La Salève - Hiking to the Balcony of GenevaSunday, October 23, 2016
The Swiss life is known for certain key pleasures: cheese and chocolates as major food groups, and hiking and skiing as national pastimes. As we continue settling into our new life in Switzerland, we've also started to partake more and more in these delights. Funny enough, however, our first hike as Geneva residents was not in Switzerland but across the border in France. Nothing quite drives home the oddity of this Swiss city tucked in the bosom of France as the process of hopping on a Swiss bus, crossing the border on foot and hiking up a French mountain to get a proper overview of Geneva.
La Salève is the closest and most easily accessible mountain for Geneva city dwellers looking for a good nature romp. You can take Bus #8 all the way to the end of the line in Veyrier, cross the border and take any of about a dozen possible hikes up the mountain. I brought my passport but the office was closed that Sunday so we unceremoniously crossed over into the EU.
In addition to multiple hiking trails, one can easily reach the top of Salève by car or cablecar (a one-way ticket for the téléphérique is 4,30€ while a round-trip ticket is 6,30€). We elected to hike up the mountain and take the téléphérique down, which I recommend. While going up a mountain is certainly more challenging that going down, we decided to save our knees from the pain of a steep descent, and are still glad that we did.
We basically winged it, as far as hiking routes go. Similar to Switzerland, Salève had several signs pointing to and estimating times for various routes. We took the route to L'Observatoire, which at 2 hours and 15 minutes is the fastest but also has the steepest incline. It is largely a walk among the trees, with occasional breaks where one can glimpse Geneva—not the most impressive views, if you've hiked elsewhere in stunning Switzerland, but delightful enough for us amateur hikers. We largely enjoyed just being away from the city, taking on a physical challenge and communing with nature.
When we reached the peak, we found ourselves reluctantly back among the tourist throngs at the landing point of the téléphérique. I pulled out my euros and we enjoyed some hotdogs at Buvette Sympa. We skipped having a beer here as we intended on walking on to L'Observatoire but I would urge you to try the special Mont Salève microbrew at this point. We continued on to L'Observatoire and along the way passed the table d'orientation where we were lucky enough to glimpse a paraglider beginning his flight to the plains down below. When we reached L'Observatoire, I was surprised to find a Buddhist temple adjoining the restaurant. It felt anachronistic, almost, but the colorful Buddhist flags flapping in the wind did make for a stunning visual together with the view of the city of Geneva. At the restaurant, we enjoyed the view with some beers on the terrace then walked back to take the téléphérique down.
We didn't consult any guides before hiking up Salève but you would perhaps enjoy the guide prepared by Téléphérique du Salève (available in English and in French), as it has a lot of interesting historic tidbits about the mountain. If you plan well and are a more experienced hiker, you can also join the Geneva Association of friends of the Salève for their Sunday 10am hikes, which can take 5 to 8 hours (3 hours of which will consist of a rapid climb). You can find more information here.