Takeaway

Carouge, Geneva’s slice of Italy

Prachi Joshi | Updated on February 21, 2020 Published on February 20, 2020

Face lift: In the late-18th century, architects from Turin, Italy, transformed Carouge, then a hamlet with a dozen houses, into a vibrant town   -  IMAGE COURTESY: GENEVÉ TOURISME

The distinctly Italian suburb of Carouge likes to eat, drink and make merry

Think Geneva and your mind conjures up images of banking and diplomacy, with expensive watches and hand-made chocolates thrown in. But head to the southern part of the city, across the Arve River, and you will arrive in Carouge. Often compared to New York’s West Village, this charming suburb is a laid-back contrast to Geneva’s prim and proper demeanour. Amidst striking Italianate architecture you will find chic indie boutiques, lively street markets, and a host of bars and bistros. Here’s how to take it all in.

Italian influence

Hop on a tram (numbers 12, 15, or 18) or a bus (line 4) in Geneva city centre, and in 10-15 minutes you will be in Carouge. You are likely to almost forget that you’re in Switzerland. Carouge feels like Italy, with its pastel houses, Venetian blinds and tiled roofs. The pretty squares and splashing fountains only add to that impression.

“The name Carouge comes from the Latin word quadrivium or crossroads. During the Roman period, it was on the trading route coming from the south of France and going north to Italy,” says my guide Gianna, who has lived in Carouge for more than 20 years. The suburb’s fortunes fluctuated through the ages until, in the 1400s, it came under the House of Savoy. In 1754, a treaty was signed between the Republic of Geneva and the Duchy of Savoy, due to which Carouge became a part of the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, which had its capital in Turin, Italy. “Carouge was a hamlet then with a dozen houses, so the King (Victor Amadeus III) decided to build a town that could compete with Geneva. He had architects from Turin build Carouge in the Italianate style in 1786,” says Gianna.

Shop talk

Carouge had always been home to artisans — blacksmiths, woodcarvers and so on. And today, makers of clothes, handbags, hats, clocks and jewellery thrive here. Many of the shops are located on Rue St Joseph. Find unique jewellery at Igor Siebold, trendy hats at Zabo Chapeaux, couture by local designer Anne-Claude Virchaux, homeware and curios at Epsetera, and handmade cosmetics and toiletries at Autour du Bain. Geneva may be known for its high-end watches but it’s in Carouge that you’ll find watchmaking genius Jean Kazes, who makes clocks that look like abstract sculptures.

Take a break from shopping (window or otherwise) to visit two of Carouge’s main churches. Église Sainte-Croix is a Baroque Catholic Church that dates back to 1777. Built by a Piedmontese architect, its grey-white façade with a tall bell tower presides over Place du Marché. In contrast, the 19th-century neoclassical Protestant Church of Geneva in nearby Place du Temple looks austere from the outside. The interiors have carved wooden columns and a colourful Nativity mural in the Jugendstil style, made by a pastor in the 1920s.

Eat street

Though Carouge (reluctantly) became a part of Geneva in 1816, it still retains its easy-going vibe. This is where the people of Geneva come to unwind, eat, and drink. Begin with a coffee at Valmandin, a gourmet roaster on Rue Ancienne. Then stroll down to Place du Marché, where a buzzing street market is heaving with stalls selling everything fresh and local — vegetables, fruits, bread, wine, cheese, and anything you need for a picnic.

After rooting around the market, head to Café des Négociants on Rue de la Filature, a bistro by celebrity chef Philippe Chevrier. It offers set menus and à la carte dishes with a French accent, along with an extensive wine list. For a more casual meal, visit Café du Marché for a Mediterranean lunch amidst stone walls and antique wooden furnishing. Boulangerie-patisserie Wolfisberg on Place du Temple is perfect for éclairs and seasonal fruit pastries. Carouge is swinging in the evenings too; Le Chat Noir offers good cocktails and live music, comedy nights and jam sessions.

Gianna and I wind up the tour at Philippe Pascoët’s chocolaterie. Even amongst Geneva’s excellent independent chocolate makers, I find Philippe Pascoët’s creations setting a high bar. There are the usual caramel, hazelnut and raspberry pralines (my favourite was the passion fruit) but also quirky flavours of sage, saffron, and jasmine tea to the downright peculiar coriander. “Geneva is a nice elegant lady, but Carouge is the playful, naughty child that everybody loves,” says Gianna. No wonder I’m charmed by it.

 

Travel log
  • Getting there
  • Swiss flies direct from Mumbai and Delhi to Zurich. From there, Geneva is a 45-minute flight or a three-hour train ride away, with frequent connections.
  • Stay
  • Hotel Ibis Styles Genève Carouge (accor.com) or the InterContinental Genève in the International District (intercontinental.com).
  • BLink Tip
  • From late June to early October, the City of Carouge offers guided tours on Saturdays, on a variety of themes such as architecture, arts and crafts, secret gardens and so on. The tours begin from the Town Hall (Place du Marché 14) at 11 am and do not require prior registration; CHF 10/₹750 for adults and CHF 5/₹375 for children and students (carouge.ch).

Prachi Joshi is a travel and food writer based in Mumbai

Published on February 20, 2020

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