GETTING THERE: Geneva is a hub of major international airlines. There are no direct flights from Washington, but Swissair has daily nonstop service from New York (except Wednesday). The best current fare is Swissair's $659 round trip -- including the flight from Washington to New York -- requiring a 21-day advance booking. Its airport is less than 15 minutes by taxi or 20 minutes by bus from the city center. Direct train service is available from Geneva to all other major Swiss cities. The TGV, France's superfast train, goes to Paris in less than four hours.
GETTING AROUND: You do not need a car in Geneva -- the city's streets are narrow and crowded, and public transportation is excellent. The public transport system, like others in Switzerland, runs on an honor system requiring tickets purchased in advance. While all bus stops offer vending machines for tickets, it is easier and about 10 percent cheaper to purchase an abonnement, a six-ride ticket for six francs fifty (about $3).
The bus system typifies the way the city works. It is quietly efficient -- the buses are quite punctual -- clean and impersonal. The driver rarely speaks to the passengers or vice versa. Everyone is expected to have a ticket and cheating is strongly discouraged: Posters of a sinister-looking profile warn riders not to be dishonest; police periodically come on board and check tickets. They are polite and patient, but if you have no ticket you pay a 100 franc fine -- no excuses.
Above all, Geneva is a good walking city -- major attractions are close to each other.
WHERE TO STAY: Geneva, like the rest of Switzerland, is loaded with hotels. They range from the pricey President and Intercontinental (expect to pay $200 for a double room) to comfortable small hotels and pensions like the Touring Balance ($70 double), located near Vieille Ville, to modest lodgings like the Clos Voltaire, an old rooming house with rates of about $35 double.
WHERE TO EAT: In Geneva and environs, restaurants abound. Cafe' des Beaux Arts, near Plainpalais, serves unbeatable cuts of beef at moderate prices. La Cave Sierroise is the place to go for raclette. Les Trois Mousquetaires in Chambesy, just up the lake from Geneva to the west, is a classic country inn serving food for the discriminating palate. The Inn at Jussy, in the other direction, is equally recommended.
EXCURSIONS: Hiking, skiing, sightseeing and even water skiing excursions are all within an hour of Geneva by train or car. The new gondola up Mount Saleve, east of Geneva in the French Alps, is an expensive -- about $15 per person -- but spectacular trip, complete with mountain-top restaurant. A 13-minute train ride takes you north along the lake to Nyon (famous for its late medieval period ceramics), where you can board the wonderful narrow-gauge wooden trolley that climbs up the Jura Mountains to the French frontier.
Verbier in Switzerland -- 50 miles to the east -- and Chamonix in France, 40 miles southeast, are the closest major snow skiing centers. But dozens more are within easy reach.
Vevey, home of Nestle's chocolate, is a little more than an hour's drive up the lake. The funicular going up the mountain from the middle of town takes you to a beautiful wooded area, where among other treats you can sit at an outdoor cafe' most any time of year and look straight ahead at snow-capped mountains and the blue expanse of Lac Le'man far below.
HOLIDAYS: Switzerland really has 52 major holidays, also known as Sundays. Sunday is excursion day in the country. The cities are quiet and the hiking and skiing trails are bustling.
Dec. 12 is Geneva's grand holiday, Escalade, when would-be "soldiers" in period costumes flood the city to join in a noisy torchlight parade commemorating the defeat of the Savoyards. Chocolate marmites, complete with marzipan vegetables, are sold and consumed all over town. Tours of normally off-limits buildings in Vieille Ville, sounds of drums and trumpets and the mandatory concession stands liven up Geneva on this very Genevois day.