In the centre of Geneva, behind the train station, is a colourful neighbourhood known as Les Grottes. When I say “colourful” I am not exaggerating. I have pictures to prove it.
Les Grottes, a working-class neighbourhood in the past, has resisted change and has maintained a village-like atmosphere with small houses, many now home to small enterprises, artisanal shops and artists’ studios.
Walking up from the train station the visitor comes upon a large square where the weekly market and neighbourhood celebrations are held. From this centre, narrow streets run in several directions, and it is easy to get lost in a relatively small area that is bordered on one side by the parc des Cropettes and on the other by the busy rue de Servette. Les Grottes is named after a river that flowed through the neighbourhood in the old days and was called the nant des Crottes, and then changed in the 19th century to Grottes.
The neighbourhood has successfully fought various plans in the 1960’s to tear it down and replace it with a modern office complex. The inhabitants organised themselves and persuaded the city to abandon the plans and rather help them to renovate the neighbourhood. The renovations are going on even to this day, so there are still some rather run-down buildings, with abundant graffiti, mingling with restored factories and turn-of-the-century apartment houses.
The only new constructions are the Maison des Schtroupfs, a quirky picturesque set of apartment buildings at the northern edge of the neighbourhood, and a primary school, which was built to assure the safety of the children who previously had to cross a busy thoroughfare to get to school.
Some of the quaint things seen on a recent outing: a few steps from the train station a small barnyard with a few hens and a rabbit; a delightful flower shop filled with flowers and plants in assorted flea-market bric à brac; right behind the station La Petite Reine, a beer bar popular with the young crowd, decorated with a large bicycle on the front of the building; and innovative artistic graffiti just waiting to be photographed on the older unrestored buildings.
So if you are looking for something different to do on a sunny afternoon, grab your camera or iPhone and head for Les Grottes.
Photos by Martine Enselme and Catherine Hieronymi
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