Lake Geneva, internationally known as Lac de Genève, lies along the Vaud Alps on the border between western Switzerland and the French region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in the east of the country. It was created by the excavation of Alpine glaciers from several ice ages. After Lake Balaton in Hungary, it is the second largest and at the same time the most water-rich lake in Central Europe with an area of around 580 square kilometres, and also the largest standing water body in Switzerland and France. At its deepest point, Lake Geneva is 310 metres deep.
Due to the mild Mediterranean climate, the wide range of leisure activities on offer and the idyllic landscape with cypresses and palm trees, the area around the water is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. Within the Swiss part of the country there are seven small islands, which are popular destinations for excursions. The region also attracts many visitors every year with its numerous sights.
The waters of Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva is mainly fed by the Rhône, which crosses Switzerland and France over a length of about 800 kilometres. It flows into the lake via a delta in the Valaisian village of Le Bouveret in Switzerland and flows out again near Geneva. The second most important tributary is the Dranse, a mountain river in France, followed by the Venoge and Aubonne in Switzerland. It takes an average of 10.4 years for all inlets of the lake to flow through. The quality of the water is monitored and assessed by a separate institution, the Commission internationale pour la protection des eaux du Léman.
Die Qualität des Wassers beobachtet und beurteilt eine eigene Institution, die Commission internationale pour la protection des eaux du Léman.
Thanks to the excellent quality, which is constantly monitored in the middle of the watercourse and at eleven pumping stations, around 80 million cubic metres of Lake Geneva water can be treated to produce drinking water every year. Due to the high oxygen content, however, there is an increased proliferation of algae, which in the summer hinders the work of fishermen in particular. But swimmers and divers are also affected by the filamentous phytoplankton.
Increased pollution of Lake Geneva can also be observed – an average of 125 grams of plastic waste per square kilometre has been measured. However, the responsible authorities in both countries, Switzerland and France, are always trying to keep the water clean and attractive for tourists.
Shores and towns on the lake
Lake Geneva is 60 per cent on Swiss and 40 per cent on French territory and is called Le Léman or le Lac Léman in both countries. Due to its non-uniform history of origin, the water body is officially divided into three parts of varying size: Haut Lac (Upper Lake), Grand Lac (Great Lake) and Petit Lac (Small Lake).
The northern shore of Lake Geneva, known as La Côte (wine growing region), belongs to the canton of Vaud in Switzerland. To the northwest are the cities of Nyon, Lausanne and Rolle in the canton of Vaud and Versoix in the canton of Geneva. In the north-east, the so-called Vaud Riviera or Lavaux, are the cities of Vevey and Montreux.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has its headquarters in Lausanne, the food company Nestlé in Vevey, and Nyon is the headquarters of the European football association UEFA.
Montreux is a popular tourist resort with famous film festivals. The southern shore of Lake Geneva belongs mainly to the French department of Haute-Savoie, while a small part belongs to the cantonal capital of Geneva. The largest towns in this area are Thonon-les-Bains and Evian- les-Bains. The latter is internationally renowned mainly because of the mineral water “Evian”, which is sold in 120 countries around the world.
Sights in and around Lake Geneva
There are seven small islands in Lake Geneva, all in the Swiss part of the lake. On the Île de Chillon, which was already inhabited in the Bronze Age, is Chillon Castle. It is the most visited historical building in the country. The building was first mentioned in 1150 and is one of the oldest water castles in the world.
The Île aux oiseaux, also known as the bird island, serves as a stopover for migratory birds on their way south, and the Île de la Harpe was created by local merchants in 1835 to protect the port of Rolle from erosion. The Île Rousseau, wooded with a few trees, is located at the outlet of the Rhône, accessible by a bridge and named after the writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Furthermore, there are also the islands of Île de Peilz, Île de Salagnon and Île de Choisi. The Pierre du Niton and Pierre Dyolin, often erroneously classified as islands, are just two rocks in the port of Geneva, the first of which is the reference point for height measurements in Switzerland. A particularly striking sight is the Jet d’eau, a fountain in the port of Geneva, which dominates the entire cityscape. Its fountain transports the water to a height of up to 140 metres.
Worth a visit are the Lavaux wine terraces, which offer annual open cellar days at Whitsun, and which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Equally interesting are the Rochers de Naye mountain with its fabulous view of the lake and the city of Lausanne with the country’s first mountain metro and the Notre Dame.
If you want to learn more about Lake Geneva itself, visit the museum in Nyon, which documents the entire history of the lake. For film lovers, there is the Charlie Chaplin Museum in Corsier-sur-Vevey. You can enjoy the panoramic view of the region on a trip on the Panoramic Express from Montreux, the Swiss Chocolate Train, also from Montreux and via Gruyères and Broc, or by boat on the lake.In addition, the Montreux Jazz Festival, one of the most famous events of its kind, takes place every summer.
Historical sights and curiosities around Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva is home to numerous remains of prehistoric pile dwellings, discovered around 1850 and now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. 60 metres below the surface lies the wreck of the paddle steamer Hirondelle, which sank after colliding with a rock formation in June 1863.
Today, the wrecked ship, as well as five small boats that sank in Lake Geneva off the municipality of Hermance, is a popular destination for divers. Equally popular with underwater sports enthusiasts is an approximately 100- metre-high rock face beneath the lake surface just in front of Chillon Castle.
In August 1910, the French-Swiss aviation pioneer, designer and inventor Armand Dufaux flew across Lake Geneva in his biplane “Dufaux 4”. It took him less than an hour to fly the 66 kilometres or so across the lake, winning the prize money of 5,000 Swiss francs offered by the Perrot Duval automobile company. In the 1950s and 1960s, private companies dumped up to an estimated 1,000 tonnes of no longer needed ammunition in Lake Geneva, some of which has been lying open on the bottom of the lake ever since.
At one point, sharp projectiles were found at a depth of 50 metres, about 150 metres from a drinking water supply point and a gas pipeline The fire in the Casino of Montreux in December 1971 inspired the rock band Deep Purple to create their world hit “Smoke on the Water”. This song tells the story of the fire that completely destroyed the casino during a concert by rock star Frank Zappa. The title of the song refers to the dense smoke that moved across Lake Geneva and which the musicians of the band watched from their hotel.
Tourism and leisure activities
In addition to fishing and its importance as a shipping route, which account for two of the largest economic activities, the region around Lake Geneva lives off tourism and a wide range of leisure activities. For example, you can go on cycling tours around the lake during your holiday, go hiking in the region or skiing in the mountains around it in winter. Of course, in the summer you can also go swimming, sailing, water skiing or wakeboarding. There are also professional swimming competitions, rowing and sailing regattas and cycle races in, on and around the lake.
On the shores of Lake Geneva there are numerous types of accommodation that spoil their guests with glamorous luxury such as an in-house spa, fitness centre, elite suites and a rich breakfast. You can choose your preferred accommodation for a holiday on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world via a booking platform and book it online immediately. The price per night, depending on accommodation or hotel and number of stars, is between 80 and 450 euros per person.
By road, the journey to Lake Geneva runs down the A2 from Zurich to Lausanne. The intercity train brings holidaymakers from Basel, Bern or Zurich to Geneva and Lausanne. Geneva also has an international airport that can be reached from all European countries.
You can read this and many more interesting reports in the Eat & Travel Magazine Summer Edition 2020.