Looking up or looking down, no matter which angle you have, Geneva and its surrounding environs is always beautiful. In fact, with the combination of scenic beauty, spiralling roads that hug the mountain cliff side and charming places to get a bite to eat along the way, you would be hard pressed to find another location that could offer as many scenic drives that are as pleasant as Geneva’s. The region is filled with flora and fauna that brings a stream of colour and fascination to every journey, but no matter which way you turn the horizon is always crowned by a mountain chain, be it the Alps, the Jura or Mont Blanc.
Yet if the beauty of the region was not enough to convince you, Geneva makes an easy if not highly ideal city to launch yourself. GVA is a major international airport with flights coming in from across the globe. All things considered Geneva is expensive, but the plus sides include it being an exceptionally clean city, everything runs on time and it certainly warrants a couple of days worth exploring. There is a lot of beauty on offer to any passerby, from impressive baroque architecture to a rich history and many excellent places to eat.
This particular road trip from Geneva, I like to call the “Fairytale Trail”. Straight off, it dips south west into neighboring France where the scenery is magical, the towns and villages spring forth from fairytale pages, the locals are warm and the food is ah... French!
The first destination is Pérouges, that is so astoundingly charming that it will make you want to come back to Europe, from wherever you hail from as much as you can. Pérouges is a small medieval village that has wonderfully managed to retain much of its old world charm. It is widely regarded as a French medieval jewel, as it is a beautiful city perched in the clasp of a forested hill of the Rhone-Alpes. A mere hour and a half drive from Geneva, it is a great location to kick start this once-in-a-lifetime scenic drive.
From Pérouges, take the scenic route to Annecy following the D1504 which takes many twists and turns through the mountainous Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. What Pérouges is for the novelist, Annecy is for the artist. A simply beautiful town that is nestled into the mountains, it has the northern tip of Lac d’Annecy running through it. Take a stroll along the quay on a warm sunny day, that will lead you to the romantic old town. At one of the cafes enjoy a late morning brunch as you take in the picturesque views and the stream of crowds slowly coursing by.
Whilst predominantly known for its glamorous ski resorts that come alive over the winter, it really is a stunning place that shouldn’t fall off your travel itinerary during the summer either. Following up the A40 it generally takes a bit over an hour to arrive from Annecy, but the drive is simply divine. The French Alps line up along the freeway like astute soldiers at attention looming over you. While the snow may all but have disappeared from the previous winter, the exquisite cultural life to be enjoyed in the resort village of Chamonix still remains, with many wonderful restaurants, piano bars and clubs.
An hour and a half drive heading north brings you to Thonon les Bains, a picturesque marina town just on the banks of Lake Geneva. Enjoy the town’s peaceful calm as you cruise through, watching the pretty little yachts gently swaying on the bay. Thonon les Bains is the ideal place for an afternoon’s thought filled moratorium. Peaceful and relaxing, it offers the perfect oasis to weave through your thoughts.
For a final stop-over en route back to Geneva, make sure to stretch your legs as you set out to discover the entirely charming township of Yvoire. Perhaps only a half an hour or so drive from Thonon les Bains, you will find yourself transported back in time by at least several centuries as you set out to explore this medieval village. Wonderfully characterised by its many old cottages, little spiral domed chapels, city walls and quaint hotels. We recommend that that you book a room in a hotel in advance, as Yvoire will more than likely entice you to extend your stay.
For this scenic drive from Geneva, I strongly recommend hiring an SUV. As to which one you go for that is entirely up to you, but the mountainous terrain demands a strong and robust vehicle that is able to take on the steep gradients without wilting. Without an SUV and its four wheel drive system, some parts of this route can become inaccessible or at least highly dangerous to traverse and not worth the risk. As the roads climb the mountains at times they get quite narrow, even as the gradient is extremely steep. I’m not going to deny that driving through them is fun and highly exciting, just make sure you have got the car for the occasion. My SUV of preference tends to go the the Range Rover Autobiography, because it is so exceptionally robust and elegant all at the same time. However other recommendations also go to the BMW X5 M and the Porsche Cayenne. But if you’re wanting something with heaps of character there is always the rough and ready Jeep Wrangler.
Heaped with beauty, character and sumptuous places to eat, this corner of France and Switzerland is certainly guilty of getting more than its fair share of earthly blessings.