RBJ works for a London accountancy firm and as much as he jokes about the exciting life of an accountant, one excellent little perk is that he gets to travel quite a bit, mostly to Geneva where he goes every 6 months or so and dines like a king for a week. On this particular occasion I decided to take a few days off work and go and join him. What better way to spend valentines day (our first as fiancées 🙂 ) then to spend four days eating steak, drinking Gamay and most importantly, relaxing at the public baths on Lake Geneva.
I arrived on Thursday in time for dinner at my favourite restaurant in the whole entire world – la Relais de l’Entrecote. For those who haven’t been – GO. That is all I will say on that. Friday I played at tourists and took a tour of the United Nations building and visited the brilliant Red Cross Museum while RBJ was at work.
On Saturday we took the train out to St Cergue, clicked on our snow shoes and went for a hike to la Vermeilley in the Jura Mountains, followed by some serious bum bruising sledging (no seriously – my left ass cheek is actually purple!!) We rounded off the day with a mahhhuuusive cheese fondue back in the Old Town in Geneva. Tres fantastique!
On Sunday we secured a late checkout from the hotel and headed down to le Bains de Paquis on Lake Geneva to ease our aching muscles and sweat out all that smelly swiss cheese. The lake is the largest body of water in Switzerland and is fresh, clear water – ice-melt from the nearby Swiss Alps. Legally speaking, you can swim anywhere you like in the lake, however the public bath offers designated swimming areas, as well as changing rooms, two saunas (85 and 95 degrees), a Turkish hammam and a steam room overlooking the Quai du Mont Blanc. All that for just 20 swiss francs (currently about £14).
One of the things I love most about these baths is just how local and how real they feel. Geneva is a city with lots of airs and graces, most of the people you see seem to have an elevated sense of self importance and appear infatuated with the material things in life – big cars, expensive clothes, even more expensive food! So these baths were a total breath of fresh air. The facilities were basic but clean – we got changed in an outdoor cubicle, no fluffy white towels or slippers but equally no lists of rules either about what you can or can’t do/ wear/ go.
We started off in the Turkish hammam (not really sure how this is different from the sauna other than being a bit cave lake so you could only make out the silhouette of the naked people either side of you). We were very British and I wore my bikini and RBJ wore his shorts. I’d say we were in the minority as most people were going Scandi and bearing all (which I love, I just don’t quite have the guts to do).
Next we braved it and took our first plunge into the icy cold waters (5 degrees we were told but it felt colder). I learnt from my childhood of swimming in lochs in Scotland, that the best way in, is to do it quick. So I climbed straight in, plunged under (only to the shoulders, not brave enough to get my head under), treaded water for a few seconds and then quickly clambered back out. RBJ on the other hand (the man who wouldn’t go in the sea in Brighton in August!) dived in head first. It was actually very refreshing once you got over the numbness in your hands and feet and the feeling of your heart pounding like its trying to break out of your chest…
Next, we went and warmed up in the sauna. No mucking about here, we went straight for the hottest one. We were told by a well endowed black man cooling himself off outside to take our towels in with us. We grabbed them (the towels) and headed to the top bench.
In total we spent about two hours in the baths, including three cold plunges into the lake and lots of trips to the sauna in between to warm up. There were two hot showers to use after but once again, no frills, so if you are planning a visit you will need to bring your own lotions and potions for after and a hat to cover your hair as there aren’t any hair driers.
Outside the baths is a restaurant called La Bavette which serves a mighty fine Plat du Jour for only 14 francs – a bargain in Geneva terms. I had lamb, rice, guacamole, salad, bread and a slice of persimmon and it was delicious.
All in all, le Bains de Paquis scores as follows:
IN 3 WORDS: LOCAL, NAKED, FREEEEEEEEEEEEEZING