If you’re looking for great food, fine wine, and a world-class farmer’s market in a laid-back setting, don’t overlook Geneva’s lesser known French neighbor, Ferney Voltaire.
The New York Times has featured Geneva twice in its 36 hours articles (2007 and 2016), but Geneva’s next door neighbor, Ferney Voltaire, deserves a mention as well. Just a 20-minute bus ride from downtown Geneva or 10 minute ride from the airport, Ferney Voltaire is one of the French “frontalier” (border) towns that sits just outside Geneva. From 1759 to 1778 Ferney was home to French writer and philosopher Voltaire, sometimes referred to as “the patriarch of Ferney.” His influence on the town was profound, reshaping the village according to his own image, and creating thriving industries that produced some of the finest potters and watchmakers of modern France. After the French Revolution, the town was renamed in his honor. These days, Ferney is home to a mix of locals and a large international population who work at nearby CERN or one of the many UN or international organizations in Geneva. With top-notch restaurants, bakers, butchers, wine, and cheese, along with parks, markets, theaters, and music, Ferney provides a charming, more affordable alternative to city life.
1. 3pm – Beer o’clock
Start your visit to Ferney by taking an afternoon stroll down Ferney Voltaire’s main street, the Grand’ Rue, a cobbled road with beautiful views of the Jura on one side and Mont Blanc on the other that serves as a remnant of the time when Voltaire presided over the town. Stop in to the popular Cafe du Soliel for a beer or a kir royale, the local drink of choice. Sip it on the buzzing streetside patio while doing some quality people watching.
2. 7pm – Experience real French gastronomy
For an authentic French dining experience, make a reservation for dinner at Hotel de France. This charming boutique hotel boasts the best French food in the area, regularly drawing crowds from around the region. The friendly staff take their food seriously, using fresh local ingredients to create a fine dining experience. Recent highlights include homemade duck foie gras with pumpkin compote, Macvin caramel and sage; duck tartare with balsamic, mashed parsnips, chestnuts, and mushroom mousse, drizzled with hazelnut oil; a poached egg with pistachio vinaigrette and pine nuts; and pears poached in mulled wine with almond crumble, caramel and bourbon vanilla ice cream. The wine list is extensive, so leave the selection to Cecile, the owner, who always seems to recommend the perfect wine to pair with any meal. Expect to spend a few hours lingering over your food, and don’t forget to save room for the cheese cart and dessert. In the summer, a lovely terrace draped in vines will make you feel as though you are a million miles away from Geneva. Expect a three-course meal for two to set you back around 120 euros, not including cheese or wine.
3. 8:30am – coffee with the locals
Start your day off by sipping a hot cup of coffee with the locals at Bar Le Régent, located in the set of shops next to the small Carrefoure supermarket. A regular crowd fills this classic diner to catch up on the local gossip each morning over an espresso. Take a seat in the cozy interior or on the patio when the weather is nice, and fuel up before hitting the street market.
4. 9:30am – forage for your breakfast
Ferney’s weekly Saturday street market ranks among the best in France. Taking over the downtown from 8am-2pm each week, nearly 200 vendors
from around the region show up before dawn to set up stalls displaying their freshest produce, baked goods, pastas, cheeses, farm products, and more, spilling from the town hall out into the side streets. By 9am, the market is in full swing, attracting visitors from far and wide who come to do their weekly shopping or take in the authentic French market atmosphere. For breakfast, don’t miss the almond croissants, spice breads and fruit tarts near the Voltaire statue, or indulge in a platter of Britagne oysters washed down with white wine or champagne. For lunch, cobble together a picnic from one of the many stands selling magnificent loaves of huge crusty french breads, rounds of oozing and creamy cheeses, charcuterie sliced fresh to order, and whatever fruit is in season. Whether your arms are already full of cheese or not, no trip to Ferney is complete without a stop in Fromagerie Michelin, a quintessential French cheese shop on the Grand’ Rue whose display case will make your eyes pop. You may not recognize many of the cheese varieties, so ask the friendly employees to sample one (or more) of them to see which ones you like. The seasonal bries behind the counter, in flavors such as truffle and garlic and herb, will make you reconsider ever eating anything else. And of course, in France it’s against the rules to have lunch without wine, so make sure to stop next door at Cave Vins de France, a local wine store run by Frédéric and Béatrice Dalloz, who will even go so far as to look through the basket of ingredients you’ve collected from the market and give you personalized advice on the perfect wine to pair with your meal.
5. 12pm – ancient philosophy
Picnic in hand, head past the town cemetery up the stone wall-lined path to Chateau de Voltaire, a national historical monument, where for 8 euro, you can take a self-guided tour of the chateau and grounds where Voltaire spent the last 20 years of his life. After moving in in 1758, Voltaire rebuilt the castle entirely, landscaping the grounds and transforming the town of Ferney along the lines laid out in Candide (1759), summed up in his famous maxim: “il faut cultiver notre jardin” (we must tend to our garden). Now open to the public after years of renovation, it was commemorated with a visit from French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigit in the summer of 2018. After the tour, take a stroll around the castle garden and find a quiet bench to enjoy your picnic lunch while soaking in views of Tire Park, just below the chateau, and Mont Blanc, looming above the skyline in the distance.
6. 3pm – boutique peek
Walk back down the hill into town and spend the afternoon exploring the artisan boutiques lining the Grand’ Rue. Particular favorites include Angel, a “ready-to-wear” women’s boutique with excellent customer service featuring the latest fashion, beautiful cashmere sweaters and patterned scarves; and Sensitif chaussures, a funky shoe store with a unique mix of styles from France, Italy and other nearby European designers. Prices aren’t cheap, but you’ll be hard pressed to find so many interesting shoes in one place anywhere else.
7. 5pm – time for tea
Kick back and relax with an afternoon tea or glass of wine at Torrefaction and Restaurant de la Truite, a warm and inviting coffee, tea and wine cafe with a boisterous clientele on the corner of the Grand’ Rue, across from Hotel de France. Prices are extremely affordable, and the selection broad. A nice selection of small plates and salads are also available. While you sip, you can browse the vast collection of beautiful Japanese and local tea pots and products, ceramic mugs, and French knives decorating the shop. In case you’re in a more festive mood, try your hand at a beer brewing workshop at the hip new Biere Yourself instead, located just around the corner on Rue de Meyrin.
8. 7pm – a taste of Thailand
Make sure to call ahead for dinner at Le Bee Mai Thai restaurant, set inconspicuously among the row houses just a couple blocks off of the Grand’ Rue. The small, cozy interior is always packed, and for good reason – Bee Mai serves some of the area’s best Thai food, at much more reasonable prices than neighboring Geneva. Expect to pay about 9 Euros for starters and 15 for mains. Portions are large, and dishes are good for sharing.
9. 10pm – enjoy some Irish craic
There isn’t much in the way of nightlife in Ferney – for a big night out on the town, Ferneysians usually head into Geneva – with one exception: Paddy’s Irish pub, just a 10 minute walk from downtown Ferney, offers cold beer (and good fish and chips), a casual pub atmosphere, and occasional live music until 1am every night except Sunday. So wind down the evening with a cold Guinness and a friendly international crowd before walking the quiet streets back to your hotel.
10. 9am – wake up to the smell of freshly baked bread
If the smell of fresh baked baguettes and pain au chocolate makes your mouth water, head to bakery La Fournil de la Fontaine to pick up breakfast. The bright and colorful interior may be small, but the flaky croissants, warm breads, and gooey fruit pastries are heavy enough to tide you over until lunch. If you prefer a crispier, buttery pain au chocolate, walk around the corner to Boulangerie du Levant to do a direct taste-test. Here, you can also order an espresso and sip at one of the small indoor tables while you eat.
11. 10am – a walk in the park
Just a couple blocks away from the Grand’ Rue lies the peaceful green Tire Park. With a large playground and dog park, the park is a popular place for young, old, and families alike, especially on the weekends. After admiring the view of Mont Blanc, cross over Rue de Meyrin and walk down the long wooded path towards the airport. When the leaves are on the trees, a beautiful canopy covers the trail, creating a private green or yellow tunnel. When the path ends at the airport, you have the choice of turning back or keeping right to complete the 3-mile loop through the woods, fields, and vineyards back around to Ferney.
12. 12pm – hidden Lebanese delights
You can’t always judge a book by its cover. From the outside, Goodies Goodtaste International Ltd. appears to be a small run-down supermarket sitting off the main road just before the Swiss border. However, upon entering the aged doors, the interior reveals a Lebanese food-lover’s paradise. The large epicerie filled with spices, fruits, vegetables and pita, is fringed by a counter devoted to baklava and cookies, another showcasing a vast array of homemade Lebanese salads and sauces, and another serving schwarma and falafel, with sandwiches priced at an unheard of 2.75 euro (compared to 8-10 chf for the equivalent in Geneva). Order a sandwich and a few sides to share, or to add as additional toppings (roasted cauliflower and hummus are top recommendations), and take a seat at one of the many indoor or outdoor plastic tables. Then go back for a heaping plate of Baklava.
Hotel de France
1 rue de Genève – 01210 Ferney Voltaire
Tél. : +33 (0)4 50 40 63 87
The most authentic and central hotel in Ferney Voltaire is the charming Hotel de France, a small boutique hotel with reasonably sized rooms located on the main downtown intersection. The staff will go out of their way to make guests comfortable and, while decor in the rooms feels slightly outdated, it creates a true French ambience. The hotel is within easy walking distance to all attractions and boasts the town’s best restaurant on the first floor. Rooms start at 79 Euro per night, and can be booked online. Breakfast can be added for an additional 10 Euros a day.
Residence la Reserve
1 Avenue du Jura – 01210 Ferney-Voltaire
Tel.:+33 4 50 40 30 20
Residence la Reserve is a four star apartment-hotel complex centrally located between the border and downtown Ferney, on the main road. Rooms are comfortable, with the added benefit of a kitchenette, in case guests prefer to cook or store some of their food from the market. A pool is also located on-site.
From the airport, take bus 66 towards Ferney Voltaire or Thoiry (10 minutes). Taxis run about 25 chf, Ubers around 18 chf. From downtown Geneva, take the F bus from the main Cornavin train station or Nations towards Ferney Voltaire or Gex (20-25 minutes). Taxis run about 40 chf, Ubers 20-25 chf.