Hop to Geneva’s hip side: The bohemian district of Carouge has become a playground for the city’s arty crowd
- Jo Knowsley explores the hamlet, which is a short tram ride from central Geneva
- It’s a once-sleepy fishing hamlet that was completely rebuilt in the 18th century
- It has brightly-hued abodes with craft shops at street level and secret gardens
Why on earth are you taking them to Carouge?’ That’s what our guide had been asked when admitting to taking a tourist party out of central Geneva across the river Arve.
That was 25 years ago. It is different now. While Geneva has for decades been firmly on the international map as the beautiful lakeside City of Peace, and a world leader in business, finance and luxury goods, little Carouge has steadily been building its own reputation: its glorious Italianate architecture, leafy parks, squares and quirky streets — crammed with bespoke artisans — drawing tourists all too keen to visit the place known as Little Italy.
I had loved my time in central Geneva, with a two-hour long tuk tuk tour of the city and the lush outlying countryside and its vineyards.
Rue de Saint Joseph in Carouge, covered by a rainbow of umbrellas
And as I stroll the little streets of Carouge, just a hop and a skip (well actually ten minutes on the no18 tram) from central Geneva, I reflect on how lucky I am to be here at all in the time of Covid.
Getting around is easy, aided by the Geneva Pass which offers free travel and entry to many museums and is provided by hotels free to all visitors. It also helps that Switzerland is currently on the UK’s green list.
For Carouge, once a sleepy fishing hamlet and completely rebuilt in the 18th century by the Dukes of Savoy, was a special secret back in the austere days of the Reformation. Then, citizens of straitened and rigid Geneva, run by the Protestants, would furtively cross the river to enjoy the taverns and licentiousness entertainments that the Catholic Italian town still provided. They visited for freedom.
Carouge – once a sleepy fishing hamlet and completely rebuilt in the 18th century
Geneva – ‘relaxed and exquisitely elegant… and a world leader in business, finance and luxury goods’
‘Visiting Carouge was forbidden,’ explains our guide Gianna Loredan, who has lived in the quarter — now swallowed up by the main city — for the past 30 years. ‘Those who did visit were punished. You can see this in paintings of people on their knees, being admonished by the clergy.’
The brightly-coloured 18th-century houses, with their craft shops at street level, are rarely more than two storeys high. Each has a secret garden or leafy courtyard tucked away at the back.
Once the area was full of tanneries and taverns. Today, its main street, Rue St Joseph, is bursting with the stores of bespoke craftsmen and women.
I meet Jean Kazes who, for 45 years, has created unique and extraordinary pieces for the likes of Cartier and Patek Philippe, his prices ranging from £10,000 to £20,000. His shop hums with a gentle tick tock as dozens of the timepieces march through the moments with a sound like falling raindrops.
There are crafty milliners, fragrant teashops and the fantastic bespoke leather-ware store Borella, where its beautiful custodian Manon hand-stitches every custom-made bag and piece of apparel.
Returning to Geneva and ascending to the fifth floor Roof Terrace of the grand Hotel Metropole Geneva (‘the best view in the city, according to the young elegantly-dressed man who shares my lift to the top) is the perfect end to my three-day visit.
I feel like the Queen of all I survey. Which I think must be how Genevans feel about their relaxed and exquisitely elegant city.