PLUNGING headfirst into Geneva’s River Arve comes as a shock to me.
Partly because the water has rushed straight down from the snowy summit of nearby Mont Blanc; partly because I wasn’t expecting to be thrown into a river at 11am on a Monday.
Geneva is full of surprises. Far from the austere outpost of bean-counting bankers and cuckoo clock craftsmen that many expect, it’s a vibrant young metropolis on the banks of Europe’s largest alpine lake — and an adventure sports paradise.
Lake Geneva is at the heart of everything here, with the city clustered around its shoreline, and locals loving to swim, paddle and sail in its waters.
Between September and May, Genevans like nothing better than stripping naked and jumping into its cool, crystalline depths from Bains des Pâquis — a popular floating jetty and sauna complex.
But Geneva’s love of the life aquatic isn’t restricted to its beautiful lake. It’s also centred on the two mighty rivers that bisect this ancient city: the Rhone and the Arve.
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It’s the latter in which I find myself taking an impromptu bath, at the end of an epic morning of white water rafting for my new TV show, Adventure Cities.
The programme visits major cities with adrenaline and extreme sports at their heart, and Geneva is a perfect example.
Where else in the world can you ride rapids through an international city centre?
And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing this morning: sliding and bouncing our way down countless waterfalls on our downtown commute, with larger-than-life French- speaking guide, Gérald Beddiar, leading the way.
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As we reach the city centre itself, Gérald finishes the job with a flourish — by sliding and bouncing me out of the boat for the watching TV cameras.
Geneva is a genuine mecca for adrenaline junkies — not only on the water, but also in the towering mountains that encircle the city. The closest of these, Mont Salève, is nicknamed the Swiss city’s “home mountain”, because the peak can be reached in just five minutes via cable car.
That accessibility makes the mountain incredibly popular with locals — not just on weekends, but also weekday evenings and even lunch breaks.
From the top of the Mont Salève cable car at 1,100 metres, there are a multitude of world-class hiking and biking trails to explore through the flower-coated alpine meadows — as well as incredible paragliding out over the city, as you swoop gracefully back down from summit to lakeshore.
The ridiculous proximity of Geneva’s city centre to this shopping list of adventure sports blew me away during filming, but the reverse is also true.
After a hard day of climbing, biking or falling out of inflatable rafts, you’re never far from the city’s world-class selection of bars and restaurants either. And where better to warm up after an unexpected river dunking than the spiritual home of fondue?
Just make sure you follow the rules if you’re going to order this archetypal Swiss treat: only drink white wine or herbal tea with your fondue (beer is a serious no-no); don’t drop your bread in the communal pot (or you’ll have to buy everyone else a round of drinks); and don’t forget the best bit: “la religieuse” — the golden, crunchy crust at the bottom of the pot.
There are plenty of non-extreme adventures to be had in Geneva’s pretty old town too, from building your own watch at a fascinating little watchmakers called Initium, to creating your own Swiss Army knife at the global flagship of Victorinox.
But sooner rather than later, everything — from random conversation to the choice of rooftop bars — comes back to the lake at the heart of the city.
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Genevans and water, it seems, go together like marshmallows and chocolate. And it’s that seamless, timeless symbiosis with the great outdoors that makes the city such an immense playground for sports lovers — and such a perfect adventure city.
- Adventure Cities season one is now airing on the Discovery Channel. See discovery.com