Tuesday 2 April 2024

When in Geneva get on a bicycle

On my way to Chamonix I decided to stop off in Geneva city centre to do a little bike ride. The reasonably-priced bike hire shop was nearby so it would have been rude not to do a mini tour while over there.  

My route around Geneva on Strava

I enjoy going skiing in Chamonix and have been there quite a few times over the years. Like many people, as soon as I have touched down at Geneva airport and gone through the rather long queue at passport control I get whisked down the motorway to this town situated in the shadow of Mont Blanc, the home of mountain sports, and the place where the winter Olympics began.  

When a Geneva, hire a bike and ride around the lake

Well, in recent times I had considered the idea of not just passing through Geneva Airport,  but of actually going into the city itself. A pretty-looking city that sits on the edge of the eponymous lake (though officially known as Lac Léman) surely must be a lovely place to hang out. Many years ago I spent a couple of days there at the start of the Route des Grands Alps cycle ride. That was by default than by design as I had a mechanical with my bike, so needed to stop off and get it fixed.

A couple of years ago I did a very swift spin on the cycle path along the lake when I had an hour to kill while waiting for my flight back to London. 

But on this occasion I thought to myself that it would be nice to spend quality leisure time in Geneva. Okay, so it would cut into valuable skiing time, but given the grim weather on the slopes I didn't feel I'd be missing out on anything.

So on my arrival at Geneva Airport, instead of catching a transfer straight to Chamonix, I took the 10-minute train ride to the city centre, and hired a bicycle in a little place right behind the train station. 

What better way to explore a city than by getting on a bicycle. Very handily, there's a shop right behind the station that hires them out. It's called Genèveroule - a little cooperative that hires out various types of bicycle - city bikes, hybrids, a few low end road bikes, e-bikes, and now cargo bikes - which seem to have taken off everywhere. 

I had hired a city bike from this place the last time I was in Geneva, and enjoyed the experience. Given that I'd only be spending the day there I hired the same type of bike.

So with my bag and packed lunch in the basket, I set off on the short route through the city to reach the lake. Finding the lake was very easy. With a length of 45 miles (72 km) and an average width of 5 miles, you can't really miss it.

Cycle path around Lake Geneva

There are cycle paths through central Geneva, and a signboard indicates the cycle path to the lake, and then to cross the confluence between the lake and the River Rhone to reach the southern lake cycle path. I took the Pont du Mont Blanc, then followed the signs through the park and under the bridge to reach the lakeside, close to the Jet d'Eau. 

This signature fountain that sprouts up water in a boisterous way asserts its presence among the various vistas of colourful lakeside properties and the Alps in the majestic background. This view makes it unmistakeably Geneva.

Working out where to go was easy. I just followed the dedicated cycle path along the lake towards the neighbourhoods of Eaux-Vives and Cologny. This section was flat and you pass day trippers walking around the lake, plus folks hanging out on the various seats. To my right is the main road where all the traffic continues without interaction with cyclists. The cycle path is properly segregated. 

Initially the cycle path is two-way cycle path and is heavily used by tourists and local commuters alike. After about 1.5 miles a sign indicates to cross the road where I am on a path travelling in the same direction as the traffic, though still segregated. Also the road goes uphill and I reach Corsier. By this time I have passed all the tourist sights, the path has taken me away from Lake Geneva, and I am just in an ordinary, non-descript neighbourhood where life goes on in a bog-standard way like it could be any neighbourhood in Europe. 

As it's Friday noon, pupils are tipping out of their schools for their lunch. This means I have to be mindful of errant pedestrians walking on the cycle path, as well as delivery vans. At this point there is a distinct cycle path, but it is not completely segregated from traffic. 

After a couple more neighbourhoods the route takes me onto a trunk road surrounded by fields. Although this is a faster road and the main road to Thonon-les-Bains, in France, it doesn't feel unsafe. Parts of it have a separate cycle path so I felt quite secure. I must say I felt a little silly on a sit-up-and-beg city bike though, as the other cyclists I saw at this point were club riders. I wondered if the bike hire shop had thought that I might be riding this far out of the city.

Just before the border crossing into France, the road became faster, and at that point I took the right-hand turn somewhere I was completely unfamiliar with. I didn't want to be on a fast road, and in any case the sky had turned black and it looked like heavy rain was about to hit.

The road back to Geneva

Luckily, I found a farm outbuilding where I was able to take shelter, and used the break in proceedings to have my lunch while watching the rain tipping down.

A few club cyclists passed me on this stretch of road. Interestingly, none of them were wet, meaning that I should ride in the direction they were coming from.

So after my sandwiches I followed the road to Veigy-Foncenex, which was in dry French territory. Veigy was a quaint though desolate border village which I whizzed thorugh quite quickly. It took me back onto the main Thonon-Geneva road where I was able to pick up a few small lanes (chemins) and ride past more farms, to eventually take me back to the other side of Corsier, where the lake came into view. By now the rain had stopped in Switzerland and the sun had returned. The views over the fields and the lake below looked very pretty.

This was my favourite part of the route, and in this area there were quite a few leisure bike riders and joggers. I noticed signboards for a waymarked route to cycle the circuit of Lake Geneva. That is a reason to come back to Geneva. The circuit is around 170km and not too hilly, so would be a nice little challenge ride to do with my road bike.

Back to Geneva, and I crossed over to the north side of the lake via the pedestrianised Pont des Bergues and followed the cycle path past the botanical gardens and the United Nations complex. This section of cycle path was quite hilly, and would also take me to the hilly neighbourhoods of the city.

View of Lake Geneva from a quiet lane (chemin) near Corsier

 As time was marching on, and my bus to Chamonix would soon be due, I turned back and returned to Cornavin and the bike hire shop. They were surprised, but quite impressed that I managed to take the bike so far all that time!

My impressions of cycling around Geneva are very positive, and I would certainly recommend doing a little trip around the city on two wheels. You don't need to go all the way to France to enjoy the experience though.

Here's a link to Geneveroule, where I hired the bike.

Related posts

Quick spin by Lake Geneva on a hire bike

Barcelona cycle ride - picking up my hire bike

Navigli of Milan and suburban bike ride

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