Geneva is an anomaly, the nearest thing the world has to an international city, and yet with nothing of the pizzazz such a description might suggest. From its profile in world events, you'd imagine a megalopolis on the scale of London or New York, but Geneva is little more than town-sized. From its demographic diversity – 38 percent of the population is non-Swiss – you'd imagine its streets to be thronged with the nationalities of the world, but across most of the city centre you'd be hard-pushed to spot a non-white face or eavesdrop on a conversation that wasn't in French or US-accented English.
This is a city in the most beautiful of locations, centred around the point where the River Rhône flows out of Lake Geneva, flanked on one side by the Jura ridges and on the other by the first peaks of the Savoy Alps, but for all that, it's a curiously unsatisfying place to spend more than a few days.
Geneva has become the businessperson's city par excellence, unrufflable, efficient and packed with hotels. The cobbled Old Town, high on its central hill, is atmospheric but strangely austere, with abiding impressions of high, grey walls and the stern tap-tap of passing footsteps. At the heart of the city is the huge Cathédrale St-Pierre, and an array of top-class museums. Livelier residential neighbourhoods on both banks of the Rhône, such as Les Pâquis and Plainpalais, offer more appealing wandering, while a short way south of the centre is Carouge, an attractive eighteenth-century suburb built in Sardinian style to be a place of decadence and freedom beyond Geneva's control; its reputation lives on in its population of artists and designers.
Geneva is also home to dozens of international organizations. Two of them – the United Nations' Palais des Nations European headquarters and the International Committee of the Red Cross, Musee International de la Croix Rouge – allow visitors a glimpse of the unseen lifeblood of the city, the diplomatic and administrative flair that has made Geneva world capital of bureaucracy.