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The Times Shopper: Geneva

Old Town, Where the Elite Meet to Eat and to Enjoy the History

September 06, 1987|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer

In Switzerland, Geneva's beautiful Old Town is the meeting place of artists, trend-setters and high society, as well as the favorite dining and shopping area for citizens of the world who visit and/or work in this sophisticated city.

Old Town is an adventure. It's possible to lose oneself in the maze of narrow, winding cobblestone streets and alleys, lined with buildings dating from the 15th through 18th centuries. Many have plaques indicating landmark status as the site of the birth of a famous philosopher or artist or death of an infamous prince.

Shopper's Delight

The Old Town also is a shopper's delight. The main shopping street is the pedestrians-only Rue de la Cite, which twists up a hill and turns into Grande Rue. The quaint ancient buildings house fashionable shops featuring everything from antiques to modern cookery, from contemporary fashions for women and infants to exquisite one-of-a-kind, handmade, jeweled leather cuffs and collars.

At the bottom of Rue de la Cite, Clinda Boutique (No. 9) has pretty, colorful Indian cotton and rayon casual clothes for about $45 for an outfit.

Galerie de la Vielle Ville (No. 11) features antique porcelain and prints, as well as beautiful and expensive marquetry tables and chests.

B. Rusterholz (No. 13), a charming tea salon, makes its own chocolate, including mouth-size bricks of iced dark chocolate dusted with bitter cocoa, 25 varieties of truffles, and marzipan selling for $4 for 100 grams or $45 for one kilogram.

The shop makes dark chocolate rabbits with almond ears ($1) and chocolate coins decorated with portraits of John Calvin ($8 to $20) for a gift-wrapped box. This is a lovely place to stop for a reasonably priced lunch ($8).

At 2 Place du Grand Mexel (the intersection of Rue de la Cite and Grande Rue) is Graminees, a sweet-scented shop filled with dried flowers braided into small wreaths ($6), wrapped around straw hats ($30), and used with glass globes to make pretty, cheerful mobiles ($80 and up). There are also unusual ceramic sculptures of armchairs and sofas with ceramic children sitting on them ($200 and up), as well as dried flower greeting cards ($6).

On Grand Rue, Grandes Epoques (No. 8) shows fine and expensive 18th-Century French furniture, some of it of museum quality, in an elegant environment.

Librarie des Amateurs (No. 15) sells old books, including first editions of French titles on many subjects, as well as a large selection of used English language paperbacks ($2).

Cooking Utensils

Kitch'n'cook (No. 19) is an ambling emporium of high-tech and high-priced cooking utensils, as well as affordable small gadgets including elaborately curved plastic sipping straws in bright colors ($1), rubber licorice stick napkin rings ($2 each) and shocking pink scrub brushes ($4) with matching dish rack ($6).

Downstairs are lovely leather handbags of all sizes and shapes in natural and black, for about $15 to $200, as well as lots of little inexpensive toys and bed and bathroom accessories.

L. J. Gianella (No. 21) features magnificent 18th- and 19th-century antiques, especially English sea chests, writing desks, ancient telescopes, grandfather clocks, old globes and paintings of sailing ships in stormy seas. These expensive collectibles are worth a leisurely browse, even if you don't buy.

Grand Rue 24 (No. 24) is a boutique with stunning leather fashions, including exquisitely soft full-circle suede skirts ($400), black leather mini dresses ($480) and hot pink suits with skinny skirts and tight-waisted jackets with puff sleeves and peplums ($600). There are also fluffy angora sweaters enhanced with feathers and elaborate fantasy belts.

Next door, Centre Genevois de l'Artisanat (No. 26) is a gallery of handmade decorative arts representing about 80 Swiss ceramists, jewelers, weavers and glassblowers, and European guest artisans. Exhibitions change monthly.

Among the jewelers, Geneva artist Marie Hoappli makes fabulous wide bracelets of leather covered with beads and trinkets (about $240) and Sylvie Aubry Brossard's delicate silver, leather and paper necklaces, brooches and bracelets (about $1,470 and up) are outstanding.

Christiane Murner constructs fabulous one-of-a-kind leather handbags in unusual hard-edged shapes with fine hand-rolled leather trim ($270 to $350). Marianne Brand's raku spheres (about $70 to $500) are subtly colored, perfectly formed hollow ceramic globes and Regula Brenner's colorful teapots (about $300) have amusingly long pouring spouts and spindly curved legs.

Gift and Home Decorations

Architectural (No. 30) is an elegant shop selling unusual gift and home decorating items, including a superb pine and brass table shaped like an elephant (about $3,600) and large silver and nacre vases (about $1,460). A magnificent silver, brass and wood handmade chess set, with surrealistic little pieces, sells for about $1,570.

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