01: Genève to Mont-Sion Pass

From Lake Geneva to the foothills of Salève Moutain

 

DIDIER HEUMANN, ANDREAS PAPASAVVAS

 

We divided the course into several sections to make it easier to see. For each section, the maps show the course, the slopes found on the course, and the state of the roads. The courses were drawn on the “Wikilocs” platform. Today, it is no longer necessary to walk around with detailed maps in your pocket or bag. If you have a mobile phone or tablet, you can easily follow routes live. For this stage, here is the link:

https://fr.wikiloc.com/itineraires-randonnee/de-geneve-gare-au-col-du-mont-sion-par-la-via-gebennensis-33318901

If you only want to consult lodging of the stage, go directly to the bottom of the page.

On the French Way of St. James, crossing large cities is not commonplace. There aren’t any, it’s simple. Switzerland is different. It is such a small country that it is difficult to find passing places to avoid the cities. And in Geneva, it’s even worse. Geneva is a sort of big cul-de-sac, wedged between Lake Geneva and Salève Mountain. It will therefore be necessary to cross all of Geneva, Carouge in particular to leave Switzerland. But in Geneva, it’s not just banks. The old town is small, but charming. Carouge is a pretty town.

Once out of town, the Franco-Swiss border is very close. For the rest, the course is a long hike in the countryside, under the foothills of Salève, which overlooks Geneva. You will quickly see how you run from the city to the countryside, even if around Geneva, satellite villages have developed.

The milestone of 100,000 foreigners holding a border permit was exceeded for the first time in the canton of Geneva in July 2016, according to the Cantonal Statistical Office. Most of these people live in Haute-Savoie (74%), the others in neighboring departments. So, in the villages that you will walk through, the majority of people, whether French or Swiss living in Haute Savoie, work in Geneva.

Difficulty of the course: Slope variations (+567 meters/-163 meters) are not that great overall, if you consider that you slope up to a pass. But, it’s a low altitude pass. As far as the Franco-Swiss border, after Compesières, it’s a flat or slightly uphill walk. But, from the border, the track climbs and climbs, almost without stopping to the Mont Sion pass. All the way, the slopes will not exceed 15% incline. But, rest assured, there are still some nice ramps to walk, but they are generally short, especially near Verrières side.

In this stage, a large part of the route takes place on paved roads. What do you want? You are walking near a big city, and in town:

  • Paved roads: 15.3 km
  • Dirt roads: 7.9 km

It is very difficult to specify with certainty the incline of the slopes, whatever the system you use.

For “real slope”, reread the mileage manual on the home page.

Section 1: Crossing Geneva and Carouge.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: flat, in town.

 

Beyond Place de Cornavin, in front of the station, the best solution is to walk down Rue du Mont Blanc towards the lake, until you find Mount Blanc Bridge and the Quai des Bergues. Mount Blanc Bridge is the large bridge that crosses the harbor, connecting the two banks. It is a very crowded thoroughfare throughout the day.
You can cross the bridge, but the best thing is to walk up the Quai des Bergues to the right and take one of the first two bridges that cross the Rhône River, namely the Bergues Bridge or the Machine Bridge. Geneva today dreams of an ideal harbor, giving back the quays to walkers. There’s no shortage of ideas, it’s money.
To the right of Machine Bridge is the Quai de l’Ile, where a bridge also crosses Rhône River. In the first steps of humanity, a sandbank divided the river into two arms. This bench was consolidated over the centuries by building bridges. The bridge, mentioned by Julius Caesar, was cut to prevent the passage of the Helvetians. Rebuilt in stone under the Roman Empire, it survived until the XVIth century. Mills and houses were gradually built there. The built bridge was completely destroyed by fire in 1670. From the middle of the XVIIth century, a second bridge was established. Then, the bridges were redesigned to make only one in 1886.

If you crossed on the first bridge, Bergues Bridge, you are then on the left bank, in the shopping streets of the city and near the banks, the Basses streets.

Follow the directions for the Old Town and the Cathedral. You’ll then arrive in front of the Confederation Center galleries.
At the corner of the building, you enter the Old Town, very restricted in Geneva. It occupies the small hill where the cathedral and the town hall stand. It is the historic center of Geneva. You can imagine how these cobblestones saw Rousseau and all the reformers pass by.

The route passes in front of the Old Arsenal, a stone’s throw from the Town Hall. Under its arcades and at the foot of the frescoes recalling Geneva from Julius Caesar to the Reformation, five cannons, similar to those which defended the ramparts of the city, occupy the ground paved with pebbles. The building today houses the state archives.

 

The presence of a church on the hill has been documented since the IVth century AD. Dedicated to Saint-Pierre, today’s cathedral dates from the XIIth century, navigating between Romanesque and Gothic styles. Over the course of wars and fires, it underwent many modifications. From August 1535, the mass was abolished in Geneva and the cathedral assigned to Protestant worship. The cathedral then took the name of Temple of St. Peter, which remains its official name to this day. After the separation of Church and State in 1907, the building became the property of the Protestant Church of Geneva. The temple still performs civil functions today, hosting the swearing-in of the government of the Republic.

Under the cathedral are the remains of the early Christian church.

Beyond the cathedral, the route descends to Place du Bourg-de-Four, at the exit of the Old Town. Here it is the heart of the old town market in days gone by. All this has unfortunately disappeared. Here appear the signs for Via Jacobi 4, framed in blue, the last stage of the Camino de Santiago in Switzerland which will become GR65 path after the border. These signs will be very useful to you so as not to get lost in the city.
The Via Jacobi then follows the Rue de Saint-Léger and runs along the Parc des Bastions. You have to enter the park to see a wall that tells the story of the Reformation in Geneva and its international influence. It is the famous Wall of the Reformers, monument inaugurated in 1909 in honor of the 400th birthday of Jean Calvin, showing Guillaume Farel, Jean Calvin, Théodore de Bèze and John Knox, great preachers of Protestantism, wearing the dress of Geneva.
Rue St Léger leads to Boulevard des Philosophes. You cannot forget that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born here in the old town of a Calvinist family, but of French origin. He spent his early childhood in his father’s watchmaking workshop, before leaving the country. Some historians claim that the writer was inspired by the protest movement of the XVIIIth century in Geneva to write his “Social Contract”.
Here, it is perhaps the only place in Geneva where you have to be careful not to get lost! You have to cross the boulevard, take a slight left to find the sign for Via Jacobi which directs you to Rue Prévost-Martin.
The Rue Prévost-Martin, straight and with little traffic, will first intersect the Boulevard du Pont d’Arve.
These are large boulevards that will not tell you their history and secrets if you do not know the history of the country. It doesn’t really matter to you! They will allow you to go from the city of Geneva to that of Carouge.
The Via Jacobi follows Rue Pévost-Martin to Place des Augustins, where it then enters Rue de la Ferme.
At the end of the Rue de la Ferme, it leaves for a few moments to the right along the Rue de la Colline.
The Arve River is just a stone’s throw away, in its still muddy waters. It descends from the Mont Blanc massif in France and empties into the blue Rhône River at the exit of the city, heading west. After the bridge, you’ll reach Carouge. Carouge (22,000 inhabitants) is a town in its own right. It is especially famous for the “Vieux Carouge” district with its squares, its terraces and its picturesque houses, which you’ll largely pass through.
On the other side of the Arve River, is the beautiful Place de l’Octroi. This is also where the famous tram line 18 arrives from Geneva, which visits the old quarters of Carouge.

The rivalry between Geneva and Carouge is a historical fact. Carouge was completely rebuilt in the XVIIIth century to compete with Geneva. So, Italian architects carved out the city to make it a squared, Mediterranean city. And all Carougeois will tell you, probably rightly but with a little hint of chauvinism, how good it is to live here and to stroll the streets.

The Via Jacobi does not immediately follow the tram. It goes around the square, passes near the Catholic oratory of St Joseph, before finding Rue Vautier.
Rue Vautier passes near the Place du Marché. Carouge does not really have a real center, but scattered centers. Let’s say that it is from here to Rue Ancienne that the actual heart of Vieux Carouge beats.
At the end of Rue Vautier, the route continues on Rue Ancienne.
It is undoubtedly the most beautiful street in the region, where you can find the tram, beautiful houses, small shops, cafes, restaurants, in short, the charm of a street on a human scale. You’ll understand the love and enthusiasm of the Carougeois for their city.
At the end of the Rue Ancienne, you’ll reach the Place du Rondeau, where the Via Jacobi definitely leaves the city for the suburbs. It therefore took almost 4 kilometers to cross the city. If you dawdle a bit along the way, it’s not far from two hours. With the tram, you would have arrived much earlier!

Section 2: In the Geneva countryside, or at least what’s left of it.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

 

At Place du Rondeau, the Via Jacobi takes Route de Drize, near the park of the Battelle research institute. Here, in the past, people teased the gene, now turning to IT and management.
The road crosses a sparsely populated suburb, which is quite rare in Geneva, it must be said.
Then, the Via Jacobi leaves the main roads and runs towards the undergrowth.
Here, the pilgrim regains a taste for life, finds the dirt, the trees, the small stones on the path, his universe, right?
The small road then crosses the large Drize stream.

A pathway path slopes up from the river in the undergrowth, to find a paved road. There, Via Jacobi takes the direction of Saconnex d´Arve.

 

The road then climbs, on a very slight slope, between widely dispersed suburbs and countryside as far as Saconnex d’Arve Dessous.
The farmers have not yet sold everything. But it will come, of course. There is reason to this development. Geneva has 500,000 inhabitants in a small space. Geneva is the canton with the most foreigners. They represent 42% of the population. 61% of residents have an immigrant background. But, this is not 93 department of Paris region.
Further ahead, the small village of Saconnex d´Arve Dessous exudes calm and cleanliness.
Behind the large oak trees, the Via Jacobi leaves the village and takes a pathway to the Pond of Paradise.
We will never know if heaven or just the pond is present here. At least, the Via Jacobi doesn’t go there and quickly emerges from the woods to find the tar.
Coming out of the woods, the road crosses the fields a little. But, yes, there is still a bit of countryside in the canton of Geneva!
The road then arrives at Saconnex d´Arve Dessus. These small villages in the Geneva countryside all look very new, as if they had been built in recent years. Which is not the case, of course!

Section 3: From Switzerland to France in the countryside.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

 

On leaving the village of Sacconex, you can quickly see Compesières above, in the middle of the wheat fields. In any case, Compesières is not a newcorner.
Compesières is close to the border between Switzerland and France. The population is meager (around twenty inhabitants), but the site is well known to Geneva people. Today it is the administrative, religious and educational center of Bardonnex village. The site is classified as of national importance.

A Roman settlement has been proven by excavations. Perhaps in feudal times there was a real village. The Order of Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem had a commandery here, expanding the area with ramparts and towers in the XVIIth century. Then the commandery passed to the Order of Malta until 1793, later becoming a saltpeter factory. Since 1822, the hamlet has included the church, the commandery, a farm and outbuildings.

The Via Jacobi then starts out over tarmac and then over dirt to the small Charrot hamlet, on the other side of the road. Here, you have definitely left Greater Geneva behind.
The Via Jacobi leaves the village in the direction of Lathoy, first on a small asphalt road, then on dirt road, in the middle of vineyards and market gardeners.
It heads towards a small undergrowth, where, in front of you, you can see the buildings of the Technopole d´Archamps. It runs in front of a big wall, which one wonders if it is not a fortification. You are close to the border.
Along the undergrowth, the small dirt road will cross the Arcande stream.
The Via Jacobi comes to an end in Les Combes, just a stone’s throw from the Technopole and the border. Here you will not be disturbed by customs officials.

You are now in Haute Savoie, on GR65 path, the Chemin de Compostelle to Puy-en-Velay. Warning! You will have to change your habit. While walking through Switzerland, you saw the little yellow direction signs shine, like big chanterelles coming out of the moss. Here, the color of the panels is more subdued, and more complex, at least in the early stages. It’s a mix of GR 65 (red and white), Chemin de Compostelle (shells) and local signs, with lots of details on walking times. But this will not last on all subsequent stages.

Beyond Les Combes, a wide track, first paved, then dirt, climbs towards the Technopole, crossing a small railway line, then crisscrossing the countryside.
In the middle of the countryside, created in 1989, the Technopole d’Archamps is described as “the first Euro-Swiss technopole”. It houses around 230 units working in the fields of life sciences (“biotech”), electronics, micro-technologies or knowledge transfer activities. Here French, European and Swiss scientists meet, in relation with neighboring universities.
A small paved road leaves the technopole and reaches Lathoy hamlet.
Further afield, GR65 path (we will henceforth call tit GR path; moreover, you’ll see the red and white signs of the GRs appear) follows a small dirt road, crosses the small stream of Nant de Barthoux and heads into the countryside towards the highway.
GR path then crosses the A40 motorway, “Autoroute Blanche” which runs from Macon to Chamonix, then to Italy via the Mont Blanc tunnel, passing through the Franco-Swiss border, near St Julien-de-Genevoix.
Beyond the freeway, a wide dirt road will cross the wide plain, towards Neydens, in the middle of meadows and cereals.

Section 4: Climbing under Salève Mountain.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: some steeper slopes between La Forge and Verrières.

 

In front of you, you can see the steeple of Neydens. Throughout this region, in rainy weather, the paths can be very flooded.
So far, we’ve almost always walked on flat tracks from Geneva. But now, the Mont Sion Pass is in altitude and it will be necessary to climb there. Then, as you approach the village, the road, which becomes more and more stony, begins to climb. But, here, the slope is still slight and the gaze is always directed towards the Salève, the mountain which dominates Geneva.
The pathway then gets to Neydens, where it is difficult to make out the many hamlets that are scattered around the foothills of Salève Mountain. The stone cross, known as the Croix de Verrières, in the center of the village, is splendid. To see the houses, Neydens seems very residential. Perhaps only the church and the St-Laurent school and the old school seem a little older. Most of the population has to work in Geneva.
GR path then follows the sidewalk to climb to La Forge, passing in front of the Colombière campsite-inn.
La Forge is a stone’s throw away and GR path joins a busier road that passes under Salève Mountain.
Beyond here, the slope increases, up to 15%, to reach Verrières, then Beaumont. A small road climbs along opulent residences, hidden in parks. The statistics do not say how many of these people work in Geneva. The majority, no doubt.
Further up, the villas are scarce. Chains are even recommended in winter and you understand why. Then the road climbs again in the direction of Verrières, along the meadows dominated by oaks, beeches and other hardwoods. On the horizon, you are almost touching the mountain.
At the entrance to Verrières stands on the hill a jewel of a small chapel, fairly recent and very sober.
From the promontory, the view is extended over Neydens and the Forge below, and further towards Geneva, although the lake can no longer be seen here.
Here, the slope is less severe and the road climbs into the very extensive Verrières village. If the lower part of the village is just a collection of new villa subdivisions, the village itself still shows a certain unity. There are still a few farmers in Verrières.

In Verrières, you are at an altitude of 700 meters, about a 2 hour walk to the Mont Sion Pass. You climbed 300 meters from the lake, and there is no more than 175 meters to climb to the top of the stage. For people who are starting the Way in Geneva, it is demanding. But for others, it’s all fun.

 

GR path leaves Verrières on the paved road, direction Beaumont. Quickly, you’ll abandon the road for a dirt track which climbs in the countryside towards the undergrowth.
The lane is stony, in the middle of meadows and deciduous trees, but the slope is not severe. .

In the region, in dry weather, it is a real pleasure. But in rainy weather it can be more tough, as the small streams, mostly invisible, run down the mountain and turn into real torrents. So, look for the biggest stones so as not to get bogged down, especially if the cattle are present and create real quagmires.

Section 5: On the way, there is the beautiful old Pomier Abbey.

 

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: some nice ramps between 10% and 15%, but it’s far from insurmountable.

 

At the exit of the wood, GR path follows the ridge in the meadows.

The pathway then descends gently to Beaumont village. On the horizon you’ll see the Mont Sion Pass on the side under Salève Mountain.

 

The pathway heads to the village, crosses the Nant de Chozal stream, lost in the brush, except in the event of rain. In bad weather, the passage here is almost an ordeal.
The dirt road runs alongside a large farm, passes near the small stream of Nant de Beaumont and reaches the village on the tar.
Beaumont (2,600 inhabitants) is made up of two parts. The top part, the one you cross, is old Beaumont and its church. But, the village is below, in Chable, where activities and shops are grouped.
A magnificent St Jacques in stone stands guard in front of the church of St Etienne de Beaumont, a very old Romanesque church, but completely renovated in a sober and uncluttered style. Here, it is an hour and a half of walking to the end of the stage.
The road flattens over the village, crosses the old school. A small stream runs along the side.
Soon the road arrives at Jussy, which also belongs to the municipality of Beaumont, crossing the Nant de Bellot stream.
The road crosses a village which has still preserved a little of its cachet of yesteryear, then climbs steadily, sometimes quite severe, between undergrowth and countryside.
Here, a herd of Montbéliard cows, under the wooded cliffs of Salève Muntain. Are they used to make Reblochon? May be. Here is the origin of the term. Here, in the past, the peasants paid their owner on the amount of milk produced in a day. So, they found a trick: practice an incomplete deal to pay less rental. Then, as soon as the controller left, they made a second milking. The second milk was not very plentiful, but rich in cream. Reblochon therefore comes from the patois “Reblocher” which means “to pinch the udders of the cow a second time”.

The birthplace of Reblochon is Thônes, in Savoie, in the Val d´Arly, a valley near Chamonix, on the other side of the Salève. But the AOP protection zone includes the Val d´Arly in Savoie and all the mountains of Haute Savoie. As a result, here they also make Reblochon, this delicious cheese made from raw, unpasteurized milk. Cattle feed is regulated as well as the breeds used for making cheese. Only the Abondance, Montbéliarde and Tarine breeds are authorized. While Tarine shows a light brown color, Abondance is a darker brown, with a white head speckled with brown. The Montbéliarde, a mixture of brown and white, you will meet it very often on the course. But the favorite for Reblochon remain Abondance cows.

The road ends in a cul-de-sac on a small ledge at the foot of the Chartreuse de Pomier.
The Domaine de Pomier is remarkable in every way, not only because it leaves free access to walkers, but because the site is exceptional. Here, the forest is clear, composed mainly of deciduous trees, including beeches and a few hundred-year-old oaks. Conifers, despite the increasing altitude, are rare here.
The pathway climbs gently, and you almost have the temptation to see whether morels grow in spring or boletus in autumn.

A pilgrim may have strayed here one day…

When it comes out of the woods, GR path reaches the outbuildings of the Chartreuse. The site is remarkable.
The Chartreuse Notre-Dame de Pomier dates back to the XIIth century. Here there was a church, chapels, a cloister and Carthusian monks. During the revolution in 1793, the estate was looted, the libraries burnt and a large part of the buildings demolished. The Charterhouse then remained abandoned for more than 100 years. In 1894, a baron bought the estate, saved the rest of the ruin and rebuilt the estate to make it a hotel-restaurant, which it still is today, with another owner, a private property that organizes seminars and weddings. People arrive here by car, by the road that climbs to Mont Sion Pass from Geneva.

From here, the view is extended over Geneva and the Rhône plain.

Further up, GR path leaves the Chartreuse.

Section 6: Under the Salève Mountain to the Pass.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: some nice ramps between 10% and 15%, but it’s far from insurmountable.

Another little effort before reaching the top of the Pass. At the beginning, the climb is slight, in the pastures. You almost smell the pure mountain air.
The stony dirt road passes quickly to the place called “Les Hauts de Mikerne”, where a direction is given for the Maison du Salève, a cultural site with workshops, activities, gourmet breaks, hikes to discover the region.
The slope is regular, not very tough, along the hedges or in the deciduous undergrowth.
The climb ends when the forest path leads to a sort of high plateau at the place known as Sur Les Fours, at an altitude of almost 875 meters.
GR path does not pass through St Blaise, a stone’s throw away. From here, on a clear day, going to the bottom of the plateau, you’ll see Geneva and even Lake of Geneva.
St Blaise is located higher than the Mont Sion Pass, which is about 100 meters below. The descent is short, but sometimes demanding.
The pathway joins the road that slopes up to St Blaise at the entrance to Mont Sion.
The road joins the large departmental D1201, the road axis that connects Geneva to Annecy. In the past, before the full junction of the freeways from Geneva to Annecy, this axis was overloaded until Cruseilles, below, where the motorway arrived. Today, traffic here has decreased as the highway runs under the mountain in a tunnel. But, the circulation remains consistent. The highways are overpriced in France!
Mont-Sion is part of the commune of St Blaise. Here, homes have sprouted like mushrooms in recent years. You are close to Geneva by road. But, there is no village and only one possibility of accommodation. This is also where Santa Claus reigns in winter in his village.

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