convoy of passing cars), quickly booked the car in, and leapt aboard the bus for the airport; our fears about being stuck at the carpark for hours waiting for a bus were therefore groundless and my faith in airparks was cemented as the car park of choice. This may sound very sad but when you do a lot of parking at airports you need to find the best providers at each location as it can save you a wad of cash – for example, booking in advance with airparks cost me £22 whereas if I’d just turned up at Luton’s official carpark then the cost would have been around £35… work out the maths for yourself!
The all-new too-small terminal.
The bus deposited us at Luton airport within ten minutes and we looked around, trying to work out where everything was. I used to fly from Luton a fair bit with work in the late 1990’s, in the days when Luton was a small local airport and easyJet only had 5 planes… both businesses have expanded considerably since then and Luton now boasts a brand-new terminal which had only opened 2 days before our visit! We were soon checked in after sneakily asking the easyJet staff which desk the flight was going to be, therefore getting the very useful boarding cards 1 and 2 yet again, but with the downside of being all sorted 2½ hours before the flight!
We decided to make our way to the new terminal to see what the gen was. After a walk down what seemed to be steps to a basement toilet we arrived in the departures area – which has obviously been designed by someone who never uses airports - hardly any information screens, not enough seats (even at 05:00!) and bland chain outlets everywhere… not to mention the crap signage and a bar taking up too much of the floorspace that could – nay, should - have been used for much needed seating. Maybe I could be an airport consultant…
By now our quadruple espresso was wearing off so, in order to keep ourselves awake for the flight and day in Genève, we decided on the least-bad outlet and got ourselves some more coffee from Prêt a Manger. OK, I know it’s allegedly part-owned by McScum and it’s not real, but we needed coffee and the other option was fucking Starbucks – see why now? In fact there was another option I’d not seen (Sue had, but by then I was so caffeine-deprived that I failed to understand her explanation) so after we’d drained the very acceptable espressos we tried one from the bar; regrettably, despite purporting to be Italian, the coffee was more expensive and harsher than the Prêt stuff. Ah well, at least after two double espressos we had a fighting chance of being awake enough to see the Alps from the plane!
Time passed slowly. Owing to the lack of information screens we resorted (with quite a number of other passengers) of lurking around the exit to the gates as there happened to be a working screen there. After a slight scare when our flight didn’t get a gate until late we were soon lining up in the correct boarding group rows in a portakabin-like structure down by the tarmac. Personally I think this is a good idea as long as it’s not for more that ten minutes but we must have been stood in rows like animals at an abattoir for a good half an hour which isn’t acceptable in my book, especially for the older passengers who had no chairs to sit on. Eventually, however, we were called forwards in the correct order and – predictably - I saw the plane wasn’t a winner; I’d had G-IGOU a couple of times previously! Unfortunately, my luck in scooping easyJet planes shows no sign of improving!
Another country in the book.
The short flight was soon over and we’d recouped all the time lost by the late boarding at Luton by the time we were on the ground at Geneva; by the fast approach we knew it was blustery but we’d not find out just how windy it was until later! We were soon through passport control and into the arrivals area where Sue was immediately rioting about the 3 cows there! We’d read news reports that the cow parade might have been cancelled due to vandalism but it seemed as though it were still on – well, there were three still in arrivals anyhow!
The plan now was to get the trolleybus into the centre and have a scout around, so we looked round for a cashpoint which proved very easy – there was a line of five near the money-change kiosks! We quickly extracted 300 Swiss francs from the machine (around 2.29 to the £) and then located the tourist information desk to get some gen. We thought our luck was in when we saw there was a local authority ticket machine mounted on the desk, but it only accepted coins (CHF or €) and we were 40cents short in Euros and had no change in CHF yet! The helpful Ada on the desk doled out a street map along with a very useful public transport diagram and pointed us in the direction of the railway station where, she said, there were ticket machines which accepted notes so off we scurried to the station.
We soon found the machines but they were Swiss Railway (SBB) ones; would these issue local tickets? Not only did they do that but they spoke English too! We were soon in possession of a city 24-hour ticket which, in a most considerate way, was valid for two people at weekends. Armed with our map and ticket we tried to find the trolleybus stop - which was easier than it sounds; this is one area which Geneva airport could improve; signs for the bus stop! We followed a sign but ended up by the pay-and-display car park entrance, so tried another but merely found the passenger drop-off zone! It was then Sue saw the tell-tale wires on the upper level bridge so off we went… soon we’d found the bus stop, above the train station, about 25 metres from where we’d been ten minutes ago when we started looking… D’oh!
Beware of the Wind.
The trolleybus soon arrived – unfortunately a plastic new one – but on we got anyway. We endured the usual run down a hideous arterial thoroughfare into the centre but fortunately viewed one of the brewpubs en-route for future reference, the Brasserie des Grottes on Rue Servette, next to Lyon bus stop. We carried on past the station and over the river Rhône before alighting at the Bel Air stop. Right, we were here, now what? The time was only 12:00 and we couldn’t check into the hotel for another 2 hours, so we decided on a wander along the Rue Basses and then alongside the lake to kill the time until we could get into the hotel room, get our stuff sorted, and then go out scooping!
It was when we started walking we realised why the landing had been so bumpy (we’d hit some severe turbulence which had caused the plane to drop suddenly, eliciting some highly amusing screaming from the less-travelled normals in the middle!) and it was all due to the wind gusting strongly – and when I say strong I mean strong! It must have been blowing at over 50mph as the trees along the waterfront were bending and the branches were flailing madly as if they would be torn off at any second by the fury of the elements. We struggled against the tempest along Rue du Marché, following the tramlines towards Rive. Sue was more than happy as there seemed to be a multitude of cows to scoop along the way and I was pleased to see that there were some real trams around – ABB machines by the look of them (similar to Czech Tatra T6’s in looks), so we both had something to smile about!
There seemed to be some sort of carnival thing happening along the road as there were temporary stages in tents at intervals and various bands and performers were walking along the street, stopping to play at the stages. We watched a fairly good brass band at one point before they trudged off, still playing, in the direction of Rive. We then saw what may be the most surreal sight I’ve seen for a long time; blokes dressed in blow-up creations which I can only describe as a cross between a seahorse and a giraffe! They had voice synthesisers too and sang an annoyingly catchy song whilst cavorting around before departing in convoy, still warbling their song. We were both totally withered by this; who said the Swiss were boring?
We cut across the mouth of Lac Léman (as Lake Geneva is known) over the Pont des Bergues, calling into the little tourist information office located on it whilst we passed. There was nothing about cow parade there save a badly photocopied map but that was better than nothing! As we pressed on against the howling gale along the Quai du Mont we scooped in some more cows and got a great view over the lake which was huge; more like an inland sea! What’s the distinction, I wonder? All along the shore were posters for the United Nations’ humanitarian activities showing families from different countries and how they have been helped – this is because the UN is based in Geneva and has it’s various buildings strewn across swathes of land to the north of the city along with the red cross. Standing gawping at posters wasn’t a great idea, however, as the lake was being whipped up into a fury by the wind and regularly flung itself against the sea wall which showered the promenade – and us - with spray.
We walked a good way along the lake until Quai Woodrow Wilson (as it’s amusingly known at that point) turned inland, where we decided to make tracks back to the hotel to check in as we had brewpubs to score – there were four in town to scoop and I wanted to visit the furthest one, Biriffico il Forno, that night to ease the pressure for the next few days’ scooping. We were blown back along the lake at an alarming rate by the hurricane-force airstream and were soon back over the Rhône and walking along the Rue du Marché again back towards our hotel. On the way we passed Place Molard and the city’s newest brewpub was obvious – the Lord Nelson pub had “Brasserie du Molard” written all over itself, it’s street furniture and it’s windows and, just so you were in no doubt that it actually brewed, the copper brewplant was prominently shown in the front windows. We’d be in there later on, but first it was time to get checked into our room and dump the packs.
Watch out for the toilet.
We were soon walking along the curiously named Rue Rôtisserie where the hotel Central was located. As regular readers will know, we aim to be able to see (or at least hear!) trams from our hotel room and I was worried – the road runs parallel to Rue du Marché, where the tramlines ran, and the view of said road is obscured by buildings which looked as least as tall as the one our hotel was to be found in. Anyhow, it was too late to change now so in we went, taking the lift to the 6th floor where the reception was located. We received a warm welcome from the young and enthusiastic staff and were billeted on the 5th floor so, grasping the key which would hopefully open the glass doors on the ground floor after 17:30, we headed down the stairs to check out our home for the next three nights.
As we opened the door to the room I could tell something wasn’t quite right but I couldn’t decide what it was but, with the light on, I suddenly saw what was wrong – we had to enter the room via the bathroom! What a riot! Well, I’d booked a “compact” room as it had been the cheapest option (CHF105 B&B), but I’d not expected the toilet to be the first thing we saw when we opened the door… but I suppose there’s a lot worse things that could have happened so, amused by the quirkiness, we sorted out our rucksacks and prepared to go in search of our first brewpub of the night.
Ah, but what of seeing trams from the window I hear you ask? Well, we couldn't see them directly as the buildings opposite screened the road from our view and someone had kindly built a hulking glass monstrosity in the only space we'd have been able to see, but that building cut both ways - we couldn't see them directly, but we could see their reflection in the glass when they passed... result !!!
Before we could do that, however, we decided to pay a visit to the main tourist information office to see if they had any more gen on the cow parade and the wine festival Sue had noticed in the easyJet magazine on the way over; this sounded a right treat with over 100 wines to scoop – erm, sorry, sample – by the glass and, best of all, they were all supposed to be from the local area. As we’d never had a Swiss wine at all, never mind one from Geneva, this sounded like an all-round top move so off we trolled to the tourist office to amass some gen.
We were soon at the office where we scooped another cow and, surreally, what looked like a remnant from hedgehog parade! This office was a lot better than the one on the bridge as we got a better map and a few local leaflets as well as the all-important wine festival gen; yes, it was on the following day and yes, there were apparently loads of wines to scoop! Even better, there were some wines on tasting in the tourist office to promote the local vignerons – how could we refuse? We blagged the Information Ada into giving us (yes, for nothing!) samples of four local wines, two red and two white, which were excellent; I’d not known what to expect from Swiss wine, but if they were like these examples we were in for a treat on Sunday!
How not to find a brewpub, lesson 1.
Warmed by our wine scoops against the howling gale, we found the Coutance stop and waited for either the trolleybus number 2 or 19 to … erm … somewhere. I hadn’t been able to pin down the exact location of the Birrifico il Forno except that it was on Rue de Chancy somewhere between Morgines and Onex, so the amazingly cunning plan was to just sit on the bus until – hopefully – we saw it. The reserve backup plan, just in case we didn’t spot it, was to come back along the road then get off at Morgines and blunder around aimlessly and maybe ask some locals – as you can see, I was a bit short of ideas and was relying on good luck!
We let a few buses go until the first one going the right way arrived, but it was a No.10 that went half way to Morgines before turning off. We decided to take it to the Bâtie stop and wait for the following service there as it seemed rude not to scoop trolleybus 762… just as we pulled away from the Coutance stop a prospective passenger made a run for the bus and grabbed the handrails, but the driver was having none of it and stormed away leaving him cursing on the road. This amused me so much that I began to laugh and then choke violently until I could hardly breathe; looking back I can’t see what was so funny about some normal being denied entry to the bus but I certainly found it amusing; maybe it’s the love of human misery in me!
We cruised on down the road and we tried to read the all-important house numbers as we passed, although this wasn’t helped by the bus having those “all-over adverts” on the outside which restricted visibility through the windows; what a great idea those things are! You get a vehicle that looks a right dog’s dinner with ridiculous pictures all over it, and then inside it’s like the fucking black hole of Calcutta and you can’t even see where you are as the windows have adverts plastered all over them… yes, I love the enterprise culture so much…
Given the situation above you can probably guess that we didn’t view the establishment and got off at Onex feeling a bit perplexed with the situation. Sue had seen a house number 80 or so after Morgines and I was pretty sure that I had too, so we decided to head back there and have a root around to find the Birrifico il Forno. First, however, we had to cross the busy dual carriageway which wasn’t an easy manoeuvre in itself until we figured out how to work the crossing buttons – they don’t seem to do anything when you press them but they have, they just don’t want you to know that! Whilst waiting for the trolleybus we were treated to the highly amusing sight of a convoy of scooter riders trying to race a couple of proper motorbikes – with predictable results, but it was fairly amusing whilst it lasted!
The trolleybus going the other way soon arrived so we leapt on and secured decent vantage points aided by this vehicle not being plastered with advertisements and other such crap. As we approached Morgines, where we were planning to alight for a scout around, I suddenly saw a sign for the place – sorted! With a great amount of relief we disembarked from the bus and saw that the Birrifico il Forno was in fact a pizza-restaurant situated in a large shopping centre called the Lancy Centre; surely this place wouldn’t brew beer?
We tentatively approached the restaurant with the conviction that this was a wild goose chase, some kind of wind-up… surely there could be no brewery out here? However, as we walked through the doors of the shopping mall and into the restaurant through the open side entrance, I suddenly saw a flash of copper in a similar vein as Charlie (of chocolate factory fame) when he opens his chocolate bar and finds a golden ticket, although thinking back I don’t remember any humpa-lumpas making beer so maybe this is a bit of a crap analogy and is best forgotten.
Nonetheless, here we were and a sign above the bar proclaimed “Nos Bieres Artisanales – fabrication maison” and the aforementioned brewing kit was gleaming away in a corner of the bar with the usual flashing lights of the control panel; this was proof enough that they brewed for me! We ordered the rousse and blonde as, once again, we’d decided not to go for wheat beers unless there was nothing else available as neither of us really like the style! We were quickly supplied with the hazy brews in very British-looking half pint glasses with 20cl lines on; I chose the rousse to begin with and brought it to my nose for a sniff; here goes then, my first Swiss beer!
All the reports I’ve read about the Birrifico il Forno give it a right verbal kicking; Bov, one of the top Swiss beer scoopers, says about the brewery “God, help me! I think I have found the worst brewery in Switzerland. It should not be allowed to present such beers!” and no-one else who has been there (not that many people, in reality) had a good word to say about it so, as you can imagine, I wasn’t really looking forwards to drinking the stuff – yes, it was a huge scoop and whilst we were in town it had to be done, but actually drinking it? Maybe it would be a story to tell people when I’m a grumpy old bloke (what do you mean I am already?) of how I drank the beer from the worst brewery in Switzerland and survived to tell the tale, but that’s a bit of a long-term advantage, don’t you think?
“What’s yours like?” Sue enquired. I took a long sniff and immediately I picked up the tell-tale aroma of malt extract and a hint of vinegar. “I’ve had worse” I opined and took a sip; it actually wasn’t that bad, or at least nowhere as bad as I had feared. True, it was very neutral and extracty with a cardboard hint to the dull sweetness and a bit of sourness (presumably not intentional) in the finish, but it wasn’t actually that bad a beer – just rather poor. We swapped glasses and, whilst Sue thought the rousse was rancid, I was relieved that the blonde was rather similar – a malt extract tang with a slight hint of grassy hops and a generally bland, artificial malt taste with some blunt sweetness. OK, these beers weren’t prime examples of the brewmaster’s art, but they were certainly interesting and worth finding if only for the novelty value of drinking home-brewed beer inside a pizza restaurant in a shopping centre that hardly any other scoopers have had!
Choose your hammer.
Not wishing to drink any more of the lacklustre beer, we paid up and left after taking the necessary phots to prove we’d been there including some of the brewery - when I asked if I could take a few pictures, the barmaids all courteously moved out of the way and laughed as if I wasn’t the first strange foreigner to ask this unusual question! We’d decided previously that our next move would be to the Cave a Bière in the southern suburb of Carouge which Sue had discovered could be reached by bus 18 from Les Esserts (about 100 metres into town from Morgines on the left-hand side of the major crossroads on Route du Pont-Butin) to the southern tram terminus of Pallettes, then the No.13 tram to Marché where we should be able to find the pub easily.
We walked the short distance to the major crossroads just east of the Lancy centre but just as we arrived a bus 18 pulled up, forcing us to scamper for it – and this wouldn’t be the last time this weekend we’d be running for public transport either! The sociable driver saw our sprinting for the bus and held on for us; with a breathless “Merci, Monsieur!” we scrambled aboard and off we roared across the junction and towards Pallettes with us slumped in our seats gasping for breath like a pair of carp stranded on the riverbank.
After about five minutes we’d recovered our breath from the 20-metre sprint (that’s why you don’t see many beer scoopers competing in athletics) and I looked around the bus and saw something which tickled my sense of humour. You know on trains when you get a hammer in a case with a notice saying “In emergency, use hammer to break windows” (although how exactly you’re supposed to break the glass containing the hammer is never explained)? Well, this bus had that sign, but a choice of 5 or 6 different hammers dangling from the roof! Oh dear, the bus is on fire, but I don’t know which hammer to use... oh, too late!
We were soon at Pallettes and a tram was already there but, lamentably, it was one of the modern plastic ones! D’oh! Not wishing to stand around for 15 minutes we grudgingly boarded it and off we went, passing another plastic one just outside the station – good job we hadn’t waited then… Fortuitously, at Bachet-de-Pesay, we had a chance to change trams to line 12 which turned out to be a pair of real ABB vehicles so we leapt off and availed ourselves of the superior traction on offer all the way to Marché in Carouge. Hopefully we’d be able to find the Cave a Bière as this time we had an address and a map – and according to gen I’d read it should sell beer from the local micro, Murailles, the hardest brewery in town to scoop!
A disappointment – then a real gem.
We followed the tram lines back along Rue Ancienne until we found the address for the Cave a Bière but, unfortunately, the pub seemed to have morphed into an establishment named L’Insomnia which didn’t sound like a purveyor of fine ales to us. It was also firmly closed so we never did have a chance to investigate it’s beer list so, a bit gutted, we trudged back towards the tramstop. We passed a modern, lively looking bar called Qu’Importe, right at the start of Rue Ancienne, and the name rang a bell in my brain. After a few seconds I realised why – I had printed a list of bars from the internet which sold Murailles - and this was one of them!
After a brief spot of confusion where we couldn’t find our way into the place due to the patio doors it was surrounded with all being locked, we eventually burst into the bar, grabbed the first available table and, once seated, had a glance around. It was a modern single-bar room, fairly large, with plain brickwork and pine tables. A large bar was set against the back wall and waiters were prowling around the tables although they seemed to be wearing ordinary clothes not waistcoats so we were probably safe from being ejected!
After a short while I decided to visit the bar to ask gen; after all, if the bar didn’t sell Murailles then we were wasting our time! The first member of staff I picked on spoke little English so I attempted to ask in French – this wasn’t going too well but then a saviour in the shape of a very nice young waitress appeared who I was able to communicate with easily in a mixture of English and basic French. She confirmed they had Murailles Blonde on draught, and La Sorcière (their rousse) in bottle which was a pretty decent result by my book so I ordered one of each and went back to tell Sue the good news.
The beers soon arrived but our hopes of taking a bottle label home for the collection were dashed – the bottles sported very impressive but impervious screen-printed labels directly on the glass! We also had a choice; my friend had brought a glass of draught blonde and not one but two bottles! One was the Sorcière and the other was another Murailles beer she had “just remembered” - La Catapulte! I confirmed that we wanted that beast for our next round so we were left with the blonde and Sorcière to sample. For the only time that weekend we managed to get the strength of a beer, and much else, from the back of the bottle so after the admin was completed I settled down to taste the beers, hoping they’d be better than the previous efforts!
The blonde was very good indeed – it had more character than most blondes and mixed sweetish, honeyed, grainy tastes with a wheaty disposition and gentle hoppy finish. This had been served on draught yet wasn’t overly cold or gassy but about right in both departments. I turned my attention to the rousse which, at 6%, was very Belgian-like in aroma and taste with candy sugar maltiness dominating the flavour which mellowed out into a balanced malt and caramel finish. Another good’un! The next round soon appeared and I got stuck into the Catapulte which turned out to be a brune with an excellent burnt sugar and caramel taste and a solid malty backbone which all combined to a mellow sweetish, malty, caramelly aftertaste and was probably the best of the three, although that isn’t meant to demean the others which were all good beers in their own right. Murailles’ beers had certainly made a good impression on me!
Off to see Lord Nelson.
We decided against another round, sociable and relaxing though the bar was, and settled the bill which brought a mild surprise – the bottles had been CHF9 each, although I suppose £4 isn’t too bad when you consider what huge winners they were… We were detained by my friend the barmaid who said she’d lived in Australia for 18 months and now needed to practice her English wherever possible as there weren’t many English speakers in the bar! She spoke perfectly, however, and we told her so and thanked her for getting the Murailles beers for us before making our excuses and heading for the tramstop at Marché where, just for a change, we had to run for the tram which crept up behind us! It was a pair of real ones though so it was worth it… had it been plastic we might have been tempted to see what other scoops might have been on offer in Carouge; it looked like a good hunting-ground for decent beer with lots of little cafés and bars around.
Fortuitously, the tram we’d jumped on was a No.12 which would take us all the way to Molard and the last brewpub of the night, the Lord Nelson pub, home of the Molard brewery which was Geneva’s newest (2003) and, most conveniently, situated about five minutes walk from our hotel… We left the tram at Molard after a quick ten-minute storm back into the centre and quickly made our way to the pub that we’d seen earlier on our walkabout. We found it to be a dimly-lit cosy bar with “compo” tables – the best I can describe them as are the little compartment tables sometimes seen in McSpoons although without the tat décor usually found there.
Once seated, we ordered a glass each of the blonde and ambrée before realising we were starving as we’d not eaten for hours; luckily the pub was still doing food at 22:00 (try doing this at McSpoons!) and their speciality was Flammküchen, the local (and Alsace) speciality pizza-like baked pastry with cream smothered over a very thin pasty base before being topped in the way of a standard pizza. We ordered a standard Flammküchen and a bowl of fries to beef up the calorific content of the meal and we’d barely touched our drinks when it arrived – that’s what I call fast food, and very nice it was too with the cream being particularly rich and tasty.
The blonde had a fair smack of spicy hop with a full-bodied malty flavour and a well balanced malt and hoppy finish whilst the ambrée was easy drinking yet with the sweetish, caramel and candy sugar overtones we’d had with the Murailles earlier in the evening (although not as classily done). Both beers were a lot better than I’d expected and soon the plates and glasses were empty but I still felt like one more beer! I’m afraid that desperation got the better of me and I ordered a glass of the special beer, citron verte, which Sue had already guessed was just the wheat beer with a slice of lime in it… ah well, at least I’d cleared all the beers! The wheat wasn’t that bad to be honest, with a gentle sweetness and some wheatiness but not too much. The last beer consumed, we decided to have an early-ish night to counteract our very early morning and took the five minute wander back to the hotel where, despite our earlier forebodings, we managed to open the interior power-operated glass door first time with no tribulations and were soon in our room.
Sunday 18th September 2005.
One surreal festival.
Originally we’d planned to spend the Sunday around Genève but, after Sue’s discovery of the local wine festival at Russin, this had hurriedly been pencilled into the schedule. We’d already checked that a dayticket was valid to Russin on the local metro so, as it wouldn’t cost us any more money than simply spinning around Genève, this move sounded better and better – particularly as there was apparently a bar serving 150 local wines by the glass!
We did the 10:35 metro to Russin, a journey of around 25 minutes, heading west into the surrounding hills where the vineyards crept ever closer to the rails covering the rolling hills with their green-striped blanket dotted with black bunches of grapes. We were soon at Russin station and we looked with apprehension at the climb up to the village; the road was so steep there were banisters attached to the stone walls! We set off slowly but we still overtook a strange American Ada (or it may have been a Bert, we found it hard to decide) on the way up!
The hill was hard going but the views were worth it the higher we climbed with the stripey mantle of vines marching off into the distance over the hills. The road wasn’t fenced on one side which allowed us to examine the vines closely; most were laden with red grapes but there were some white patches amongst them, presumably the rare local chasselas variety. Despite there being no fences to protect the grapes there were signs every few metres of so imploring us not to “maraude the raisins” but we did manage to sneak a quick taste of a red grape which was sweet, luscious and tasty – hopefully the wines would be as good!
Once in the village we had a wander around, taking in the scene; there was a market selling huge cheeses and vegetables, several stalls creaking with bottles of wine, and some of the vignerons had created drinking areas in their premises which were just beginning to open. So much to do, how could we possibly decide where to start? Luckily, the choice was soon to be made simple – we saw a large stall advertising grape juice by the glass and after tasting that grape on the way up the hill how could we refuse? The juice was a clear golden colour and was gorgeously sweet and mellow with a viscous aftertaste that coated the mouth with a striking honeyed flavour. We had also bought a glass of local apple juice just to see how it compared with that back home and that too was delicious with more than a hint of russet apples in the sweet, velvety, fruity taste – how could we follow this?
Happily, very easily! We soon found the “Bar du Connosieur” where the promised 150 wines were available by the glass for a very reasonable CHF2.50 (£1.10) each. We made camp by the makeshift bar and quickly got stuck into the wines; they were listed by grape type, most of which we required, so we decided to try one of each grape starting with the whites. After a few rounds we noticed the souvenir glasses and they just had to be done even though we’ve enough glasses in our house already to last for a lifetime’s clumsy drinking!
Suffice it to say we made good progress through the wines and eventually scratched 24 different ones including all the grape types, some being very rare varieties like Kerner and Findling, but the finds of the day were the Gamaret reds from around the village which were smooth, fruity yet with a dry tannic body to make them interesting. As an aside from alcohol I suppose I’d better mention the carnival procession… a brass band called “DEK” had been performing outside the bar off and on most of the afternoon and their repertoire wasn’t the usual brass band fare – instead, think Mission Impossible, Yazoo, Bryan Adams and Fine Young Cannibals, all played with enthusiasm and a vineload of attitude! The carnival floats were hauled by chugging old tractors of indeterminate age and contained, amongst other things, a giant ladybird and toadstool, bottle corking machines giving out free bottles, Swiss horns and more things too surreal to mention. Just to make sure we didn’t miss anything from our vantage point in the bar the procession passed by 3 times although I’m sure it wasn’t for our benefit.
We finished the exceedingly agreeable day’s wine scooping with a huge cheese-topped lump of toast and some more local apple juice before taking the metro back to Geneva and, after scratching a few of the Mouette boats on the lake, gave in to a well-earned early night; after all, drinking beer on top of that many wine scoops didn’t seem a good plan of action!
Monday 19th September 2005.
The touristy bit.
Our plan for Monday was to explore the old town of Geneva and then take a train to Lausanne to follow Mr Westby’s example by scooping the two brewpubs there, one of which promised cask beer, then tick the remaining two brewpubs in Geneva when we returned. One thing that had eluded us thus far was Geneva’s landmark, the jet d’eau, a 100-metre fountain of water in the middle of the river which sounded like it would make a decent photo if they ever turned it on; apparently the thing drenches the riverfront when it’s windy so they switch it off if it’s even slightly blowy and it had been extraordinarily windy since we’d arrived, although the morning had dawned only breezy so I was optimistic of actually seeing the thing in action!
After a very sociable breakfast in the room – the cleaner brought a tray to our door at 09:00 on the dot which contained various croissants and bread rolls, orange juice, coffee, jams and butter and was an infinitely superior move than sitting in a cramped breakfast room with other normals blowing cancer over us – we headed out to discover the old town which was situated just behind our hotel. We walked via Place Neuve in order to scoop some cows we’d seen the previous day before heading up into the Vielle Ville to see what was there.
To be honest I’ve seen better old towns and Geneva’s was missing something; maybe it was just too clean and perfectly preserved? Whatever, we found some attractive parts and some more cows to put in the book before we finally reached the highest part of town where we could see the lake – and the jet d’eau was actually on! This was just what we’d been waiting for so off we went down to the lakefront to have a look at it but, unfortunately, owing to the grey skies, the jet couldn’t really be seen against the clouds which reduced the visual impact. Ah well, at least we’d seen it and hopefully it would be on again on Tuesday morning for a closer inspection!
After our exploration it was soon time to take the train to Lausanne which, hopefully, would follow the lakeside and give some decent views of the scenery. The tickets cost CHF40 each, about £18, and with a train every 20 minutes or so it seemed a decent deal to us. Before joining the train, however, we bought a load of superb butties and pastries from a stand in the station concourse which proved to be both great value and delicious; nothing like at home then! Armed with our huge swag of food we were soon sat on an inter-regional train which immediately made us feel right at home – the guard informed us the engine had failed and the train would be terminating at Lausanne! So it’s not just our railways then… although, despite the dodgy loco, the train itself was very comfortable and clean with the usual roominess found in European trains.
The Olympic Town.
As is too often the case, the rail journey didn’t live up to expectations as the lake was often just out of view and the low grey cloud obscured the view to the other side. As compensation, however, we were treated to a close view of the vineyards of Vaud on the opposite side of the train which were predominately white; maybe we’d scooped some of the wines the previous day in Russin? The first fifteen minutes of the journey were taken up by a wild fodder-frenzy as we consumed the masses of provisions we’d bought for the journey; butties, pastries, cakes, water, more cakes, chocolate… when we’d finally finished we needed the remaining time on the train to relax and let the food settle or we’d be walking nowhere!
After the short 45-minute journey we pulled into the Gare and wandered outside to find the tourist information office. This was located in the front of the station and gave rise to an amusing episode; an American was in front of us in the queue and was getting a bit irate.
“I want to do some shopping, y’understand?” she drawled.
The lass behind the desk didn’t seem overly concerned. “Today is a holiday” she replied.
“What sort of holiday?” demanded the American.
“It’s a bank holiday – everything is closed!” the girl replied, getting a little irritated.
“But I want to buy some watches… where can I get those?” gibbered the Yank.
“Geneva” was the stony-faced reply…
We armed ourselves with a map and crossed the square looking for something to do; it was 3 hours until the Château brewpub opened so we needed to find some public transport to scoop! We soon acquired a city ticket for CHF7 from the ticket office over the square from the station and decided to take a spin down to the lakefront to see what delights waited for us there. Now whilst researching this move I’d seen some phots of “La Ficelle”, the Ouchy-Flon metro, and it had looked a bit strange but I never expected it to be loco+stock! We stepped onto the platform cunningly hidden beneath the Place de la Gare and when the train arrived I was totally withered, even more so when I saw the loco part had a number on it… for someone of my sadness quotient this was very fortuitous and so into the big orange book it went! We took the roaring contraption down the unsettlingly steep hill to Ouchy, the lakeside terminus, where we went for a wander along the harbour to take in the scenery.
Or, we would have done if we could see any! Owing to the thick grey clag which was blanketing the area we could hardly see the opposite side of the lake (admittedly, it was quite wide) where the French spa town of Evian was situated; looking at the resulting photos we couldn’t see much at all really! To provide a smattering of entertainment a sizeable paddle steamer left dock for Geneva so we watched her chug off into the gloom, but that was about it for the lake on that particular day… a shame as I’m sure it’s very scenic when there’s no omnipresent grey murk covering everything.
Off to the Château.
The wonders of Lac Léman exhausted, we made tracks for the metro station where we rode the amusing little cogwheel train right up to the top of the hill at Flon. From there we decided to take a walk around the tourist trail marked on our map which took the best part of an hour fortified by a great espresso in a studenty café along the way. We then scooped some of the trolleybuses, feeding my Asperger’s syndrome, until we got bored of that and headed for the Château brewpub for, hopefully, some decent beer and some food as by now the mammoth amounts of calories we’d consumed on the train had been used up by hours of exploring.
We took the No.5 bus to Place du Tunnel and soon located the pub in the far right corner of the square. It looked very British with it’s double windows – it reminded me of the Hope & Anchor in Bristol for some reason – and we were surprised when we entered the pub and saw the whole right-hand room was taken up by a polished copper brewplant with some tell-tale sacks lying around; this looked like a working brewery! We were lucky to find a table as a couple left just as we entered, so we plonked ourselves down and examined our surroundings. The décor was very relaxing and welcoming, filled with chat and clinking of cutlery, and containing a small bar on the back wall adorned with the promised lone handpump and numerous beer taps dispensing the scoops we’d come for, as well as food which looked bloody good too; pizzas seemed to be the house speciality as the list was almost a whole sheet of A4 in length!
A waiter soon came across to us and he turned out to be very sociable and full of knowledge about the beers on sale; our table was bedecked with IPA beermats and, when I asked if this beer was available, he explained it was the new handpumped beer which had replaced their bitter. We ordered a glass of the cask IPA and one of rousse along with a ham and onion pizza as, by this time, we were feeling totally famished and our situation wasn’t being helped by what seemed like everyone else in the place stuffing their faces with delicious-looking comestibles with what seemed like an overly- energetic use of their cutlery.
I covertly watched the cask ale being poured and it did seem that it was real; the handpump was acting as you’d expect and the resulting beer was almost flat but with a slight prickle of life. To be honest the beer wasn’t really an IPA as it lacked the necessary bitterness but, if you ignore the categorisation and took it as it stood, it was a good beer – one of the best we’d had so far. It was amber in colour with a malty, citrus hop aroma following through into the flavour which was backed up by full maltiness and a hint of bitterness although, in my opinion, a bit more would have improved the brew no end. The rousse was a good fruity, tasty, grainy beer with the by now expected caramelly notes and some sweet fruitiness in the aftertaste; my tasting notes say “lots of character” so I suppose it must have had!
After demolishing the scrumptious, juicy and quite real pizza in about 30 seconds we ordered another round, but this time we had the blonde and brune. Our friend the genned-up waiter assured me that the brune was based on “English stout” – that sounded fine by me I assured him! When the beers arrived I bagged the blonde first which I expected to be bland, but obviously Château don’t do bland as this was a good example of the mellow, full-flavoured malty and fruity style of blonde with a dab of grassy hop in the finish. The brune was a total contrast in flavour being almost black in colour, roasty and chocolatey in aroma and flavour, full-bodied, and with a glorious nutty roast barley finish; this was a cracking attempt at a stout and ended up as my beer of the trip.
Crimes against Beer.
It was, regrettably, now time to leave so we settled up and grudgingly departed into the evening very pleased with the quality beers we’d scooped although we’d not ticked the lot; they also brew a ginger beer and a blanche both of which we flagged as we don’t like the styles! The next call was Les Brasseurs on Rue Centrale, near to Flon metro, so we took a bus down the hill (which we had to run to catch as usual!) and walked along the whole length of the road until we found the pub – right at the far end as predicted, although handy for the metro station.
Once inside I was struck by the resemblance to the Firkin chain of old with blackboards and wooden pews everywhere; so that’s where all the old furniture went when they closed them! We found a strange barstool-raised-table type contrivance to camp on and ordered a Palette de Degustation (tasting tray), which materialised as four 10cl glasses of beer, one of each on sale, and one of malt to chew… or at least that’s what we did with it. This tasting method meant we’d have to drink the blanche, but I was sure we could manage 10cl of beer between us and it was by far the cheapest way to try the beers, being CHF8.90 for the four scoops available.
I wasn’t sure what the beers would be like but I’d assumed a large chain of brewpubs similar to the firkins would produce lacklustre beer – and that was being kind! However, the brews turned out to be rather decent if not up to the very high standards of the previous establishment; the blanche was very wheaty with the typical Bayern bubblegum sweetness and some graininess, the blonde was plainer yet had a gentle maltiness and a very restrained grassy hoppiness whilst the ambrée was predictably the best of the three being a solid, deep copper malty brew with a distinct Belgian candy-sugar flavour and a residual malty sweetness. The beers went rather well with the portion of nachos we’d requested and I looked upon Les Brasseurs in a better light all round.
Hang on – that’s only three beers I hear you ask – what about the fourth? Listen, it’s not a nice thing to think about, I’ve tried to blank it out but the taste keeps coming back to haunt me… I’ve been thinking about how to describe this repulsive fluid but words elude me; just imagine draught cough mixture with a kilo of sugar and marzipan mixed in and you’re getting there. Now I love marzipan, but this stuff was just abhorrent… you’ve heard about crimes against humanity? Well, seeing as the UN are based in Geneva I think they should create a new category of despicable offence – “crimes against beer” - and Les Brasseurs Keriche would be the number one on my hit-list of offenders to be brought to justice and extradited to a neutral country and tried before a court of beer lovers before receiving the sentence it deserves – the firing squad!
“Must try harder”.
I studied the timetable and saw there was a train in 15 minutes; as we’d nearly finished our drinks this seemed like a good idea so the glasses were drained and off we went, taking the amusing little metro one stop down the hill to the station, and just making the train by running the full distance between the arrivals hall and the platform! Maybe, on reflection, this wasn't the best move after a load of beer and pizza as we sat on the top deck feeling knackered and a tad nauseous for a good ten minutes! All this was forgotten, however, as we approached Geneva as there were two more brewpubs to get in the book; unfortunately, one was Les Brasseurs and I’d already seen the signs for the keriche “cherry” beer; would this be another case of “crimes against beer”? I feared I already knew the answer to that one…
Our first call was to be Brasserie des Grottes which is situated behind the station on the main road to the airport yet concealed in the basement of an anonymous building with only signs on the windows to betray it’s presence. Mr Westby had been scathing in his criticism of this pub and I wasn’t expecting miracles, but as we entered it seemed as if we were boarding the Marie Celeste; there must have been five customers in the place and it had all the atmosphere of a seedy nightclub. Undeterred, we found some strange red velour covered seats looking out over the street and awaited developments in the beer front.
There seemed to be one member of staff who was waiting on, serving beer and food, cleaning up and generally being a dogsbody yet it didn’t take him long to appear and we requested a tasting tray which, owing to my appalling French, became distorted into a tasting tray each – d’oh! Fortunately the trays were only CHF6 each so we’d survive as long as the beer wasn’t too bad… famous last words! We began with the blanche and soon I wished I hadn’t! It had a strange gingery and almost farmyardy flavour but, unlike classic lambic, I’m not sure this Brettanomyces was a welcome visitor! We forced the fluid down our throats and immediately started on the blonde, principally to take the taste of the blanche away; this was better with a “grain sack” maltiness in the aroma and taste and a dry, neutral malty finish.
Whilst we were fighting our way through the beer I had been looking around the pub trying to fathom why anyone would want to actually visit the place unless they were desperate for some scoops. There was a table of besuited men on the opposite side of the room eating, a couple had sat behind us and there was one guy hunched at the bar – and that was it! The entertainment revolved around a large TV which, inexplicably, was showing American wrestling with a fat bloke called “Butterbean” improbably defeating an even fatter bastard; all that was needed was the screens to display tat pop videos and we could be in a nightclub, albeit a pretty poor one…
The final beer, despite us having left it until last in the hope of leaving with a pleasant taste in our mouths, delivered much the same as the other beers had. The ambrée style had been the discovery of the trip so far but Grottes seemed incapable of brewing it with the panache of most of the others we’d had so far; it had a strange flavour with the usual toffee maltiness but finished with some bitterness but with a lactic sourness which, as with the blanche, was almost certainly unintentional in our opinion!
Same recipies, worse beers.
That was that then. We paid up and hurried out of the place just in case they decided to give us a free beer for battling through the tasting tray so swiftly and headed for the final call of the evening, Les Brasseurs right in front of the station. Had we known that the Lord Nelson pub would exceeded it’s beer ratings by several times we’d have left that one until last, but as it was we were stuck with Les Brasseurs – we’d decided we may as well scoop it in seeing as we were in town and if it was as good as the one in Lausanne it’d be a lot better than the previous offerings we’d just struggled through!
The contrast with Grottes was stark; the place was packed with people drinking and eating and it took us a few minutes to find a spare table hidden under the stairway towards the rear. I managed to catch the eye of a waitress and, in my fluent Français, ordered a plate of nachos (spot the pattern here) and a tasting tray of the four beers available. In fact there were five beers on the list, but the other had Citron-Verte in the name and, remembering the farce in the Lord Nelson on the first evening with bits of limes scattered into the blanche, we rejected this one!
For the final time this trip we puckered up to the beer. The blanche was quite a let-down; it had the same bubblegum taste as the Lausanne beer but with a lot less flavour; either that or the Grottes beers had killed our tastebuds! We didn’t expect much from the blonde and it delivered on these low expectations having a pilsner-malt flavour with a very slight grassy dryness whilst the ambrée at least had some flavour; candysugar and toffee led to a plain sweetish malt finish. I took a sip of the keriche just to score it (I have no rules about minimum quantities – if others wish to inflict a half pint of this shite on themselves then fair play to them, but I don’t!) and found that it was even worse than the Lausanne version with an atrocious aspartame-like artificial sugariness alongside the cough syrup and marzipan; Sue didn’t mind it so much as she likes sweet beers, so she finished the glass leaving me to pull faces and scrub my tongue with a nacho!
Honestly, it was one of the worst things I’ve tasted in my scooping career so far; I think only the Donoghues beer which smelt (and tasted) of vomit, and maybe Huyghe Minty, could possibly be worse… oh yes, and Floris Chocolate, and then how about Carlsberg Hvede? Come to think of it, my list of repulsive fluids could be an essay in itself one day!
Tuesday 20th September 2005.
Ten minutes of the jet.
We had a 17:30 flight back home and, with no real desire to drink any beers from the four brewpubs again, we scooped in the mouettes (ferries) on the lake and then cleared up some cows we’d failed to spot the previous days as well as the last few tramlines we required. We’d hoped to buy some wine to take home but, after taking a train to the airport to scoop the line, we discovered Geneva airport’s duty free options were appalling; we managed to get two rare bottles of port but Swiss wine? Forget it! There was plenty of wine from the expensive Bordeaux châteaux available but that wasn't what we’d gone there for so we decided to make do with the bottle of schwarzbier I’d acquired from the supermarket on the station!
Finally, we’d been hoping to get some good photos of the jet d’eau and it was turned on, as booked, at 10:30 but the wind that had plagued us since we’d arrived was still a bit blowy and before we could get many decent phots of the thing they turned it off again…
Switzerland is coming up on the inside as one of the booming brewery-propagators of Europe these days; Geneva’s brewpubs have doubled in the last 3 years and many more have started throughout the country although the quality of some of the beers could be better – maybe this will come with practice – although some, such as Murailles and Château, produce some fine beers which would stand up alongside some mid-range Belgian beers in any blind tasting. Apparently the breweries in the German-speaking regions brew better beer, but until we visit I’ll have to take this gen at face value!
Switzerland has a reputation of being a very expensive place, but we found it fairly reasonable for the basics such as beer and food; yes, they cost more than in the UK, but not excessively more and certainly not prohibitively more. With an excellent public transport system in place within most cities and surprisingly friendly locals it’s not a scary place to visit for those who don’t want to plunge into the unfamiliar surroundings of the Czech republic or Croatia just yet; a visit to Switzerland can be done without, if you so wish, even thinking you’re away from the UK (except everyone speaks a foreign language and there’s not all shite and chavs everywhere).
With the ease of getting there from a good number of UK airports with easyJet to Geneva and, in ski season, Zurich and Basel it’s not a difficult place to get to. Hotels seem to be expensive but that’s life unless you want to sleep in the gutter; good value can be found if you look hard enough. Another way, possibly the most scenic way to reach Switzerland, would be to fly to a neighbouring country and train it in; flying into Salzburg and then doing the train through some of the largest mountains in Europe, along what are rumoured to be intensely scenic lines, sounds like the move we’ll do next time.
The Swiss, for reasons undisclosed but probably to allow the private banking to continue without European regulation, aren’t part of the EU but have agreements with it so you’d never notice in reality. They still maintain their own currency, the Swiss Franc (CHF), which is currently (July 2009) at 1.8 to the GBP. Mobiles (Orange) worked everywhere around Geneva and Lausanne but I can’t vouch for the mountainous regions in the centre of the country. Language is a tad confusing; the west speaks French, the east converse in German and the south in Italian although English is widely spoken - as usual knowing a few words of the lingo will ingratiate you with the locals who will, usually, then willingly speak English!
So, to sum up, I’d say Switzerland is a good destination for the “beginner” Euroscooper as it’s not too frightening a place; it’s clean, friendly, the people (usually) speak English and the food will be recognisable to most people. For the more seasoned Euroscooper there are lots of beers to sample although don’t expect too much excitement in the way of new styles or inspirational brewing although Château do make some solid and tasty beers.
We stayed at the Hotel Central on Rue Rôtisserie which nestles under the old town right in the middle of the action – if action is the correct word for Geneva. We booked via their own website where there is a choice of 3 different room types; compact, standard or superior, all ensuite and including breakfast in the price. The compact room, which was perfectly adequate despite entering via the bathroom, came in at a reasonable 105CHF a night – around £45 and the only issue we had with the hotel was the rule stating no washing of clothes in rooms; we usually wash one set of clothes to allow us to take hand luggage only (although now easyJet don’t weigh bags it’s not so problematic). Apart from that (and we still washed them; breakin’ the law!) I have no problems at all with the Central and with it’s ideal location for the Molard brewpub and tramstop I’d recommend it thoroughly to everyone visiting Geneva.
Getting there. **Updated 30/07/09**
Getting to Geneva (GVA) is easy; a large number of airports in the UK (even some small ones!) have direct flights with easyJet providing the majority of services. Below is a list of who goes from where; assume one flight a day although easyJet fly more regularly from Luton and the winter timetables are obviously busier and more frequent due to ski veg. Note, this is one route Ryanair don't serve!
The airport is only 3 miles NW of the city, linked by trolleybuses - and ordinary buses - to the city centre (most commonly buses 5 and 10) every few minutes. Amazingly, you can get a free ticket for both this trip and your whole stay in Geneva if you are booked into a hotel; "The bus stops at the Departure and Arrivals levels. Cost: All passengers arriving in GVA can obtain a public transport ticket valid for 80 minutes for all public transport in Geneva (buses, trains, trams, boats), including transfers. The ticket machine giving out the special tickets is the luggage hall, just before customs. You may be required to show proof that you have actually flown that day into GVA, so keep your boarding passes. Visitors to Geneva who stay in a hotel (including youth hostels), have the right to a public transport pass (valid on all buses, trains, trams, boats within Geneva) for the duration of their stay in Geneva; ask the receptionist of your hotel".
There is also a rail link into the city if you needed any more options or hate buses. See the ever-reliable To and From the airport gen here.
easyJet – Bournemouth, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Manchester and Newcastle.
BMI Baby – Cardiff, Manchester and East Midlands.
Jet2 – Blackpool and Manchester.
FlyBE – Exeter, Isle of Man, Jersey, Norwich, Southampton.
Blue Islands - Guernsey, Jersey.
In addition to this, easyJet fly from Luton and Gatwick to Zurich and Stansted to Basel, Blue Islands go from Guernsey and Jersey to Zurich, and Ryanair do Stansted to Basel.
Transport was excellent and very good value all round. Both Geneva and Lausanne have their own municipal transport authorities (remember those?) and offer all sorts of tickets. These can be bought from coin-operated machines, machines in rail stations which also accept notes and ticket booths at major stations. All sorts of vehicles provide the transport including standard diesel buses, electric trolleybuses, trams, cogwheel railways and even boats!
Unireso / TPG provide transport for Geneva and it’s environs and have excellent websites which contains maps, schedules and even vehicle details; everything you need to know and stuff you don’t. The tram system, after years of decline, is now being revitalised with plastic new vehicles and a new stretch of line linking the Palettes and Lancy-Pont-Rouge terminals. Ticketing is easy to understand – a 24-hour ticket (time starts from that printed on the ticket) is available for 10CHF and, most amenably, is valid for two people at weekends. A 09:00-24:00 ticket is a more reasonable 7CHF and there is also a 72-hour ticket available. For a city map, see here.
The city is divided into zones; zones 11 and 12 encircle the whole city limits and includes the airport which is around 5km north of the centre, connected by trolleybus No.10 every ten minutes or so. Most city-centre services are operated by trolleybuses with backup from some diesel buses. There are also boats (Mouettes) which operate four services on the lake which can be scooped if you have a dayticket which, whilst not going anywhere useful, are a change from road-based transport and offer a good view of the jet d’eau – if it’s turned on!
Lausanne’s transport is provided by t-l who operate trolleybuses, diesel buses, a tram/metro and a bizarre cogwheel railway. Day tickets are available from machines at stops or the little kiosk at the railway cogwheel station and cost CHF7 within the city or CHF8 for the full canton; if you’re just doing the brewpubs then the CHF7 ticket is all you need. A streetmap is here.
Between Geneva and Lausanne the train is the easiest option; there are around 3 to 4 an hour operated by the national rail company SBB and they take around 45 minutes. Tickets from the machines on the station for CHF40 return in standard class (around £18). Before you go you can even visit their website and create yourself a personal timetable which you can then have emailed to you or download from the website – that’s what I call service!
Beer and Brewery gen.
Don’t expect radical brewing or weird styles in the French-speaking area of Switzerland; given the examples we tried expect some decent ambrées, which are usually the best option, and some examples of more interesting stuff such as at Château. Listed below are the brewpubs we scooped and the pubs we tried the beers in with the new addition of a potentially contentious “Gazza Rating” for each, which are rated up to a maximum 5 tick-glasses (); obviously one glass is very bad and five glasses is very good! (No glasses mean that I haven't sampled the beer apart from the two Brasseurs Keriche beers which score zero and should not be drunk under any circumstances).
The gen was culled from a number of sources, mainly ratebeer and Bov’s site; see his website here; he’s the top man in Switzerland! As usual, a big thanks to Paul Harrop for all the gen he supplied when I pestered him for ages at Birmingham stopping him getting to the bar!
Birrifico Il Forno, Lancy Centre, Rue de Chancy 71, Geneva. ()
Trolleybus 2 or 19 to Morgines or Bus 20/14/18 to Les Esserts; the brewpub is inside the Lancy shopping centre opposite the Morgines stop and fairly obvious.
This “brewpub” is an Italian restaurant which serves good-looking food and the strange, extracty beers made on the small copper plant in the corner of the bar. Drinking without eating seems to be no problem at all.
Beers : Rousse (), Blonde () and Blanche.
Nelson Pub (Brasserie du Molard), Place Molard 9, Geneva. ()
Tram 12 or 16, Trolleybus 2/7/20, Bus 36 or Mouette M1 to Molard.
A brewpub situated on this small square right in the “action” of the lower town. The copper brewplant is prominently situated in the front windows and the food is decent for a snack.
Beers : Blonde (), Ambrée () and Blanche () plus a seasonal.
Brasserie des Grottes, Rue Servette, Geneva. ()
Trolleybus 3/9/10/29 to Lyon.
Strange nightclub-like dive with a dead feel to it and no real attractions except for the scoops!
Beers : Blanche (), Blonde () and Ambrée ().
Les Brasseurs, Place de Cornavin 20, Geneva. ()
SBB Train, tram 13/15/16 and numerous buses/trolleybuses to Gare Cornavin.
Situated opposite the station on the large square outside this is similar to the Lausanne pub; all bare wood blackboards and copper brewing kit. The beers seemed less interesting too.
Beers : Blanche (), Blonde (), Ambrée (), seasonal (Keriche - 0 points!)
Qu’Importe, Rue Ancienne 1, Carouge, Geneva. ()
Tram 12 or 13 to Marché. Follow tramlines away from the centre and the bar is on the left just where the tram does a sharp turn into Rue Ancienne.
Very modern bar which would have nothing really to recommend it were it not to stock the rare Murailles beers on draught and in bottle at slightly exclusive prices – CHF9 a bottle!
Beers : Murailles Blonde (Draught, ), La Catapulte (6% Brune, bottle-conditioned ) and La Sorcière (6% Rousse, bottle-conditioned ).
Other bars to stock Murailles on draught are - Au coin du Bar à Genève (17 rue Versonnex, SE of lake), Buvette de l’US Meinier (14 chemin du Stade), Café de la République à Conches (179 route de Florissant), and Glacier des Pierres du Niton à Genève (quai du Général-Guisan).
Also, in Geneva, the Calvinus beers are fairly widespread but are brewed by Locher which isn’t a local brewery despite what they might have you believe.
See my updated Lausanne beer gen here...
Gazza’s beers of the weekend.
1) Brasserie au Château Brune, Lausanne.
A gorgeous rich, roasty stout which is one of the best I've tasted for a long time.
2) Murailles La Catapulte in Qu’Importe, Carouge, Geneva.
Excellent Brune beer with a complex toasty malt flavour and quality fruitiness. Top stuff.
3) Brasserie au Château Cask IPA, Lausanne.
Not really an IPA, but a good beer all the same and, with some more bitterness, potentially great.
© Gazza 28/10/2005, V1.3.