Geneva : South and west of the Old Town
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Within sight of the Musée d’Art, on the high ground opposite, rise the gilded onion domes of the Russian Church (open sporadically), built in 1863 on the remains of a sixteenth-century Benedictine priory – at that time isolated on an empty hilltop – with money donated by Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna Constancia, aunt of Queen Victoria and a longtime Geneva resident. A gridlike neighbourhood of long, straight boulevards lined with solid town houses rapidly grew up around the church at the end of the nineteenth century, and the area, known as Les Tranchées, is still grand and quiet today. Five minutes from the church, at 8 Rue Munier-Romilly, is the astonishing Collections Baur (Tues–Sun 2–6pm; Fr.5), the country’s premier collection of East Asian art. Start at the top floor, with a bright-lit display, complete with paper-screen doors, of nineteenth-century Japanese ceramics. One floor down is the Chinese collection: aim for room 8, featuring some delicately luminescent yellow Yongzhang ceramics. The ground floor has some older Chinese work, including beautifully simple white bowls from the ninth century, a little interior garden and fountain in room 3 surrounded by Ming porcelain, and other rooms with brilliant cobalt-blue ceramics and spectacular Qing jade, almost translucent.

Barely five minutes’ walk northwest, at 2 Terrasse St-Victor, is a grand mansion, its doorway flanked by torch-holding figures. This is the Petit Palais (Mon–Fri 10am–noon & 2–6pm, Sat & Sun 10am–1pm & 2–5pm; Fr.10), housing yet another art museum, this time devoted solely to French modernism 1870–1930. A wide selection of works trace the period’s evolution of style but, despite the presence of a few big names, there are no major works and it’s probably more for buffs than general passers-by. A broad Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist collection is scattered across four floors, aided by examples of Nabi, Fauvist and Naïf style, and plenty of works from the schools of Montmartre and Montparnasse.

The broad Boulevard des Philosophes traces a path around the Parc des Bastions and the university district to the Rond-Point de Plainpalais, on the eastern tip of a diamond of open space known as the Plaine de Plainpalais. If Geneva still has a village green or a marketplace, this is it – a little oasis of humanity ringed around by buzzing traffic. Most days see a market of one kind or another, whether fruit and veg or the famous Wednesday and Saturday flea markets, and the space is always bustling with people walking their dogs, students reading on the benches or kids testing their skills on the skateboarding ramps.

Just off the western angle of the diamond is MAMCO, the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, housed in an old industrial space at 10 Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers (Tues noon–9pm, Wed–Sun noon–6pm; Fr.9). The museum has kept the former factory’s concrete floors and overhead strip lighting to display its often stark but high-quality collection, covering installations, video art, photographs, sculptures and painting produced since the 1960s, both permanent acquisitions and a running series of temporary exhibits. Next door, the Centre d’Art Contemporain also holds many temporary shows of young Genevois and Swiss artists in all fields (Fr.4).

From the Place du Cirque at Plainpalais’ northern tip, Boulevard de St Georges heads due west through one of Geneva’s funkiest and most engaging young neighbourhoods. A short way along, a brick wall conceals the beautiful Cimetière de Plainpalais, permanent home to, among others, Sir Humphry Davy, who invented the miners’ lamp. Gravestone #707, close to the wall and the object of much recent care, is marked only with a faint “J.C.”: this is presumed to be the last resting place of Calvin. Adjacent to the cemetery’s western wall is an area of what look like derelict, graffitied warehouses, but which are in fact the studios and workshops of Artamis (as in art-amis, “friends of art”), an artists’ collective. Behind, Rue de la Coulouvrenière feeds into the atmospheric Place des Volontaires, with a scattering of cafés and the L’Usine squat, Geneva’s biggest alternative arts venue, with galleries, a theatre space, music venue, café and more. The riverfront Quai des Forces Motrices, also with cafés and clubs, is dominated by the arched windows of the Bâtiments des Forces Motrices, which once housed gigantic hydraulic turbines supplying the city with water and which has now been converted into a massive space for opera and drama. Further along Boulevard de St-Georges is the rundown district of Jonction, at the point where the Arve meets the Rhône; residents have a tradition, in the torrid days of summer, of flinging themselves off the Pont de Sous-Terre for a refreshing float downstream in the cool water.

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