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Geneva History

Geneva has one of the most interesting histories of any city, anywhere. It includes the story of the only tsunami ever to occur in the landlocked city, when one came off Lake Geneva and razed Geneva in 563.

At the time, the city had existed for more than 500 years in one way or another, with both Romans and Helvetians using it as a base. In 443, following the Germanic Wars, it served as the principal camp of the Kingdom of Burgundy. However, its moment in the sun lasted less than a century when its ruler, King Godomar, was killed by the Franks in 534.

Then the tsunami arrived, caused by an extremely large landslide near the fortress of Tauredunum, to the east of Lake Geneva. The wave was said to have measured up to 16m (52ft) in height, leaving a wake of destruction that swallowed up churches, houses and bridges, and killed many of Geneva’s inhabitants.

Despite the destruction, Geneva was rebuilt and by the time the city joined the Swiss Confederation in 1815, it was a bustling hub of industry with a reputation for religious tolerance. As a consequence, the Reformation and the Inquisition resulted in hordes of refugees heading to the city, among them John Calvin, creating many cosmopolitan districts in the process.

Having left the Léman department of the First French Empire in 1815 for Switzerland, Geneva's prosperity continued to grow, largely as a result of growing watch-making and banking industries. Neutral during the World Wars, Geneva was changed by both nonetheless – largely as a result of terrified refugees looking for safety.

Their acceptance, coupled with Switzerland's continuing neutrality, saw the city become a hub for aid agencies, among them the Red Cross, which was founded in the city in 1863. The League of Nations, predecessor of the United Nations, was established here in 1920. Although the UN moved to New York in 1945, Geneva is still home to one of its European offices.

Did you know?
• The Swiss wristwatch was invented in Geneva by Patek Philippe in 1868.
• Tim Berners Lee was living and working at CERN in Geneva when he invented the World Wide Web.
• Inspired by the Reformation, Geneva adopted ‘Post tenebras lux’ (‘After darkness, light’) as its official motto.

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Hotel De Genève

Just streets away from Lake Geneva itself, there are no whistles and bells at Hotel De Genève, but what you get is a plum location and a choice of 39 rooms which straddle the line between modern design and historic home comforts. It’s clean, cheap and offers free Wi-Fi and a breakfast buffet.

Genève Cottage

What it may lack in location, Genève Cottage more than makes up for in quality and quaintness. Situated 20 minutes from the city centre by train (with a 10-minute walk), this family-run hotel is a home away from home with individually decorated sleeping quarters, queen-sized beds and modern en suite bathrooms. Ask for a room at the back of the house to enjoy a little more peace, plus views of the lovely gardens.

Starling Residence Geneva

Not only does the Starling Residence Geneva boast a supreme selection of 93 modern, clean and restful rooms and studios, but the staff are amongst some of the best in the business. With flatscreen TVs, free Wi-Fi and free travel cards all available, this is the best budget accommodation in the city.

Le Richemond

Gigi author Colette enjoyed her own suite at Le Richemond, one of Geneva's most established high-end hotels. The property rewards visitors with an enviable setting on the banks of the Rhône and 109 sumptuously appointed rooms and suites. There are also four flexible meeting spaces with its Le Jardin restaurant serving fine Italian cuisine. Additional facilities include a spa and limousine service.

Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva

Billed as Geneva's first hotel, the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva has been standing on the shores of Lake Geneva since 1834. Modern highlights include a spa and fitness facilities, but the real pull lies in the chance to sample the charm of a bygone era. If you've got the cash, this is arguably the finest hotel in Geneva.

Hôtel Edelweiss

Just a short walk from Lake Geneva, Hôtel Edelweiss is a sensible budget option in Geneva. Decorated in the style of a Swiss chalet, the hotel offers 42 rooms and a Swiss-style restaurant, where evening entertainment and folk music are provided for the guests. All rooms are en suite and equipped with telephone and mini-bar. There is also a small business centre and free Wi-Fi access.