Posts Tagged ‘Switzerland’


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Liveable v lovable

The FT asks a very good question, Why is it no one really wants to live in the most liveable cities? 

…The polls underlines the fundamental fault that lies at the heart of the idea of measuring cities by their “liveability.The most recent surveys, from Monocle magazine, Forbes, Mercer and The Economist, concur: Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich dominate the top. What, you might ask, no New York? No London? No LA or HK? None of the cities that people seem to actually want to emigrate to, to set up businesses in? To be in? None of the wealthiest, flashiest, fastest or most beautiful cities

“These surveys always come up with a list where no one would want to live. One wants to live in places which are large and complex, where you don’t know everyone and you don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Cities are places of opportunity but also of conflict, but where you can find safety in a crowd.
“We also have to acknowledge that these cities that come top of the polls also don’t have any poor people…” 

Liveable usually does not mean the most dynamic…

… can someone coming from somewhere else improve themselves, reinvent themselves? Is there upward mobility? The top cities score badly again. London and New York are magnets for immigrants precisely because they allow those kinds of new beginnings

The common criteria of What makes a city great for all these surveys are:

Blend of beauty and ugliness – beauty to lift the soul, ugliness to ensure there are parts of the fabric of the city that can accommodate change.

Diversity – if lots of people are wanting to come to a city, there must be something there. 

Tolerance – the only way diversity works but also an accommodating attitude to sexuality (gay communities are famously successful inner-city regenerators) and religion (there are signs of increasing intolerance towards religious minorities all over the world). 

Density – density of habitation is crucial in ensuring density of activity, a vibrancy of commerce, residential and cultural activity. 

Social mix – the close proximity of social and economic classes keeps a city lively. 

Civility – impossible to measure and slightly against my stated notions about the benefits of friction but critical nevertheless. I once criticised the ingratiating politeness in the US and was told by an American who used to live in Paris that “it’s better to be told to have a nice day by someone who doesn’t mean it than to be told to go f*** yourself by someone who does”. Discounts any Israeli or Russian city from ever getting on the listEH

Read the whole article here 

Liveable v lovable 

By Edwin Heathcote FT.com

Published: May 6 2011 17:52 | Last updated: May 6 2011 17:52
A collage of city monuments and landmarks
Vancouver is Hollywood’s urban body double. It is famously the stand-in for New York, LA, Seattle and Chicago, employed when those cities just get too tough, too traffic-clogged, too murderous or too bureaucratic to film in. It is almost never filmed as itself. That is because, lovely as it is, it is also, well … a little dull. Who would want to watch a film set in Vancouver? To see its skyscrapers destroyed by aliens or tidal waves, its streets populated by cops and junkies, its public buildings hosting romantic reunions? Yet Vancouver (original name, Gastown) has also spent more than a decade at the very top of the charts of the best city to live in the world. Can that really be right?
The big cities it seems, the established megacities of the US, Europe and Asia are just too big, too dangerous, too inefficient. So what do these top cities have in common? How exactly do you measure “liveability”?No. Not at all. In fact, Vancouver’s boringly consistent topping of the polls underlines the fundamental fault that lies at the heart of the idea of measuring cities by their “liveability”. The most recent surveys, from Monocle magazine, Forbes, Mercer and The Economist, concur: Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich dominate the top. What, you might ask, no New York? No London? No LA or HK? None of the cities that people seem to actually want to emigrate to, to set up businesses in? To be in? None of the wealthiest, flashiest, fastest or most beautiful cities? Nope. Americans in particular seem to get wound up by the lack of US cities in the top tier. The one that does make it is Pittsburgh. Which winds them up even more.
So that’s the mountains, lakes and huge cups of generic coffee accounted for. Then there’s efficient public transport (that faint whoosh is the sound of London, NY and LA disappearing). There are also cultural institutions, global connectivity, green urban policies, well-designed housing within an easy commute, and so on. Each determinant on its own seems an indisputably good thing. But what do they mean together? Can Munich (Monocle’s Number 1) really be one of the best places in the world to live? On a Sunday afternoon?All the surveys use an index. But what is on it? “There’s always proximity to nature,” says Tyler Brûlé (editor of Monocle and patron saint of liveable cities and airport lounges, whose column appears weekly in the FT’s Life & Arts section). “Global connectivity is important, education and we’ve recently added chain store metrics – is there a Starbucks or a Zara?” he says.
To even begin to understand how these slightly unsettling results are arrived at, we need to understand who compiles them and who they are for. The lists are made by well-travelled academics, researchers and journalists for corporate, media and creative executives on generous expense accounts as well as other academics enjoying grants and stipends. And, of course, by Tyler Brûlé.
Most of these people are profoundly concerned with things like well-designed street furniture, a proliferation of eye-wateringly expensive artisanal retail, boutique hotels with good (English-speaking) service and environmentally friendly mayoral policies. Certainly these are all things which help but they skew the polls to a particular type of European or marginal Pacific city. What they also do is to strip out all the complexity, all the friction and buzz that make big cities what they are.
I spoke to Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development, and asked him about these surveys. “I’ve been to Copenhagen,” (Monocle’s Number 2) he tells me “and it’s cute. But frankly, on the second day, I was wondering what to do.” So, if the results aren’t to his liking, what does he suggest? “We need to ask, what makes a city great? If your idea of a great city is restful, orderly, clean, then that’s fine. You can go live in a gated community. These kinds of cities are what is called ‘productive resorts’. Descartes, writing about 17th-century Amsterdam, said that a great city should be ‘an inventory of the possible’. I like that description.”
Joel Garreau, the US urban academic and author, agrees. “These lists are journalistic catnip. Fun to read and look at the pictures but I find the liveable cities lists intellectually on a par with People magazine’s ‘sexiest people’ lists.”
Ricky Burdett, who founded the London School of Economics’ Cities Programme, says: “These surveys always come up with a list where no one would want to live. One wants to live in places which are large and complex, where you don’t know everyone and you don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Cities are places of opportunity but also of conflict, but where you can find safety in a crowd.
“We also have to acknowledge that these cities that come top of the polls also don’t have any poor people,” he adds. And that, it seems to me, touches on the big issue. Richard G Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s hugely influential book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009) seems to present an obvious truth – that places where the differential in income between the wealthiest and the poorest is smallest tend to engender a sense of satisfaction and well-being. But while it may be socially desirable, that kind of comfort doesn’t necessarily make for vibrancy or dynamism. If everybody is where they want to be, no one is going anywhere.
“Sure, Vancouver is beautiful,” says Kotkin, “but it’s also unaffordable unless you’re on an expense account and your company is paying your rent.” Burdett agrees: “Economically all these cities at the top of the polls are also in the top league.” In fact, it can often be exactly the juxtaposition of wealth and relative poverty that makes a city vibrant, the collision between the two worlds. Where parts of big cities have declined, through the collapse of industries or the fears about immigration that led to what urbanists have termed the “donut effect” (in which white populations flee to the suburbs, leaving minorities in the centres), there is space to be filled by artists and architects, by poorer immigrants arriving with a drive to make money and by the proliferation of food outlets, studios and galleries. These, in turn, attract the wealthy back to the centre, at first to consume, and then to gentrify. Whether in New York’s SoHo, Chelsea or Brooklyn, in Berlin’s Mitte or London’s Shoreditch, Hoxton and now Peckham, it is at these moments of radical change that cities begin to show potential for real transformation of lives, or for the creation of new ideas, culture, cuisine and wealth. Once gentrification has occurred, bohemians may whinge about being priced out, as they always have done but, in a big enough city they are able to move on and find the next spot.
In a strange way the everyday conflict with the (unliveable) city can also become part of the attraction. Professor Tony Travers of the LSE says, “At one level the kind of urban sophisticates who live in these areas, in Hoxton or Brooklyn, want to fight the city. The urban struggle is part of the self-image of living on the edge.”
If the relative poverty of newcomers to the city distorts income equality in one direction, then the arrival of the super-wealthy does the same from the other end. The recent turmoil in the Middle East has led to a huge wave of investment in London property, one of the traditional safe havens for foreign money. London, unlike many cities that appear high on liveability lists, has few controls on property ownership. “If cities are any good,” says Travers, “they’ll attract a footloose international crowd who bring wealth.” And so the gap gets bigger.
He adds: “But they also come because of stability. If they buy something, they’ll be able to get their money back.” Which explains why New York and London remain popular, desirable and hugely expensive, despite never appearing on the lists.
The big cities also suffer from size. It’s true that Tokyo (Monocle’s Number 4) occasionally makes it on to these lists but metropolises like London, New York, Paris and Istanbul struggle with aged infrastructure and vast, sprawling transport systems. They are penalised in surveys for their inefficiency compared to, say, a small Scandinavian city. But it’s easy to be efficient when you’re small and when you have a highly taxed, wealthy population. It is also easy to initiate green measures, from recycling to cycling, which prove far more challenging in a proper metropolis with its problems of crumbling infrastructure and mobile population.
Yet it is proven again and again that the biggest cities are in fact the greenest. Their density, the close proximity in which people live and the minimal amount of land they occupy – compared with largely suburban Vancouver, for example, makes for a far smaller carbon footprint. Mumbai is probably the greenest big city there is – slums like the million-strong Dharavi use minimal land, energy and water. And, of course, without wishing to patronise, it is undeniable that there are happy people living surrounded by their families in Brazil’s favelas and millions living lives of drudgery and lonely despair beneath northern Europe’s leaden skies. The world’s most liveable informal cities lists have yet to be pioneered.
There is one criterion which throws up shockingly counter-intuitive results – beauty. On this criterion alone, almost any Tuscan hill town, perhaps Venice, perhaps Paris, would come out on top, yet none of these are there. Most of the beauty in the cities which occupy the tops of the leagues seem to ghettoise their beauty outside the city. They have convenient escapes, though the most beautiful and enjoyable – Rio, San Francisco and others – are curiously absent from the lists. The problem is that beauty doesn’t do you any good at all. It’s not a factor for the efficient, mid-sized chart toppers – though places such as Zurich certainly have their lovely bits. But it also damages your chances of making it into the disaffected megacities mentioned at the start of this article. The most beautiful cities become monuments to their own elegance, immobile and unchangeable. They cannot accommodate the kind of dynamic change and churn that keeps cities alive. In London, New York and Berlin, it is their very ugliness which keeps them flexible.
“The other big question,” says Kotkin, “is can someone coming from somewhere else improve themselves, reinvent themselves? Is there upward mobility?” The top cities score badly again. London and New York are magnets for immigrants precisely because they allow those kinds of new beginnings. They do have class structures but they are increasingly malleable.
There is one problem, though, that remains hard to ignore – violence. Johannesburg may be beautiful but its per capita homicide rates are astronomical; Los Angeles and New York are held back for the same reason. Washington DC’s per capita homicide rate, for example, is more than 30 times that of London and this continues to hold US cities down in the rankings. Urban guru Richard Florida remarks that the key to liveability is to “ensure that a city can guarantee the safety of all its residents”.
Of course, the ultimate difficulty with these surveys is that tastes are individual. I find London infuriating but –with the possible exception of New York – couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live. “The city is a unique and private reality,” wrote Jonathan Raban, author of Soft City. He proposed that his London was a “soft city”, a place that everyone remakes in their own manner, in which every place evokes a personal memory or connection and which we navigate through our own unique mental maps. Our cities are our own – we make them inside us. No city means the same to two people so how on earth can we measure them?
Edwin Heathcote is the FT’s architecture critic
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Rankings: the best and the worst
New York
The only city that gives me a thrill every single time I walk through it. Fast, furious, brash, cosmopolitan yet completely self-absorbed, it is the perfect big city.
Rio de Janeiro
An extraordinary cocktail of pleasure and pain, beaches and favelas, condos and shacks, Rio is one of the most beautiful, most tolerant and most varied cities on earth. Unfortunately, its high murder rate discounts it from traditional best cities lists. But what a cityscape.
Istanbul
Istanbul
Istanbul

The fulcrum of the delicate balance between Europe and Asia, Christianity, secularism and Islam, Istanbul manages to be both one of the most beautiful cities on earth and yet accommodating to huge and constant change. It is a young, international, wildly commercial city with an extraordinarily vibrant street scene, open 24 hours and genuinely alive.

London
London seems to have the ability to reinvent itself. It has been a magnet for immigrants for centuries and remains a place where the poor can make something of themselves and the wealthy can enjoy their money. Its infrastructure is crumbling, its property overpriced and its weather dull but London’s cultural life is astonishing and most of its museums are free.
Rome
It might be more than 1,500 years since Rome was a proper world city but its allure lies in a blend of history, chaos, beauty and infinite layers of culture.
A few that don’t make the grade
Moscow
Impossible to traverse on foot, infinitely rude, corrupt, understandably alcoholic and seriously traffic-clogged, Moscow needs work. It does have some beautiful bits, from the Kremlin through to the masterworks of revolutionary modernism but the legacy of the communist police state hangs heavy.
Dubai
Everything that could go wrong with a city does here. It is, in fact, a place with no “here”. A succession of malls, highways, hotels and hideous towers, it has spent its history announcing its arrival but hasn’t a clue what to do when it gets there.
Birmingham
Once it was the workshop of the world, an astonishing morass of industry that somehow threw up a powerful, elegant Victorian city, which has been completely destroyed. Its decline has been less complete than that of, say, Detroit or Flint but it manages to be uglier nevertheless.
Jerusalem
I know, I know – beautiful, holy, history lingers in its every shady corner. Yet the treatment of Arabs as second-class citizens, the ghastly security wall smashing through its edges and the omnipresent guns have spoilt it. Jerusalem is the perfect example of why tolerance is so critical to a city.

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Original Canned Air


The ‘AIR from PRAGUE’ is becoming a very popular souvenir and gift from Prague, Czech republic. We are offering an original product… 100% organic. Fresh air from Prague relieves stress, cures homesickness 
and helps fighting nostalgia.”

“Feeling down? Got the blues? Buy a whole box of Air and open the cans whenever you feel sad, remember the atmosphere, marvelous time you spent in Prague and feel better.”
Of course, the first time I saw this was in Jerusalem, where they still sell Holy Air.

As an alternative, I propose the following:

Swiss Air” – Get High in the Alps  
One breath of Swiss Air and you’ll be relaxing before you know it. Perfect for winding down after that rough day at the office — or home.

Guaranteed Stress Reliever


NYC AirInhale the Action 
Party it up as if you were in the City that Never Sleeps. Purified to give you the buzz of New York City – without all the smog. 


Guaranteed to Wake You Up



________________________
The MasterLiving Blog


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Mar 24, 2011 – 21:27


Cracks showing in business oasis Switzerland

There are not many empty flats left in Swiss cities

There are not many empty flats left in Swiss cities (Keystone)


by Matthew Allen, swissinfo.ch

A shortage of affordable homes and international schools, along with a prolonged row over tax, threatens to weaken Switzerland’s magnetic pull for foreign firms.

Lured by low tax rates and a high standard of living, a steady stream of overseas companies have set up operations in Switzerland in recent years. But there are signs of growing discontent from new arrivals.


Top of the grumble list is the astronomic rise in house prices in Geneva, Zurich and Zug – a trend that has already priced many locals out of the market, and threatens to do the same for foreign workers.

“The new Eldorado has become even more of a magnet and there is a risk that this could result in a social crisis,” Emmanuel Fragnière of Geneva’s HEG School of Business Administration told swissinfo.ch earlier this month.

“Politicians are very happy to collect the new taxes, but they need a coherent policy to promote the location that takes into account structural difficulties.”

Problems are also showing up in Zug and in Rolle, situated between Geneva and Lausanne.


Noise control

“No one imagined what would happen with so many people from outside Switzerland coming here to work,” Rolle Social Democrat politician Patrick Bréchon told swissinfo.ch.

“They are not really creating local jobs. The housing market is like a jungle. House prices have shot up unbelievably and infrastructure – transport, roads and schools – is really behind.”

Local complaints have also been matched with anecdotal evidence of foreign workers finding it tough going in their newly adopted country. The British magazine, the Economist, interviewed newcomers complaining of boredom and a lack of places in international schools.

“You need muscle to get kids in international schools,” said one financier named only as Alex. “Otherwise it’s a Swiss school, where your kids will find it hard to settle.”

Others experienced problems adapting to stricter Swiss regulations on noise and refuse collection than they were used to at home.

Geneva-based relocation expert Francois Micheloud acknowledged that the huge influx of foreign firms and workers had created some structural problems, made worse by slow planning and construction rules.


Tax uncertainty

But he firmly believed that solutions could be found to ease the pressures, such as developing rural areas north of Lausanne or in canton Vaud.

“We are not like Monaco – a small piece of rock where you cannot build any more,” he told swissinfo.ch. “Bottlenecks will be resolved by companies spreading out to areas that are still within reach of Geneva airport.”

Switzerland’s vaunted tax competitiveness is also coming under sustained pressure from the European Union. The Swiss authorities have made noises that the corporate tax system could be revamped to meet some EU demands, but nobody knows how this could be done.

“Companies interested in relocation to Switzerland should know what the tax rules will be like in future,” tax expert Stephan Kuhn of Ernst & Young told swissinfo.ch. “They would not come to Switzerland if the tax system is unpredictable and subject to major increases.”

British-based companies, on the other hand, received a boost from Wednesday’s budget announcement that tax rates would be cut by two per cent in the next three years, a full percentage point more than previously thought.


Incentives remain

This prompted advertising giant WPP to consider relocating its tax base back to Britain from Ireland, where it had recently moved.

In a recent interview in the British Observer newspaper, the chief executive of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, Andrew Witty, chided British firms for heading to cheaper tax regimes, saying they had broken their bond with society.

“We could go, in theory, anywhere for a low tax rate. But first of all, how do you know that country isn’t going to change its tax rate in ten minutes?” he said.

However, Britain’s new 23 per cent rate would still be higher than the Swiss burden. Depending on where a company is based, combined effective federal and cantonal rates vary between 24.5 and 14 per cent.

Francois Micheloud is convinced that the relocation of foreign firms to Switzerland will continue “for many years to come”.

“The incentives for companies to come to Switzerland remain the same as before: competitive tax rates, excellent transport links, a central European location, access to a highly skilled work force, clusters of business competence and flexible labour laws,” he told swissinfo.ch.

“And Switzerland is still a delightful place in which to live.”


Matthew Allen, swissinfo


RATING

Readers’ average rating: 4.7


FEEDBACK

Place your feedback

EF, Switzerland
@Rene. What about the greed of the swiss communities???? I have lived here for 6 years and whenever foreigners complain (which often involves simply asking a question) they are hit with absolute vitriol from the Swiss who constantly want to proclaim that people don’t integrate or that people are filth because they don’t blindly accept the “CH is perfect” mantra. Why can’t the Swiss take responsibility for offering up their country to foreign companies for the sake of receiving more tax revenue and more consumption (especially with regard to real estate)??? Where are the Swiss peoples vitriol about that? I’ve known many educated foreigners who came with the goal of integrating– but the reality is that the Swiss are often inhospitable and downright unwilling to invite others into their coveted world. So foreigners are forced to rely on each other. Why do you Swiss want to create a society that is so fragmented– with different groups staying in different ghettos????? You will pay for it in the end. And it is all due to your own GREED. Companies and expats can’t come here without your approval– you have been courting these companies to come here. You had better start thinking ahead as to the human and social consequences of your greed and stop blaming others.

Lisa, Switzerland
We’ve lived here for 4 years. In that time we have had a bike and a scooter stolen right from our locked apartment building to which our managers replied “Shouldn’t have left them there” even though everyone else does. My husband had his backpack stolen off the train. He had placed it behind him rather than on a seat which then takes up a seat someone else could have used. When the train stopped in Bern a man pulled it out and took off. At the next stop when my husband went to get up and noticed it missing, the woman sitting next to him said a man took it at the previous stop. When my husband asked her why she didn’t say something she just shrugged her shoulders. That was certainly being helpful (not). A good portion of the kids here act more like thugs than decent human beings. I could go on and on. The truth is there is crime here just like everywhere else, what bothers me is that the Swiss act so much more superior than everyone else, when the truth is they are no better or worse than the rest of civilization.

Rene, Switzerland
@ EF, Switzerland: Your concluding question: “But then again, why don’t the companies ask more questions so they understand more than just what the tax situation will look like?” The answer is: Corporations couldn’t care less about the consequences about moving their operations (operations, headquarters or P.O. Box?) to Switzerland other than the “low tax haven”, fringe benefits in the name of higher net profits, share holder values and most of all greed by the corporate leadership (CEO’s & CFO’s), Board of Directors, and major share holders of these corporations.

DOYLE, Switzerland
My goodness, no wonder the Aussies refer to us as “Whinging Poms”. Nowhere is perfect. We’re all here for a reason, so just chill out and enjoy!


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Taking your time in Geneva

Sat, Nov 13, 2010
The Swiss city is expensive to visit but don’t let that put you off – you get what you pay for, writes Adrienne Cullen
AS YOU MIGHT expect from Switzerland, Geneva is living proof that quality of life doesn’t come cheap. While it has an almost permanent presence in the world’s top five most attractive cities, you’ll usually find it in the top five most expensive as well.
Don’t let that put you off though. Again as you might expect, you get what you pay for – in this case the buzz of a global financial centre, the sophistication of a city that’s home to a telephone book full of international organisations, and a whole lot of local history, colour, and charm as well.
Plus, you’re in the home of high-end watches. That means you get to use as many watch, clock and time-related puns and references as possible during your stay. Hey, watch it! Just a second! This transport system runs like clockwork. That chimes with me. Don’t be alarmed . . . you get the picture.
Geneva is all about its physical setting. In the background there’s the awe-inspiring vista of the snow-covered Alps, with Mont Blanc visible on a clear day. In the foreground there’s the glamorous waterfront of Lake Geneva. So not surprising-ly, the big leisure time pursuits here are sailing and skiing – sometimes both in one day.


BELIEVE IT OR not, Geneva’s best known sight, however, is neither the mountains nor the lake. It’s bang in between. The Jet d’Eau, at 140m high, is the tallest fountain in the world, visible from virtually everywhere in the city, apparently even from an altitude of 10km.
But don’t be content with seeing the Jet d’Eau from a distance. For the sake of the children, take the trip out to the stone jetty on the left bank of the lake and you won’t be disappointed.
Better still, do it at night when it’s beautifully illuminated in different colours. But watch out, the slightest change of wind direction and you’re drenched . . . this is advice based on personal experience.
Having dried off, it’s time to head across the River Rhone to the main shopping district, tucked between the neighbourhood of Les Eaux Vives – where the Jet d’Eau is located – and the ultra-discreet banking district.
The streets to look out for are Rue du Rhone, Rue de Rive and Rue du Marché. Once there, it’s strictly a matter of willpower: there are boutiques to rival London or Paris; all the timeless watchmakers, Patek Philippe, Piaget, Raymond Weil, Omega, Swatch et al; art and antiques, and chocolate – as much as your wallet can handle . . . or perhaps simply window shop.
A quick(-ish) lunch at La Favola on Rue Jean-Calvin – certainly the best Italian restaurant in Geneva – and when you emerge after a refreshing petit café , you’re ideally positioned for an afternoon in the Old Town, a stone’s throw to the south.
Two places not to miss: magnificent Cathedral Saint Pierre, which has great views of the lake and the mountains; and the Town Hall, where the League of Nations and the Red Cross were both founded. The 14th-century Maison Tavel, the oldest house in the city, now a museum, is also worth a visit for the flavour of history.
As evening falls you’ll be glad that Geneva is packed with Michelin-starred restaurants, nine this year in the city and canton combined. The most renowned is Restaurant Hôtel de Ville in Crissier, run by Switzerland’s foremost chef, Philippe Rochat. It’s on Lake Geneva, but closer to Lausanne than to Geneva itself, unfortunately.
Still, for my money, there’s nothing as Swiss as a bubbling cheese fondue. In which case, first choice has got to be Restaurant Les Armures in the Old Town (near Maison Tavel, in fact). A plaque near the door marks a visit in 1994 by Bill and Hillary Clinton.
There’s always something to do in Geneva as night turns to morning. If you have a slush fund for cocktails, head for Gold Platinum on Quai du Seujet, where the city’s moneyed 20- to 40-year-olds gyrate on the dance floor and sprawl in the VIP lounges. It’s cool. It could be anywhere. But the prices are certainly Swiss!

Where to stay, where to eat and where to go

5 places to stay

  • Hotel Beau-Rivage. 13 Quai du Mont-Blanc, 00-41-22-7166666, beau-rivage.ch. Old-world opulence sums up this magnificent five-star hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva and in the heart of the business district. It has two well-regarded restaurants, Le Chat-Botté and Patara. Doubles start at 800 CHF (€598).
  • Hotel les Armures. 1 Rue Puits-Saint-Pierre, 00-41-22-3109172, hotel-les-armures.ch. Known for its excellent restaurant, which specialises in traditional Swiss cheese fondue and raclette, this hotel is a favourite with visiting celebs. Jimmy Carter stayed; the Clintons just dined. Doubles from 674 CHF (€500).
  • Mandarin Oriental Geneva. 1 Quai Turrettini, 00-41-22-9090000, mandarinoriental.com/geneva. Perfectly situated on the bank of the River Rhone, at the edge of the financial district, this building has beautiful art deco detailing and a fabulous roof garden. Doubles start at 590 CHF (€440).
  • Hotel de La Paix. 11 Quai du Mont-Blanc, 00-41-22-9096000, hoteldelapaix.ch. A lovely elegant establishment, totally renovated in 2006, Hotel de Paix sits on the shore of Lake Geneva with great views of Mont Blanc. Its restaurant, Vertig’O, has just won its first Michelin star. Doubles start from 497 CHF (€370) prepaid and non-refundable, otherwise 585 CHF (€437).
  • The Warwick. 14 Rue de Lausanne, 00-41-22-7168000, warwickgeneva.com. Very much a business hotel, well located opposite the railway station, just 10 minutes by car from the airport, and not far from UN HQ. Double rooms from 378 CHF (€282).

5 places to eat

  • Le Chat-Botté. 13 Quai du Mont-Blanc, 00-41-22-7166666, beau-rivage.ch. Located in the opulent Hotel Beau-Rivage, this restaurant, run by chef Dominique Gauthier, is reputed to have one of the best wine cellars in Switzerland. Groups of up to eight can reserve a “chef’s table” in the kitchen.
  • La Favola. 15 Rue Jean-Calvin, 00-41-22-3117437, lafavola.com. Regularly described locally as “the best Italian restaurant north of Bologna”, this is also a contender for Geneva’s best restaurant. Just taste the Risotto alla Milanese au Safran.
  • Restaurant de la Cigogne. 17 Place Longemalle, 00-41-22-8184040, cigogne.ch. The panelled dining room, friendly but not overpowering service, and most of all the food – try the Turbot Façon Grandmère – make this an experience worth paying for.
  • La Perle du Lac. 126 Rue de Lausanne, 00-41-22-9091020, laperledulac.ch. Apart from the food, the real attraction of this restaurant is its fantastic location right on the shore of Lake Geneva (also known in French, by the way, as Lac Léman). Terrace tables must be booked.
  • Café du Bourg-de-Four. 13 Place du Bourg-de-Four, 00-41-22-3119076, cafedubourgdefour.ch. A charming bistro-style restaurant in the Old Town dating back to 1874. Perfect for a relaxed traditional meal.

5 places to go

  • Le Jet d’Eau and Le Jardin Anglais. Quai du Général-Guisan, 00-41-22-3119970 (tourism office), ville-geneve.ch. The Jet d’Eau is the big must-see in Geneva, though given its height of 140m, you can’t really avoid it. Le Jardin Anglais next door is famous for its flower clock, a 1955 masterpiece of technology and floral art. It has the largest second hand in the world – more than two and a half metres long.
  • Cathedral Saint Pierre. 6 Cours Saint-Pierre, 00-41-22-3117575 , saintpierre-geneve.ch. This site has been occupied since at least the 4th century. John Calvin gave sermons here in the mid-16th century. Climb the 157 steps of the north tower for the best view in the city. Phew!
  • United Nations. Palais des Nations, 00-41-22-9171234, unog.ch. This is the European home of the UN, its second largest complex after New York. It’s where both the League of Nations and the Red Cross were founded – and regular hour-long tours are available in 15 languages.
  • Musée d’Art et d’Histoire. 2 Charles-Galland, 00-41-22-4182600, ville-ge.ch/mah. If you’re an art lover, you’ll find exceptional works here by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, and sculpture by Henry Moore. Reason enough on its own to visit Geneva.
  • Villa Voltaire. 25 Rue des Délices, 00-41-22-4189560, ville-ge.ch/imv/. Institut et Musée Voltaire, also known as Villa Voltaire, is the great philosopher’s Palladian villa, where his library and manuscripts are available to visitors. Fascinating for its uniqueness.

Hot spot

  • La Clémence. 20 Place du Bourg-de-Four, 00-41-22-3101096, laclemence.ch. Place du Bourg-de-Four is the very heart of the Old Town, and La Clémence is where gossip of every sort changes hands, over coffee by day and over wine after nightfall.

Shop spot

  • Geneva is an international shopper’s paradise. It’s so high-end that even the Plainpalais Flea Market feels chic. The main shopping streets are Rue du Rhone, Rue de Rive and Rue du Marché, adjacent to the banking district. And you’ll certainly need to nip to the bank!

What to avoid
Confusion over the euro. Switzerland is not a member of the EU, and its currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF). The euro is widely accepted, especially in areas favoured by tourists, but you can’t count on every shop and hotel accepting them.
A good night out
Restaurant Les Armures. 1 Rue Puits-Saint-Pierre, 00-41-22-3109172, hotel-les-armures.ch. A cheese fondue is more than just a meal here, it’s a night out. It’s entertaining, great fun for groups, and delicious. Chef Gilles Legay and his staff do their best to make your visit special.
Get in the mood
How about a DIY fondue? Essentially it’s your favourite cheese melted slowly in warm white wine, then scooped up on cubes of bread. First to drop bread into the cheese does the washing up! If you’re planning to visit Villa Voltaire, re-read Candide .
More information
You’ll find plenty of local info at the official website, ville-geneve.ch, and at geneva.com. An alternative is geneva.info, although I think when whey say “Get Out” on the home page, they really mean “Get Out and About” . . . at least I hope they do.
Go there
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies from Dublin and Cork to Geneva. Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies from Dublin to Grenoble in France, an hour-and-a-half by road from Geneva.
© 2010 The Irish Times

Taking your time in Geneva – The Irish Times – Sat, Nov 13, 2010


Nestlé

Published: August 9 2010 09:43 | Last updated: August 9 2010 23:34

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The world’s biggest food group is about to become one of the world’s richest. Nestlé will pocket $28bn from the sale of its stake in Alcon, the US eyecare company, in the next few months. That haul, equivalent to approaching three years’ net income, will give the maker of Kit Kats a cash pile to rival compulsive tech-sector hoarders such as Google.
Unlike technology groups, the Swiss company does not want to become a financial fortress. It expects net debt to return quickly to the end-2009 level. One way to do that is by making big acquisitions, but chief executive Paul Bulcke favours a modest annual acquisition budget; the last big purchase was Gerber in 2007, for $5.5bn. Speculation that Nestlé will lift its 30 per cent stake in L’Oréal, the French cosmetics group, looks misguided.

Nor can much of the Alcon cash be deployed in the normal course of business – not for a company that threw off about SFr9bn of free cash flow after dividends last year. Instead, prepare for the advent of the $170bn chocolatier-cum-ATM: a listed company that disgorges cash.
Nestlé returned SFr12bn to shareholders last year in buy-backs and dividends. It has lifted its dividend payment every year since 1997 and avidly buys back shares: a new SFr10bn programme kicked off following the completion of a SFr25bn buy-back.
But Nestlé should be able to find more good uses for at least some of its cash. It makes products that are both cheap and covetable (some might say addictive) across the globe, but lags behind rival Unilever in emerging markets, which contributed less than one-third of sales last year. Sales in Latin America and the Caribbean were flat.
Nestlé delivers an impressive 16 per cent return on invested capital, including goodwill. That beats the peer group and, presumably, most of those receiving the dividend bounty.
E-mail the Lex team confidentially


Defending the franc doesn’t come cheap…


Swiss central bank faces €7.5bn loss
By Haig Simonian in Zurich

Published: July 8 2010 21:11 | Last updated: July 8 2010 21:11

The Swiss National Bank may have suffered paper losses of up to SFr10bn (€7.5bn) from huge interventions in the currency markets to restrain the value of the franc.

The central bank is expected by market observers to report a big loss when it publishes second-quarter accounts in mid-August. Economists cannot make a precise forecast, as the SNB does not reveal when, or at what rates, it has sold francs and bought other currencies – mainly euros – in recent months. However, Martin Neff, chief economist of Credit Suisse, said: “It’s certain there will be a big loss.”

Felix Brill at Wellershoff & Partners, an economics consultancy, said: “There must be very substantial losses.”

An indirect acknowledgement of the potential pain came last month, when the SNB did a U-turn and said it was suspending interventions.

The bank attributed the move to declining concerns about the deflationary risks of a rising franc to the domestic economy. However, outsiders saw the step as an acknowledgement that intervention had failed.

The SNB’s foreign exchange reserves have more than quadrupled to SFr230bn since the financial crisis, with the total increasing by SFr135bn since December 2009. During that period, the franc climbed from SFr1.50 against the euro to about SFr1.33, and, recently, has briefly surged higher.

The appreciation has stemmed from fears about eurozone recovery prospects and the risk of a sovereign debt default, compared with Switzerland’s traditional haven status.

The franc has also gained from the relative strength of the Swiss economy. Growth is rising, while domestic consumption has remained robust. Last month, the SNB raised its 2010 growth forecast from 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent.

The prospect of a big loss has caused little concern in Switzerland, a situation all the more striking given the SNB’s unusual status among central banks of being a quoted company.

While 61 per cent of its shares are owned by Switzerland’s cantonal banks, the remainder are in private hands and the SNB has no explicit guarantee from the Swiss Confederation.

Economists attribute the relative calm to shareholders’ understanding for the SNB’s long-term thinking: a rising euro could even lead to profits on the reserves one day.

“A central bank doesn’t have to worry about showing nice profits every quarter or about a downgrade from a rating agency. So there’s no drama,” said Mr Neff.

Other economists added that past losses on currency intervention had sometimes been compensated by windfalls on gold, given that the price of gold has tended to rise during crises.

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FT.com / Currencies – Swiss central bank faces €7.5bn loss





City high-fliers seek Swiss sanctuaryBy Haig Simonian in Zurich and Richard Milne in Geneva

Published: July 1 2010 20:53 | Last updated: July 1 2010 20:53

European Union plans for tough rules on bankers’ bonuses could enhance Switzerland’s appeal as a haven from high taxes and spiralling regulation in financial services.

The EU legislation follows this week’s news that Alan Howard, one of the most successful hedge fund managers and a Conservative party donor, is moving to Geneva. The founder of Brevan Howard Asset Management, Europe’s largest hedge fund, moved to its newly opened Geneva office in June. Earlier this year, BlueCrest Capital, a $19bn (£13bn) fund manager founded by former JPMorgan traders Michael Platt and William Reeves, also opened in the Swiss city.

There are no figures on departures from the UK. But there are undeniable signs that more UK residents – largely, but not exclusively from the City – are reacting to tax and regulatory changes by moving, with Switzerland a prime destination. Others might follow after last week’s Budget, which included a bank levy and changes to capital gains tax.

“We are receiving daily inquiries from companies and individuals thinking of relocating to the Geneva area”, says Larry Levene, founder of Alpine Homes, a Switzerland-based property group. Accelerating activity has prompted Mr Levene to diversify from ski chalets to permanent moves. After opening a Geneva office, he has expanded to Zurich.

Foreign inquiries are not limited to London. “We also see rising interest from people in Paris thanks to the recent planned tax changes in France”, says Charles Spierer, head of CGi Immobilier, a Geneva agent.

In the ultra-low-tax canton of Zug, also favoured by Britons, property agents report rising interest, with inquiries coming from rich individuals and companies planning executive moves. “I had a British couple, both in their mid 30s, with a young daughter and nanny, previously living in central London”, says Peter Auf der Maur, a Zug based relocation agent. “Both were in private equity and said they were moving for tax reasons and quality of life.”

Switzerland’s appeal lies in its stability and quality of life, along with tax deals offered by cantons to rich foreigners, whereby newcomers negotiate a lump sum annual payment, provided they do not work in Switzerland. But the idea of the small alpine country offering an easy refuge for tax exiles is tempered by reality. To anyone predicting a mass influx of private equity and hedge fund types, local bankers and expatriates have two warnings: houses and schools.

“The real downside is that anyone relocating from abroad will think: ‘we will find a house and school quickly’. Well, think again,” says Robert Harris, a financial adviser to expatriates at Forth Capital in Geneva. “[Available] property is almost non-existent and waiting lists for international schools are as long as your arm.”

Mr Spierer says: “On the rental market, there are 22 people for every apartment. Things are a little better for purchase but remain difficult.”

The shortage of property in Geneva, Zug and Zurich, is why agents caution against claims that UK finance professionals are flocking to Switzerland.

“You might see the odd person coming over and hedge funds setting up offices. But whole units or lots of people – I don’t think so,” says the head of a Geneva private bank.

Schools are a big drawback. Before the financial crisis, demand had put places in international schools at a premium. Most had waiting lists, with priority often given to multinationals that supplied the bulk of pupils and sponsorship. The situation has eased as companies have pared benefits, while supply has improved. But demand for international schools remains high, especially given the vagaries of the Swiss public sector system, which suffers from changing schedules and long lunchbreaks that make it near impossible for child carers to work.

Mr Harris says it all adds up to a conflict for anyone thinking of moving to Switzerland. “Once you’re here and looking at Mont Blanc you think: ‘Why would anyone want to live in the UK?’ But if Switzerland really wants to attract people it needs to do something about the bottlenecks.”

FT.com / UK / Business – City high-fliers seek Swiss sanctuary





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