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Geneva an International gateway to the Alps Mont Blanc region — tips & suggestions

Geneva Airport Chat…

With the high numbers of low-cost UK flights coming into Geneva International Airport giving easy access to the Savoie Mont Blanc region, you will find yourself fetching relatives and friends on a regular basis. The first year we moved here I drove there every week, which is why I feel like an airport expert. I think I have experienced virtually every strange occurrence in an airport that one could.

Lyon airport is also superb and very easy to access for Savoyards, but there aren’t as many flights from the UK landing there and they certainly aren’t as cheap, and it’s an easier airport all round and so I don’t feel it necessary to have to write about it.

It’s just 1 hour away from Chambery … the capital of the Savoie region.

This week I’ve been back and forth so many times, it made me realize I should jot down a few points to make it easier for any first-time visitors. Any contributions from other visitors are gratefully accepted.

So here goes with my top tips based on some painful life experiences!

1.
Geneva is in Switzerland, which isn’t in the EU. So, don’t forget your passport as you do have to go through a proper customs border control between France and Switzerland. (I’ve never actually been stopped but you never know…) Plan for long queues, especially during classic rush hour times, as a lot of French work in Geneva and then travel back over the border to home. Tailbacks at rush hour can delay things, even up to an hour or more. The tailbacks also occur at the payage for the end of the French motorway, all can delay your journey enough to leave your relatives and friends waiting at arrivals. Be aware of the speed reductions as you approach the border, they are monitored by cameras and I have been fined here.

2.
If driving, buy the Swiss ‘vignette’, a €40 sticker, which is a form of road tax allowing you to drive on Swiss motorways. You can get away with not buying the vignette but you are then restricted to A-roads through the city center to get to the airport, but it’s a total nightmare and you can get held up and miss planes very easily. The vignette lasts January to January and can be easily bought at the border and you can pay in euros. (If you buy in November you don’t get a discount and you have until the end of the following January to get the next one.)

3.
Geneva airport is actually on the border and so is partly in France and Switzerland. The airport has French and Swiss halves. Very strange. Causes all sorts of problems when hiring a car… see point number 19. And don’t forget airport in French and Swiss is l’aéroport.

4.
Believe it or no,t you can actually take your dog into the airport to help greet relatives. Don’t forget to take your poop bags along.. we’ve never recovered from the time my elderly dog took a comfort break right in the middle of arrivals… in his defence there was a very long delay for the incoming flight, my quick thinking husband managed to scoop that poop pretty quickly, but the smell hit nostrils quicker and lingered, and there aren’t too many poop bins in airports. He has also cocked his leg on the exit door (dog not husband), which makes me think he’s definitely not the first.. there’s only so much humiliation one can take so I now don’t take him to the airport quite so often!

4.
Parking… several sorts as expected. There is “kiss and fly” parking, which used to give a decent 5 minute stop and you could at least help get luggage out, but which has changed to the equivalent of a MacDonald’s drive through, where the car behind is slowly moving and almost bumps you along, a bit like an Alton Towers water ride. Only advisable if you fly and have stopped bothering about the kiss.

5.
Use the short term (one hour) parking (marked P2 on the airport website map) where there’s usually plenty of spaces and easy access for arrivals, but not so easy for departures. For this, I tend to use the underground long term car park (P1), which is a spiral thing and can make you dizzy. Only use this one if confident in the size of your car as the spaces are tight, and that’s an understatement. Lifts available up to the required floor.

6.
Don’t forget to take your parking ticket with you and pay before you get back to the car outside arrivals. (Bit of a warning… when the machine gives your bank card back there’s a delay before it gives you the parking ticket, and I have been known to walk away chatting to my arrival without taking the ticket. This is expensive… and solved by paying an extortionate sum at the machine at the car park exit barrier whilst holding up the traffic.)

7.
Geneva is in Switzerland. Switzerland isn’t in the EU. Your breakdown cover for Europe may have a clause about Switzerland. Check before you get there.. I’ve learnt this the hard way.. I broke down right at the car park barrier, blocking the car park entrance for 7 hours. No break down cover for Switzerland, absolutely no help from the airport authorities, and definitely not from anyone arriving by car. We caused a 3 1/2km tailback on the motorway and had to wait for my husband to come from work with a pick up truck to tow me. Not fun. At all. (But park in a disabled space without a badge and airport parking authorities will tow you out within ten minutes.)

8.
Geneva airport is expensive. You can buy an English magazine or newspaper, but the price is highly inflated, as for chocolate, a cup of coffee or a sandwich. And high end designer clothes and jewellery. The watches are lovely too, but even a Swatch watch is actually more expensive here than at UK airports or any normal UK shop.

9.
If you have a high or large/long vehicle (I’ve been known to fetch someone in our 8m motor home) you have to park in the freight car park (P40 on the airport map on the Geneva airport website). To reach this you have to follow the signs for “fret” (freight) off the motorway and end up near the French side of the airport, so allow more time for this as it seems complicated unless taken slowly and the walk to the airport is about 15 minutes from here. It’s not terribly well lit and so take a friend if in the dark.

10.
If you approach the airport and there’s a very long queue of traffic awaiting parking and you’re running late, then you can be a bit cheeky and park at the Palexpo exhibition centre. It’s further on from the airport and on the opposite road side so don’t follow the signs to the airport over the bridge, but follow the exhibition centre signs and your nose, it’s right next to the motorway and is a 10 minute walk back to the airport. There are no footpath signs back to the airport but you follow the planes landing and can’t go far wrong..It’s easy to access and also cheap. It’s worth keying Palexpo into your Sat-Nav before you leave.

11.
Keep an eye on online arrival times, as flights from the UK can arrive half an hour early, or an hour late. If there’s a French air traffic controller’s strike (usually Tuesdays or Thursdays) then UK flights to Geneva get diverted over Germany and this adds to flight time.

12.
Getting out of the airport, follow the signs for France, it’s pretty easy, but don’t get caught at the first junction where you have to leap into the right lane so you don’t end up heading into the city or heading for Lausanne.

13.
gva.ch is the Geneva airport website, it’s in English, is a decent website with a lot of information. Also phoning the airport is relatively straightforward as the staff generally speak excellent English and so can help if you’re linguistically challenged! The information desk within the airport, just next to arrivals, is also superb. The staff speak excellent English and are a mine of information.

14.
Getting a train to and from the airport is also straight forward. Change trains for the airport at Geneva Cornavin. The trains run regularly and are free if you’ve travelling by plane. The distance from train station to the actual airport is an easily walkable few minutes. Lifts are available and there are escalators. If time, buy your hot drink at the Geneva train station as it’s better quality and better priced than the airport. French trains run regularly to Geneva. Again, don’t forget your passport as you do have to go through border control.

15.
There is also an excellent coach service from Chambery, Crolles and Grenoble which head straight to the airport. The Website is Aerocar.fr. A coach in French is called ‘un autocar’, so aerocar is a play on words of aéroport and autocar. This isn’t a particularly cheap option, but it is very convenient and comfortable. Easy to book online and I have never travelled when the coach has been busy, so plenty of space to be had. Timings aren’t always convenient, but the pick up and drop off spot is really convenient for travel. Be aware though that the coach can be affected by motorway hold ups. Once when travelling to the airport from Chambery the coach was delayed. The two students waiting with me were cutting things very short, and when the coach was 45 minutes late they were panic stricken and ended up having to take a taxi at their own expense from Chambery to Geneva, which was later reimbursed by the coach company. (Ring and confirm they will do this before you leap into an awaiting taxi.)

16.
There are regular bus services to the bigger French ski resorts in winter (November to April) and you don’t have to be a skier to use them. The airport website gva.ch has details about most of these services. The smaller stations also run shuttle buses and mini-buses up to the ski resorts, as do the ski companies. Again, you don’t have to be a skier to use them. There are always many taxis waiting at the airport, but they don’t like to go too far and they aren’t cheap.

17.
Last but not least, it’s not a cheap option to pick people up at the airport, along with the increasing price of fuel, motorway tolls and car parking, sometimes it’s a reasonable option to get friends to take a train out of Switzerland, perhaps to Annecy or Aix-Les-Bains, which run regularly and are quite reasonably priced and then you can meet them there. It’s probably not practical to expect your 85 year old mum to pop along to the train station, and I guess a lot will depend on how soon you want to see your relatives or friends! For me, I love witnessing those priceless moments when people are re-united at airport arrivals. I develop a little glow inside, and it re-affirms my belief that the majority of people in this world are genuinely quite nice.

18.

If you are the one to be leaving, there is a valet solution. So you park your car in the lower parking lot right in front of Arrivals and leave your keys with a person in an orange hat and vest  http://easy-park.ch/ . Of course, it isn’t cheap but what service. Then when you return you walk straight out of arrivals find the orange hat and vest, they will give you your keys, tell you where your car is parked and off you go.

Hope this helps, please if you have any comments we would to hear from you.

 

Ros

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