Champel, Geneva, Switzerland

Champel is a residential area in the city of Geneva, Switzerland. Its many green spaces, its plush buildings with luxurious apartments and its proximity to the city center give it a privileged location and make it one of the “chic” districts of the city of Geneva. The Champel tower, dominating the cliffs of the Arve, the Champel plateau, as well as the Bertrand Park are the most famous places in the district.

Champel is widely considered a posh, high-class neighbourhood due to its numerous parks and natural spaces, very luxurious apartments and proximity to the city center. Residences mostly consist of mid-range to high-scale apartments. Champel is home for university campus, a hostel-like complex for students of the University of Geneva. The residential district of Champel is green and calm. However, it is undergoing radical change, with the enormous CEVA railway construction site.

Champel is in close proximity to Florissant, which like Champel is an exclusive neighborhood, bordered by the neighborhood of Eaux-Vives to the north, the municipality of Veyrier to the east, the municipality of Carouge to the south and the city center to the west, occupying an area of approximately 1.9 km2.

The Champel district is mainly made up of large buildings with often opulent apartments and villas. Formerly a cursed district, where those condemned to death were executed, it housed the villas of wealthy families from the end of the 18th century. Despite the construction of many HLMs since the 1960s, Champel maintains a reputation as a bourgeois and chic district.

This rather quiet district, with relatively few shops and bistros, is undergoing rapid change, due to the enormous construction site that occupies it: that of the construction of the CEVA railway line (Cornavin-Eaux-Vives-Annemasse). It will be served by the “Champel-Hôpital” stop, one of the five new CEVA stations, which will be located under the Champel plateau. This will provide direct access to the plateau, as well as to Geneva University Hospitals (Cluse-Roseraie site), via an underground tunnel.

Only until the 18th century, the Champel district, became a privileged district which today retains a bourgeois reputation. The origin of the name “Champel” dates back to the 15th century. It probably comes from the low Latin “campellum” which means small field.

From the Middle Ages to the beginning of the 18th century, the region remains wild. Only a few farms form a hamlet at Bout-du-Monde. The land is used for vines and for grazing livestock. Above all, the neighborhood has a grim reputation. It is there that the condemned are executed. Of anecdotes and a commemorative stele bear witness to this cursed past.

From the end of the 18th century, wealthy families settled in Champel in pretty villas surrounded by greenery. Champel becomes a chic district. The current Champel district is still considered bourgeois, even if the HLMs and the rectilinear avenues have replaced some villas since the 1960s.

Discover a selection of curiosities scattered around the Champel district. They often bear witness to the history of the district and of Geneva. The ‘plateau de Champel’ is the center of the neighbourhood. The ‘Parc Bertrand’ is a popular 11.1-hectare (27.4-acre) park, featuring a former primary school (which is now a day-care center), a fenced dog park, a playground for small children as well as a wading pool. The neo-gothic ‘Tour de Champel’ on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the Arve is a scenic view. The Champel tower was built on behalf of David Moriaud, a Geneva promoter of the therapeutic baths in Champel-sur-Arve. David Moriaud wanted to offer his clients a romantic and historical perspective, from his establishment located on the banks of the Arve. The tower was abandoned in the early 1970s. Threatening to collapse, it was renovated in 1985, only on the outside: all access to the terrace, which then gave a view of Carouge and the Arve, were condemned..

La Tour de Champel: tea room for famous spa guests
Overlooking the cliffs of Champel, this neo-Gothic-style tower has been converted into a tea room for spa guests from the Arve therapeutic baths, founded nearby in 1874 and demolished in 1991. Centered on the therapeutic virtues of the waters of the Arve, this holiday resort was connected to the station by a tram. Among his clients, we can cite the author Guy de Maupassant, the pianist and composer Camille Saint-Saëns, the French philosopher and historian Hippolyte Taine or the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature Romain Rolland. The pension de la Roseraie, intended for more modest guests and located at 25 rue de la Roseraie, lodges on several occasions the writer Joseph Conrad.

Bout-du-monde sports center: from war to festivities
A multi-sport center where athletics, football, tennis, fencing and many other disciplines are practiced, the Bout du Monde sports center was created after the First World War under the name “Stade de Champel”. If the place is today the scene of many sports meetings, concerts and festivals, its history is darker: during the Second World War, it became a place of transit for thousands of refugees., including many Jewish children from France. It is in Val-Fleuri, the most important reception camp established by the Swiss authorities, that the refugees entered by the Geneva border undergo medical and political quarantine. They are then moved to other places of temporary residence, sent to civilian labor camps or turned back.

The Parc Bertrand elephant: a work of art for children
Emblematic of the district, Parc Bertrand is a vast place for walks and leisure activities ideal for families. It offers in particular very beautiful species of trees and a white garden, composed only of flowers of this color. Children can enjoy its paddling pool, the many games available, including the “Le grand Jumbo” slide (Jumbo III, 1978), a giant sculpture in galvanized iron built by the artist Pierre Siebold.

A stele to repent of the tortures
In Champel, the executioner once officiated at the top of the current rue Beau-Sejour. The most famous personality condemned was Michel Servet, burned alive on October 27, 1553 for having refused the concept of the Christian Trinity. His long agony haunted the conscience of Geneva Protestants for a long time, who in 1903 raised a stele of repentance at the place of torture. The Champel gibbet ceased to be used in the 18th century, but its forks continued to frighten the inhabitants. It is even said that they would have delayed the urbanization of the area.

Bertrand Park
The Bertrand Park is one of the largest public parks in the City of Geneva. Indeed, the park of 110,823 m ² was created in the xvii th century. M Alfred, widow of the Genevan photographer Alfred Bertrand, bequeathed part of the park to the City of Geneva in 1933. In 1940, the estate and the property therein, were entirely bequeathed to the City of Geneva. Alfred Bertrand’s home then became the Bertrand School, a public primary school. The park therefore took the name of its former owner, becoming Parc Bertrand. In 2005, the Bertrand School was transformed into a nursery garden. The teachers were distributed to the other primary schools in Champel, such as those in Contamines, Peschier and Crêts-de-Champel.

After it was bequeathed to the City of Geneva, the park undergoes work so that it becomes a place of leisure, sports and relaxation. There is a paddling pool about 30 centimeters deep for children. A play area for children, with multiple slides, has been built there. A Japanese-style garden, with a pond welcoming fish, and a free space for dogs have been created.

The park, as well as the property located there, were bequeathed to the City of Geneva by Alice Noerbel, the widow of Alfred Bertrand, representative of a large Geneva family in 1933 (for a part) then in 1940 (for the rest).

There is a paddling pool of about 30 centimeters deep for children in the park, a park exclusively for dogs, a football field, a toboggan area, a tennis wall, a pond, a small waterfall, a stream, a garden Japanese, toilets or a bodybuilding space inaugurated in 2015

On the edge of the park is the Bertrand school (the old building of the Bertrand family). This public primary school was transformed in 2004 into an early childhood garden, the pupils and teachers having been distributed among the surrounding schools of Contamines, Peschier and Crêts-de-Champel.

Anecdotes from the Champel district
In 1553, the Spanish physician and philosopher Michel Servet was burned in Champel. He is accused of heresy, that is to say of supporting a doctrine contrary to official religion. In 1903, a monument was built on rue Beau-Sejour in his memory and to condemn what was considered to be Calvin’s error. This stele of repentance is one of the curiosities of the neighborhood.

Alfred Bertrand, known to be a traveler, decides to bequeath his family estate to the City to make it a public park. In 1933, his wife opened part of the estate to the Genevans. The rest was given up on his death in 1941. Parc Bertrand then became an island of greenery accessible to all.

From the stake to the clinic
During its history, Champel has not always been a pleasant residential area to live in as it is today. Until the beginning of the 18th century, it was a sinister and sparsely populated plateau where criminals and political opponents were executed. The “witches” are also burnt there. The Genevans come so numerous to attend the show that the place of executions must be enlarged. The rue Michel-Servet bears the name of a Spanish doctor and philosopher who was burnt for heresy in 1553 and whose stele is one of the curiosities of the district.

The executions were carried out at a place called ” the executioner’s field “, at the top of the current avenue de Beau-Sejour. Today, the Colline clinic treats the sick in the place where the gallows once stood.

Tobacco in the woods of Conches
Formerly, the current district of Champel was frequented by smugglers. They transported good tobacco from France from Coppet to Champel, then hid it in the woods of Conches. The tobacco then crossed the Arve on the back of a mare to arrive in Savoy. In Paris, it was said that the Genevans got rich thanks to this traffic.

From Champel-les-Bains to the hospital
Towards the end of the 18th century, we discovered the benefits of water from the Arve. The Beau-Sejour property was transformed into a spa around 1874. The Beau-Sejour Hotel was built there, a luxurious hydrotherapy establishment with 200 rooms. Famous people stay there, including the writer Guy de Ma upassant and the composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Customers benefit from the water of the Arve in all its forms: baths, showers, vapors and fumigations. The Tour de Champel, converted into a tea room for curists, is one of the curiosities of the district.

During the First World War, the borders were closed. The establishment must then close. In 1942, the State of Geneva installed an annex of the cantonal hospital on this area.

The name “Malombré”
A funny story is told about the name “Malombré”. In 1853, Mr. David Lenoir, banker, built a villa on the current Chemin de Malombré. He then had three plane trees cut down, which saddened his wife. She had the expression “badly shaded” painted on the portal. Her husband then had these words engraved on a plaque that would give the name to the Malombré sector.