Looking Down on Geneva: A View from Salève

Salève, France

Who could arrest a creature capable of scaling the overhanging sides of Mont Saleve?

So says Mary Shelley in her “Frankenstein”, when the monster runs away to the mountain to escape from those hunting him in Geneva.  It’s an appropriate place for him to roam – the vast slug-like mountain looms over the city of Geneva, and with its limestone face seemingly gashed, it looks both comforting and foreboding.

On days when we have good weather, I can see a patch of Salève’s strange face from my apartment in the little French town beyond Geneva’s airport.  There is something exciting about catching sight of it from my living room, because it’s a reminder of where I am – I really am here and not in my grubby hometown in England.

Salève is Geneva’s mountain.  In an artistic first, Konrad Witz depicted the local landscape in his altarpiece for Geneva Cathedral – and there is Salève, a part of the striking backdrop to the scene of the miraculous draught of fishes in nearby Lake Geneva.

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Konrad Witz, 1444, Museum of Art and History, Geneva, Switzerland. Salève is on the right.

Although you can walk to the top of Salève, the most sensible way to make the ascent is by cable car. It’s been whisking Genevans up to the lofty heights since 1932 and makes a speedy and interesting journey that gives the curious sensation of slamming into the rock face.  Of course you don’t come anywhere near, but as you make the upward journey, don’t stand on the cabin-side closest to the mountain if the prospect of coming nose to nose with the limestone sounds unnerving to you.

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View of the cable car station at the bottom of Salève, France

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Passing another cable car on our way up to Salève, France

Prior to the cable car, Salève could be accessed by day-tripping Genevans by train: the original line was laid in 1893, and over time it was possible to get from the town centre to the summit in two hours.  The cable car project began in 1932 and flourished until 1940, when the war brought a stop to the route.  It later reopened, but with the triumph of the car, came the collapse of cable car.  The route closed in 1975.

But in 1984, a project to bring it back to life began – a collaborative effort between the Swiss and French.

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Looking at the mechanics of the cable-car station at the top of Salève, France

Despite the fact that the cable car has an interesting history, there is only a tiny ‘exhibition’ on this, which consists of a few information boards.  There are some interesting photographs, but you feel they could do a little bit more.

Once you’re at the top of the mountain, you have fine views over the city of Geneva and the lake.  Salève is, geologically speaking, a part of the Jura Mountain chain –  and you can see the Jura siblings with great clarity from the viewing platform.  It is an impressive sight, particularly if you are able to pick out a few landmarks.

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View over Geneva town and lake from Salève, France

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View over Geneva, with the Jet d’Eau visible on the left hand side of the lake, Salève, France

But that’s that.  There is a restaurant you can sit in while you admire the views, but that’s kinda it.  Your options now are to go back down, or to go on up – and track down the views of the Alps and Mont Blanc.  There is a clearly marked trail, and the going is fine, though perhaps not possible for those with any mobility issues.  This is what the path looks like:

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Walking up Salève, France

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Looking back down to where we’ve come from, Salève, France

After about ten or fifteen minutes you get to a clearing.  This is the view:

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View of the Alps from Salève, France

I’m not sure that you’ll find a better view of the Alps than this.  We walked on further but didn’t find any, though maybe it was just the route we took.  Honestly, we got a bit tired, and were not inspired to walk further.

The mountains do look incredible from here.  On a fresh morning, there is a dream-like quality to the experience because they are both very sharply defined and very unreal.

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Picturesque view of the Alps from Salève, France

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Majestic Alps seen from Salève, France

As we continued our walk to see if we’d get a better view of the Alps (and in hopes of finding somewhere to get a drink) we came across some prayer flags, fluttering prettily amongst the trees.

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Tibetan prayer flags on Salève, France

These signalled the presence of a Tibetan monastery:  Shedrub Choekhor Ling.  It was founded in 2010 and apparently sells Buddhist and Tibetan handicrafts, though predictably with our luck they’d literally just closed for lunch.

So we kept walking.  And got bored and turned round and walked back to the telepheric.

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View from a spot where you can jump off, Salève, France

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View during the cable car’s descent, Salève, France

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View of the lines cutting across Salève, France

Going up Salève, you will notice that quarrying is underway along its base.  The business started in the Middle Ages, and incredibly it’s still going – over 490,000 tonnes are quarried each year, providing both the French and Swiss markets.  The quarrying is due to stop in 2034.

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View of the workmen at the base of Salève, France

So In Summary

If you are interested in seeing the city of Geneva from above, then going to the top of Salève is a rewarding experience.  But in the end it is a view and if you’re not interested in walking or hiking around, exploring the mountain and enjoying the fresh air and exercise for its own sake, then there’s no much to do.  It’s not something I will probably do again, but as a resident of this area I’m glad I’ve visited once, to see the landscape, admire the mountains, and walk in the footsteps of a fictional monster.

Further Information

While walking up to the top of Salève is free, the funicular has a charge – remember you are now in France and will want to use Euros!

There are opportunities for thrill seekers to make the most of the mountain by going paragliding, hang gliding, hiking etc..  You can find out more about these activities and various walking trails from the cable car website: www.telepherique-du-saleve.com

How To Get There

Salève may be Geneva’s pet mountain, but it sits over the French border, though of course the city’s transport makes it easy to get there.  For more information, check out the excellent Genevan transport website: www.tpg.ch

You aim for Veyrier-Ecole or Veyrier-Douane, which, for ticket buying purposes, keeps you in the Geneva Zone 10.  From there you have a walk to the telepheric.

The route from the bus stop to the telepheric isn’t as clearly marked as I’d have expected – we followed people who seemed to know where they were going, but clearly didn’t.  You aim for a railway line, and then you should see the wires going up the mountain and aim for them.

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