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This Gorgeous European Lake Destination With A Fairytale Castle Is The Perfect Summer Getaway

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Have you been planning on traveling to Europe sometime soon, but the high temperatures of Spain, the risk of wildfires across Greece, and the mass tourism in Italy somehow put you off?

This might be the hottest, busiest summer in years, but there remains a safe haven in the heart of the Old Continent where not only is the heat far less oppressive, but that feels a lot quieter, with a serene lake lined by gorgeous historic towns and even a fairytale castle to call its own.

Welcome to Lake Geneva, or as the French like to call it, Lake Léman, one of Europe's most chic sunny getaways and somewhere you go for escaping the surging Mediterranean crowds.

Picturesque Chateau de Chillon, A Medieval Castle On The Banks Of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Central Europe

The Idyllic World Of Lake Geneva

A crystal-clear body of water bounded by Switzerland and France's towering peaks, this is the former landlocked, Central European country's unofficial sea, as its largest lake, covering a surface area of 580.03 km² (224 sq mi).

Though Lake Garda and Como in Italy tend to get all the glory, with their Baroque villas and luxury boutique hotels, Lake Geneva is just as stunning, with pristine waters that gently crash the shore and picturesque villages straddling the shoreline.

It Is Home To The City Of Geneva
Panoramic View Of Geneva Old Town With The Jet d'Eau Seen In The Background In Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Central Europe

At the southern tip of the crescent-shaped lake, on the French side, lies the city of Geneva, one of Europe's most important administrative centers, as it hosts a number of international institutions, like the United Nations and the Red Cross.

For that alone, Geneva is a bucket list item. Millions of visitors stand before the gates of the Palais de Nations, or Palace of the Nations, the UN's official headquarters, every year, but Geneva's true charm lies in its invaluable cultural wealth.

Street In Old Town Geneva Lined By Swiss Flags In Switzerland, Central Europe

It dates back over 2,000 years (though the city as we know it developed more significantly in the medieval period), and like any major European city of its league, it's got the maze-like Old Town dotted with church spires, the monumental cathedral, and the main thoroughfare still laden with cobblestones, as it was centuries ago in the Middle Ages.

A lakeside metropolis, Geneva is famous for its lush green gardens, most notably Jardin anglais, where the iconic Flower Clock is located, Perle du Lac, offering views of Mont Blanc, the Jet d'Eau, a powerful, geyser-like fountain in the middle of the lake, and the natural pool at Bains des Pâquis.

Gorgeous Cobbled Towns On The Lakefront
City Of Lausanne, Lac Leman Lac Geneve, Switzerland

If you're keen on seeing the wider lake beyond the city of Geneva, you can either opt for a sightseeing cruise, starting from $107 on Viator, or take the scenic train linking Geneva to the western end of the lake, costing from $19. However, it should be noted that train prices can vary based on season and demand.

It stops at every picturesque town on the way, and other than being able to hop off at any point along the way, provided you hold a valid ticket for the intended route, there are gorgeous views of the alpine lake to be admired through the train's panoramic windows.

Picturesque Lakeside Town Of Nyon On Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Central Europe

Starting from Geneva, you can visit Nyon, a colorful town dominated by a whitewashed fortress, Vevey, best known for the fork monument protruding from emerald waters and quaint harbor, Lausanne and its historic quarter and Gothic cathedral, and of course, Montreux:

Pearl of the Swiss Riviera, it has a flowery promenade interspersed with sculptures and stately Belle Époque hotels, and it's where tourists will find Lake Geneva's most easily-recognized landmark, Château de Chillon, a Disney-like castle resting on an islet just offshore.

Chateau de Chillon On The Banks Of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Central Europe

What To See On The Underrated French Side

Lake Geneva serves as a natural dividing line between Switzerland and France, remember?

On the French side, opposite from Lausanne, Montreux and the like, some of the top attractions to border ‘Léman' (we're still in the same lake, except the French have historically refused to use the Swiss city's name), include:

Evian-les-Bains, a spa town renowned internationally for its bottled water and wellness facilities, a short half-hour ferry ride away from Lausanne in Switzerland, and as there are no borders within Europe's internal Schengen Area, the crossing couldn't be smoother.

Aerial View Of Evian-Les-Bains, A Lakeside Town On Lac Leman, Lake Geneva, France, Central Europe

There's also Yvoire, arguably the prettiest town on Lake Geneva/Léman, and one of the most charming spots in France: a village built as early as the 14th century, it exudes Old World charm, with its well-preserved citadel and medieval streets.

One of the best-frequented ‘beach' zones, Thonon-Les-Bains should not be missed, either: the waters here are the clearest and warmest in all of Lake Léman, and there are plenty of lake-facing boutique hotels with spas and pools to pick from for a prolonged stay.

Historic Lakeside Town Of Yvoire, On The Shores Of Lac Leman, Lake Geneva, France, Central Europe

Lake Geneva Is Cooler This Summer

Southern Europe will be scorching hot this summer, with temperatures expected to soar above 100 degrees across a number of popular destinations, especially Mediterranean Spain, Greek Dodecanese islands, and Italy's trendy Sicily.

We love the warm, sunny weather ourselves, but it only took us a trip to Seville in summer to decide, once and for all, that Spain is not meant to be visited in the peak season:

European heatwave

We're not sure about you, but having to down literal liters of water to stay alive, slathering on tube after tube of sunscreen only to get burned, anyway, and limiting our sightseeing time as it's just too hot to be outside most days is not our idea of fun.

Lake Geneva, on the other hand, enjoys a far more temperate climate, as it is flanked by the Alps, and temperatures usually sit in the acceptable mid-80s, meaning you won't risk a heatstroke simply by being out in the open for longer than two hours. Though it can occasionally get quite hot!

It's typically less crowded, too, and this is why:

City Of Lausanne, Lac Leman Lac Geneve, Switzerland

Not A Destination For Budget Travelers

Switzerland is not for the less affluent, and there are not very many accommodation options for budget travelers along Lake Geneva, a prime destination for luxury yacht owners and European celebrities in summer.

It is not impossible to visit on a budget, but it isn't easy either. Visiting in the off season may be one way to reduce costs.

If you're visiting between June and August, you should not come on a limited budget, unless you plan on sharing a dormitory room, or eating regularly on McDonald's; in that case, we'd suggest you pick a cheaper lake destination like Ohrid, in North Macedonia.

Boat With A Swiss Flag Passing By The Jet d'Eau As It Forms A Rainbow Over Lake Geneva, City Of Geneva, Switzerland, Central Europe

No one-week trip to Lake Geneva will cost under $1,482, but it's precisely this luxurious microcosm, that offer us an escape from the humdrum of everyday life, and the aristocratic elegance of towns like Montreux that make it so appealing.

If you're wondering how much you should plan on spending on hotels, the Tralala Hotel Montreux's $180 nightly rate is a good indication; elsewhere in Lausanne, a room in the city center can cost from $191 per night, and Geneva is no exception, with prices ranging between $154 and $198.

Guest making a card payment at a hotel check-in desk

The French side is only moderately cheaper, but it can be a viable option if splurging on a Montreux resort isn't on the cards: overnights at Hotel Le Bourgogne in Evian-les-Bains costs $114 to book, while Yvoire's three-star spa hotel Pré de la Cure asks for an acceptable $153.

If you're sold on Lake Geneva this summer, you can fly nonstop from the United States to Geneva International Airport (GVA) from the following hubs with SWISS:

  • New York (JFK)
  • Newark (EWR)
  • Washington (IAD)

Round-trip flights start from only $564 this season.

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