Switzerland’s Geneva International Airport or “GVA” as it’s affectionately coded has been a close part of my life for many years and we have both changed a great deal (all for the better, of course). Twice a year we get together for my holiday as I try to head over the Atlantic with my bags full of Swiss chocolates to see my family. Every time, there is inevitably something going on somewhere on the planet that results in a long day at GVA. There are always the usual things that occur in winter and during heavy vacation traffic: delayed arrival aircraft, de-icing parked aircraft, mechanicals, crew shortages, and the mysteries we will never know about and so much the better. However, one year I had the longest day ever at GVA due to undetonated World War II bombs that were discovered during construction under the runway at my connecting airport, Frankfurt. This was something unimaginable for an airport runway (for the last 60 years!) and eventually I actually saw them. All in all, it took nearly 3 days to get to my destination. Besides flights from GVA being unable to fly to Frankfurt on time, the flights in and out of Frankfurt only had one usable runway (which was fine with me after I got there because I didn’t want to be on the other one!). It was much better to wait it out in GVA than Frankfurt. That was even clearer after I subsequently got stuck in Frankfurt for the night. So this layover in GVA was a grand event and I learned a lot about life in GVA and I will share with you some of the many choices of activities available to keep you well entertained until you leave the ground.
Firstly, you should know that Switzerland’s Geneva International Airport is also used by France and there is a French Sector for some flights (there used to be passport control but now that Switzerland is part of the Schengen free border bilateral agreement with European Union, you don’t have to). This will be marked on the monitor as you enter the airport. So be sure you know from which country you are leaving before you wonder off too far!
All the first class and business passengers will be welcomed in luxurious airline lounges (Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, Swiss International). But if you’re up for adventure, don’t limit your options.
If you do not want to wheel or carry around your belongings there are lockers in the Swiss Rail station area.
Plan your holiday layover with this detailed map which includes even those hermetically sealed smoking rooms.
If your delay is not too long and you are not with friends from Switzerland, you may want go through security into a newly renovated departure transit area that is most spacious with many shops and cafés and most importantly free Wi-Fi.
If your delay is going to be long you could take your dry cleaning down to 5 à Sec near the Swiss Rail station and pick it up later.
There is also a mobile phone area called Swisscom Mobile Hotspot where you have access to many different services on your phone.
If you’re not in the mood for electronic entertainment (or work), there is always shopping and GVA is a dream shopping center with boutiques as well as department stores (well, slightly scaled down).
The shops are generally open from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM 365 days a year although some Duty Free shops open earlier for passengers at 5:00 AM.
Oftentimes there are special Artisans (handi-crafts) Sale and Exhibition. A lot of local people will be coming to the airport just for that. They are held in the Gallery area of the Swiss Rail Train Station at the end of the terminal.
Or if you are more of an electronic gadget freak or just curious like me, there is Interdiscount electronics store located outside of security with just about everything imaginable and you get dizzy just just looking in the windows full of “things”. This is the kind of place where you could buy an electrical plug adaptor for countries like Azerbaijan.
Leaders Electronic is also at the airport but Interdiscount is more exciting and like going into some computer geek’s garage. Completely fascinating.
Nearby you will find Payot newsstand and bookstore. I always go to this shop as they have the best collection of English bestsellers on Lake Geneva. So I stock up (slight exaggeration) even if I do have to carry them on board and then back again in my suitcases on the return! They also have the usual array of Swiss spotted cow motif souvenirs and snacks. You could also pass some memorable moments playing lottery games here or simply standing and watching for suspicious unattended bags.
If you are really into souvenirs, there are some high-scale quality Swiss souvenir shops such as Schweizer Heimatwerk inside security that are not so “corny” (well, a few less Swiss spotted cow motifs) and you will have some distance from those electronic gadgets and window shoppers at Interdiscount.
If you simply have not had enough Swiss chocolate (which is impossible) you could spend some time at Planet’choc Chocolaterie located in the Swiss Rail station area. Of if you should miss that, don’t worry. There are also handmade chocolates at Chocolaterie Canonica and Martel Chocolaterie.
If chocolate is just not your thing, there is another establishment called Wine Universe! Who has not wanted to go to Wine Universe? Now that could keep you busy. They have 1’000 types of wine, regional as well as international as well as liqueurs and (expensive) spirits. This little escape is also in the Swiss Rail station area.
If you’re still looking around for nibbles, there is always the Caviar House and Prunier where you can buy a little (very little) caviar, smoked salmon, champagne, sprits, wine, and Swiss and international gastronomic products. No? Then there’s a place called FLAVOURS which is a convenience food store and if that doesn’t there is an entire supermarket, MIGROS at the far end of the Swiss Rail station. Then you can wash down whatever you selected at Tekoe Tea Shop with high quality hot and cold teas to taste as well as some snacks.
Tthere are also the fashion and jewelry “boutiques”. You will find Travel Star and Cabin Size luggage and accessories, Targa women’s shoes, BONGENIE fashion department store, Caran d’Ache pens and writing supplies (in case you want to record this day), ESPRIT, HERMES, MANOR department store, Mont Blanc pens and leather goods, Quiksilver & Roxy Shop for men and women’s “lifestyle” sportswear, RALPH LAUREN clothes and accessories, Seasons’ fashion boutique for the entire family, The Tie Rack, and never to be forgotten, the iconic VICTORINOX.
You will never be able to return home without purchasing a Swiss watch or some other little diamond crusted bauble of value and GVA can help you with that. You will find Omega, Hour Passion, Air Watch Center, Cartier, Chopard, Rolex, and the one that sells the most, SWATCH. And if you forgot to get a gift for your Swiss friends who had put up with you, there is a florist called Fleuriot who can save Swiss international relations (at least with you).
There are also Duty Free shops at GVA that are operated by a company appropriately called The Nuance Group. The “nuance” is that you cannot necessarily take it through security if you are connecting to a country outside the European Union. If you’re going to the US you know that you have to get out of the plane for customs at the first port of entry and now there is also security to go through even if you re-board the same plane. So you cannot have liquids.
If you are connecting within the European Union, Duty Free shops will seal your liquid purchases in special security bags so you can buy and carry them through other EU airport security checks. But you cannot open the seal if you expect to get through the next airport security (so no opening and sipping that Scotch on the plane or that will, in fact, be an even more expensive bottle than you imagined!)
Got a headache after all that shopping (or all that wine)? Not to worry. GVA has 3 pharmacies to save you and even sell you make-up to change your facial expression as well (which by now is probably sagging a little). There is Marionnaud, Pharmacie Principale, and Pharmacie Sun Store & Parfumerie Privilège.
Coiffure Aéroport is waiting to assist you change your look and Les Bronzés will help out on acquiring your desired skin color. If you’re really feeling worn out by now (and you haven’t even left the European continent) there are 2 areas that have showers, one in the transit area and one in the arrivals area.
Financial institutions abound at GVA and you will find American Express, Banque Cantonale de Genève (BCGE), Raiffeisen and UBS. There are even humans working there but if you’re uncomfortable with that there are also bancomats.
You may be hungry by now or even looking your second meal. The restaurants are usually open from 5:30 AM to 09:00 PM, or until the last flight for those in zone of Transit (which will hopefully be you on one of them even if it is late).
Swiss francs and Euros (change will be given in the same currency) are accepted. Prices are shown in Swiss francs; the exchange rate is shown at the cash register or on the receipt. You can also use Eurocard-Mastercard, American Express, Visa, Maestro, etc. (depending on the establishment).
Altitude is the largest restaurant bar and lounge which has a great view on the tarmac and a terrace in summer. It is on the top floor of the elevator near Starbucks.
Al Volo pizzeria is good and you can take it away. Bento is take away Asian with a large selection of fresh fruit juices. Burger King (no comment). Caviar House & Prunier Seafood Bar is a luxury food airport concept. La Cuisine is self-service with healthy Italian, Asian and grilled foods. La Rôtisserie serves traditional cuisines and L’Olivier offers Mediterranean food at the table. You will never believe it but the Swiss Chalet serves fondue, (yes it’s true even at the airport) and also good rösti (like hash browns only better) and other Swiss specialties.
There are many bars, snacks, and tea rooms at GVA. My favorite at any time of day is Le Prêt-à-Manger de Gilles Desplanches, departure level with fresh ingredients and good coffee. You can eat there or take away. Others are All You Need Bar & Shop, Aux Bonnes Choses, BreAKtiMe bar & food, Coffee and Friends, L’Arc-en-Ciel Bar & Bistro, Le Bar with a nice winter garden, large choice of beers and snacks. Now there is a Starbucks, along with local Swiss Coffee House and Swiss Sandwich Bar. The Wellness Bar & Food offers a healthy choice and is located in the French zone. For something lively, The Hub is a central meeting point situated directly at the airport’s arrivals. Busy, modern style bar offering a large selection of drinks and snack.
In fact, there is another travel agency called L’TUR Last Minute at the airport that probably has many ideas for a nice ski vacation or lonely tropical beach somewhere. And it’s usually 50% off at the last minute.
Don’t worry, we have not yet explored all the possibilities. For example The TicketCorner is at GVA with the list of the latest performances all over the world and perhaps you forgot to book something. Or perhaps you will book something because you didn’t even know that you wanted to go!
In addition to the many services of Swiss Rail, there is their travel agency which can help you wire money (if you have any left) or assist you in your future travel plans say, for a long Easter weekend!
GO TO THE MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL!
Yes, you read correctly. Right there in our beloved GVA you can relive or experience for the first time the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival and have dinner and drinks besides at The Montreux Jazz Café! The “backstage” is a separate area dedicated to the music on the big screen playing archived films of the festival, some of which have never been shown. They also have entertainment on weekends. The Montreux Jazz Café is downstairs located near the arrivals at the far end of the airport (opposite end of the Swiss Rail station).
THE LAST RESORT
There is a Meditation Room available if you need peaceful surrounding to communicate with greater powers. It is located on the mezzanine.
If for any reason you are not able to get out of Geneva in one day, there is a fabulous lakeside spa nearby called La Reserve that will transform you to new heights. Actually, after one night there, you will probably cancel your rebooked itinerary and stay at the spa!
Bon Voyage !
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