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FOUR athletic young women in impossibly small bikinis dive around the court in front of a small stand of cheering spectators as they play out a tense game of beach volleyball under deep blue skies. Meanwhile, young men walk along the road behind dressed in woollen hats and padded ski jackets with their snow boards slung over their shoulders. And a Muslim family, a dad, two boys and their mum, a hijab covering all but her eyes, walk along the road at the other side.

Welcome to Gstaad, a ski resort high up in the Swiss Alps, on a warm spring afternoon where nothing, it appears, is quite as it seems.

We took advantage of cheap easyJet flights from Liverpool to Geneva for a four night mini break. The city is the second most populous in Switzerland after Zrich. Known as the Peace Capital, it is also a massive financial centre located at the eastern end of Lake Geneva - Lac Lman in French - at the point where the Rhne River exits the lake. The city's most famous sight is the Jet d'Eau or water jet, a massive 132 gallons of water per second jetting 459ft skywards at the entrance to the harbour.

Geneva somehow has a different atmosphere than most major European cities. To begin with it's incredibly clean.

It has a sophistication about it and an air of calm - there seems a total lack of aggression and you never feel threatened.

Young people greet each other with a gentle kiss on the cheek, business people rollerblade along the lake dressed in Armani suits and protective headgear carrying small leather holdalls, and courteous youngsters offer their seats to older people on buses.

In a way it's like going back in time or perhaps a vision of how you'd like all cities to be and their residents to behave.

Just prior to our visit the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed an anti-racism conference at the United Nations there. As widely reported, many diplomats walked out after his verbal attack on Israel and the situation in Palestine. That resulted in a lakeside demonstration by Muslim activists during our stay, yet we never saw a police officer and the placardwaving demonstrators, like the public they handed CDs, books and leaflets to, were all incredibly polite.

On the downside Switzerland isn't the cheapest place to visit, with restaurant and bar prices generally higher than in the UK. But look around and there are good deals to be had, particularly among the many Italian eateries.

Travelling around the city is easy as tourists are given a free travel pass for buses, some trains and trams.

We took a boat ride down Lake Geneva stopping off at various small towns and villages on both the Swiss and then the French shores. After a two hour trip we stopped at Yvoire, a French mediaeval village that's impossibly picturesque with the snow-capped Alps as a backdrop.

After lunch, and a stroll around the small centre and village square, we met the boat for its slow return to Geneva - it's hard to imagine a more beautiful setting for a boat ride.

The following day we headed up into the Alps to Gstaad.

Catching the mainline train from pounds 148. pounds 80

Geneva we changed, after just over an hour, at Montreux for the GoldenPass up into the high Alps. Surely this has to be one of the world's top train journeys.

As the train climbs from Montreux the views, first of Lake Geneva and the snow covered Alps beyond, then the stunning mountains, Alpine valleys and wonderful villages, are simply breathtaking.

On our final night in Geneva we decided to splash out on a meal at one of the city's restaurants serving traditional Swiss dishes. We were shown to our table by the maitre d' and before tucking into our raclette - hot cheese dribbled over potatoes, served with small gherkins and pickled onions - we watched him effortlessly switch from French to German as he greeted customers.

Returning to our table, and realising we were British, he changed to English... with a broad Yorkshire accent. "I'm originally from Wakefield," he explained. "Moved here 20 years ago after growing tired of my civil service job." Nothing, it appears, is quite as it seems in Switzerland.

com) from star pounds 520 Yvoire pounds 76 pickled of as it TRAVEL INFORMA TION Return easyJet ( flights for two ex-Liverpool from pounds 148. Four nights B& B at three star Hotel Eden, Geneva cost pounds 520 Cruises on Lake Geneva to Yvoire pounds 80 return for two. Rail tickets from Geneva to Gstaad pounds 76 return for two


T T h h e e F F r r e e n n c c h h v v i i l l l l a a g g e e o o f f Y Y v v o o i i r r e e ( ( m m a a i i n n ) ) , , G G s s t t a a a a d d i i n n t t h e e A A l l p p s s ( ( l l e e f f t t ) ) a a n n d d G G e e n n e e v v a a ' ' s s j j e e t t ( ( r r i i g g h h t t ) )
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 16, 2009
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