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EXCLUSIVE | Three Gay Days: Geneva Part One

EXCLUSIVE | Three Gay Days: Geneva Part One

Here's your must-have road map to 72 hours in one of the world's gayest destinations. Where to stay, eat, play and meet in pristine Geneva.

Home to the European headquarters of the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the International Red Cross -- and where James Bond always seems to show up sooner or later -- Geneva is thus populated by international bureaucrats and do-gooders. In fact one-third of the population is made up of people from 157 different nations. It is also located in French Switzerland and following suit, so to speak, it's more expensive, more exclusive, and more expressive (that Mediterranean thing) than Germanic Switzerland. But like the rest of the country's cities, it is brilliantly situated on water, on the southwestern corner of Lake Geneva, and surrounded by magnificent mountains.

Don't think they've neglected greenery in town just because those stunning mountains are practically within walking distance. There are plenty of beautiful parks scattered around with lots of culture in the mix. Geneva may not have the cutting-edge gay dance scene of Zurich, but it does have the second-largest gay infrastructure in Switzerland. And despite its history as being the base of Christian reformer John Calvin (who first settled here in 1536 and turned the city into the "Rome of the Protestants"), Geneva is more liberal on the gay front than people give it credit for.

Gay establishments are sprinkled throughout town -- there's no real gayborhood, although the red-light-ish district east of the main train station in Les Paquis has the majority of gay bars, shops, and restaurants (and some over-the-hill female prostitutes to boot!). A chunk of the city's most famous hotels are along the lakeside Quai Wilson, bordering this naughty area. From food and art to history, science, and religion, Geneva is, in short, a very metropolitan city that defies its boring reputation -- and don't forget all the fine watches and chocolate!

All the deluxe hotels tend to run along the Rh?ne from downtown out to the lake for the convenience of the U.N. crowd, one of the best being H?tel du Rh?ne (1, quai Turrettini; +44-22-909-0001;; 720-1,100 CHF). The art deco style, superbe service, and slew of gadgetry-oriented conveniences (e.g. a fax machine/color printer/copier in each room that comes with a private number, which is automatically cancelled upon check-out -- 007-style), is a nice mix of business and pleasure.

For a more quaint, European feel -- of an off-beat medieval sort -- closer to the Old City, the 50-room H?tel de la Cigogne (17, place Longemalle; +41-22-818-4040;; 390-605 CHF) makes a good choice. Rebuilt after years of dilapidation, each bedroom is individually furnished from 1930s movie-mogul style to the classically old-school European.

And for those who have not traded their backpack for a Vuitton trunk, the simple and Spartan -- don't expect one bit of extravagance -- H?tel bel Esp?rance (rue de la Vall?e, 1; +41-22-818-3737;; 98-190 CHF) run by the Salvation Army, is clean as a whistle, functional (think low-end IKEA with Old Navy garnishes) and centrally located.

First things first: Get the 411 on the local gay scene from the friendly lads at Dialogai (rue de la Navigation 11/13; +41-22-906-4040), Geneva's 25 year-old local gay organization and center. They hold a weekly Wednesday Gay International Group dinner in its social Caf? Lingua, where you can practice your French, German, or even English with queer locals and U.N. diplomats. Lestime (rue de l'Industrie 5; + 41-22-797-2714) is the local lesbian resource center, that hosts a number of monthly get-togethers for women.

The cozy and comfy La Certitude (rue Rossi 7; +41-22-738-2726; 24-34 CHF) is located in the naughty area of the Left Bank (the center for the local legal prostitution trade). It's gay-owned with a loyal customer base who enjoy the long, opulent lunch buffet with traditional French Swiss dishes and attentive gay staff.

From April through October, spend the afternoon taking a tour of the United Nation's impressive Palais de Nations (Avenue de la Paix 14; +41-22-917-4896), with rooms and exhibits pertaining to Dag Hammarskj?ld, the reputedly homosexual Secretary-General who served from 1953 until he died in a plane crash in 1961. Then to better grasp the "city of peace" aspect of Geneva, don't miss the dramatic and involving Mus?e international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge (or Red Cross/Red Crescent Museum, Avenue de la Paix 17; +41-22-748-9525), within walking distance of the U.N.

A must-visit is the Caf? de Paris (rue du Mont-Blanc 26; +41-22-732-8450; 40-50 CHF). Vegetarians beware, this Genevois institution serves one dish only: steak in a special trademark green sauce, fries, and salad. The atmosphere is classic French bistro, where ladies in furs sit with their lap dogs as they delicately cut steak surrounded by elegant wood paneling.

Then help digest that steak by shaking your groove thing at the large MOA Club (Chateau des Batailles 22; +44-79-721-7001), which goes on late in a huge industrial space that packs in the gays and straights together.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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