Bains des Paquis – Social and Cultural Haven in Geneva
By Liam Klenk
One of the most popular spots in Geneva is the Bains des Paquis. It is essentially a bath, hammam, sauna, and turkish bath at the lake in the city centre. Yet, it is so much more than just that. Especially during summer, the Bains des Paquis is a social and cultural haven in Geneva. But even in the winter, the Bains des Paquis has a few surprises up its sleeve.
The Bains des Paquis is located on an artificial peninsula with a lively beach. It is very close to the Paquis district (Rive Droite). From here you get breathtaking views of the city and the lake. Amazingly, at the very end of the peninsula is one of Switzerland’s only two lighthouses. A beautiful little structure, built in 1860, by the same designers who built the Eiffel tower.
The Bains des Paquis first opened in 1872. It was closed and re-opened several times. The bath buildings which are there today were reconstructed in 1931. They were built in the Bauhaus style.
For the people in Geneva, this picturesque yet comfortable and uncomplicated space, is much more than only a bath and sauna. It is a place to spend the day, soak up some sun, rest, meet, chat, and enjoy life to the fullest. It truly is a social and cultural haven.
You can find all nationalities here and people from all walks of life. Sheiks, school children, mothers with their kids, pensioners, businessmen and women, water enthusiasts, sunbathers, etc. mingle along the beaches of the narrow peninsula.
Nowadays, the organizing committee still keeps things charmingly simple.
The entrance fee for the whole day is only 2 Swiss Francs. The restaurant serves a hearty breakfast for only 10 Francs.
During the day you can choose from two meal options for lunch and dinner. The portions are big, the prices as well at 14 Francs unusually cheap for what is widely known as one of the most expensive cities in Switzerland.
The kitchen staff are well known for thinking out of the box.
On one occasion, when the menu was Chinese noodles and they ran out of the original noodles, a member of staff ran to the nearest supermarket and the cooking resumed with regular spaghetti and Chinese condiments.
In the winter, the Bains des Paquis restaurant serves a delicious cheese fondue. Their specialty, a Fondue de Cremant. From 6pm daily. The peninsula then changes from a picturesque outdoor venue to a – no less picturesque – space of cozy wood-stove heated cabins.
Geneva upholds strict distancing regulations due to Covid-19 and everyone needs to wear masks in public places.
However, early on this spring (after much uproar and discussions) it was decided to take the risk and give the people of Geneva their Bains des Paquis without any regulations.
After lockdown and whilst many areas of life and work were still severely restricted, the city council understood that people need at least their favorite hang out place to stay sane and relax during the hot summer months.
So far, all fingers crossed, the Bains des Paquis has not yet become a hotspot. No cases of Covid-19 infections are known.
In the wake of the Covid-19 regulations and frustrations, the organizers of this little haven also decided on another act of rebellion this year: they replaced the classic Swiss flag with a flag of love.
The people of Geneva got so enthusiastic about this gesture, they even started a referendum to replace the Swiss flags all over their city permanently with this far more warm-hearted version. Unfortunately, the conservative faction of Geneva won the battle and the Swiss cross remains everywhere else except in the Bains des Paquis.
Street art performances and concerts are a regular occurrence at the Bains des Paquis.
Starting on August 1st of each year, the organizing committee also offers Les Aubes for a month. This year is the 14th year of this wonderful series of early morning concerts.
They begin daily at sunrise (around 6am). And it is said that there are two factions of people in Geneva: those who don’t sleep all night and then come straight to the concerts, and those who set their alarm clocks to wake up early and be on time for the cultural treat.
Concerts range from classical music, through jazz and rock, to electronic music.
Literally every genre of music can be found in the soft rays of the early morning light.