Boat trip to Yvoire, a medieval village in France

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This weekend I went on a day trip to nearby Yvoire, a small village near the Swiss-French border. It sits on the banks of Lake Geneva and is about a 45-minute drive from Geneva, or a 1h30m trip by boat.

The boat leaves from the Jardin anglais dock in Geneva, a bustling part of town that’s popular with both tourists and locals. I’ve been walking past this boat every weekend for the past two years and had always wondered where it was headed, since it flew a French flag in the front and a Swiss flag in the back. Well, now I know.

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Tickets are available on the CGN website, or they can be purchased in person at the counter near the dock, which also sells tickets for the mini sightseeing trolley that goes around the waterfront. I got second class roundtrip tickets for CHF25, or 50% off the original price, since I hold a half-fare annual pass for public transit.

Upon boarding, not only did they check for the ticket, they also scanned my Swiss Pass to verify that I did have the half-fare subscription. There were no other checks for entering France, such as passport, vaccine certificate, QR code, written attestation, etc.

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It turns out I had picked a particularly windy day to take this boat trip. The waves on the lake were massive and crashed down around us with a fierce intensity. (On the way back, I was sitting outside on the deck when a huge wave slapped down on us, leaving every passenger soaked and sputtering. I immediately hightailed it back inside the cabin.)

After about an hour and a half, we arrived in Yvoire. The landmark Yvoire castle was right there at the dock — too bad it’s privately owned and not open to visitors!

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Getting off at the dock, you are immediately plunged into the thick of Yvoire’s medieval old town, which is admittedly small but deeply charming. Flowers were blooming everywhere, outside every shop and at every corner.

Despite being a small town of only around 1,000 people, Yvoire was very lively (and very touristy). Whereas most places in Switzerland are quiet and closed on Sundays, every restaurant in old town Yvoire was open and crowded.

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The chateau was built in 1306 and is owned by the Yvoire family, apparently
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There’s not a ton to do in Yvoire besides eat, shop and people watch, but there is a very nice garden. It’s called le Jardin des Cinq Sens (Garden of Five Senses), and it’s a small, meticulously crafted, mazelike garden that invites visitors to interact with plants and flowers in intentional ways. Admission was 12 euros and I thought it was well worth the price.

Here’s a model of the garden in the gift shop.

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There were lots of apple trees, with corresponding signs imploring visitors not to eat the apples. (“Come back for us in October!”)

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The plants being absolutely battered by the wind

My favorite parts of the garden were the touching and smelling sections.

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This plant claims to smell like coca-cola. I believe the plant is mistaken.
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There was also a hen just hanging out in the touching section.
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The garden was small enough to have a constant flow of people, but the mazelike layout also allowed for moments of privacy and peace. The gift shop had some great deals on locally made honey, soap and potted plants. I would have totally bought something if I wasn’t already fully stocked at home.

Back to wandering the old town….

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Although thankfully Lake Geneva didn’t overflow like the rivers in Germany and Belgium earlier this week, the water level has definitely risen significantly in the past few days. That, combined with the particularly strong winds, created this muddy, hazy environment at the shores of the lake.

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Absolutely terrifying sculpture across the street from the tourist office

To get away from the crowds, I climbed to the top of the hill to chill.

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And then it was back to Geneva!

So that’s it! I think Yvoire is a cute and worthwhile day trip from Geneva, but I wouldn’t recommend staying here overnight. One, the old town is the size of a thumb and can be covered on foot in 5 minutes. Two, for a village that is so small, it has a lot of tourists (mostly from neighboring regions) and doesn’t really have much space for a sense of peace or refuge. Aside from the garden and a small handful of local artisan shops, it’s basically 90% restaurants or hotels with restaurants. The garden is a 5/5 for me, though. A day well spent!

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