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The Times Shopper: Carouge

Sophisticated Swiss Style Across the Arve River

March 13, 1988|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer .

Savvy Swiss citizens agree that the town of Carouge, on the southern outskirts of Geneva across the Arve River, is ideal for strolling and shopping. Carouge has been registered as "a city of national importance," and its buildings and public squares are preserved with landmark status.

Carouge has been a special place since the 18th Century, when it was built by order of the King of Sardinia to rival Geneva. Carouge was planned and built by architects from Turin. Its Piedmontese style still charms contemporary visitors.

Carouge was annexed to the puritanical canton of Geneva in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna. The town became Geneva's play place, where prominent citizens mingled in lively cabarets and markets with a rabble of rustic gold-washers who panned the Arve River for precious metals, petty smugglers and other "low life."

The town's taverns and restaurants still draw patrons from Geneva. Carouge, an easy and inexpensive commute by tram, is a highly sought-after suburban address.

Carouge's shops are popular because merchants present a sophisticated selection of goods ranging from trendy fashions and home accessories to handcrafts in a captivating environment.

Last Stop on Tram

To get to Carouge by public transportation, take the No. 12 tram (pick it up at Place Bel Air, a major tram intersection in the Geneva center or at any stop along the route) in the direction of Carouge, and ride to the last stop.

The trip takes 30 to 40 minutes, and crosses a bridge over the scenic Arve River. To return, take tram 12 toward Moillesulaz. The ride costs $1 each way; get tickets from machines at trolley stops.

The tram travels along Rue Ancienne, a main Carouge street. Window displays will entice you to leave the trolley before the end of the line, but if you ride to the last stop you'll get a good overview of all Rue Ancienne shops and you can stroll back to those that intrigue you.

L'Ange du Bizarre (10 Rue Ancienne) sells antiques and curiosities, large and small. Umbrella racks are filled with ancient walking canes of all descriptions ($20 and up). Small antique wooden file cabinets and boxes contain everything from old eyeglasses frames to medals and buttons.

There are antique ceramic toys including a large metal white rabbit (about $50), carrousel and doll's house, all of which would make decorative accents in any home.

Vintage Model Trains

At 16 Rue Ancienne, Jean Pierre Blaser, specializing in vintage and new miniature electric trains, has a worldwide reputation among collectors.

This matchbox-size shop offers a variety of locomotives, freight and passenger cars and cabooses made all over the world. Single cars sell for $15 and up; train sets cost about $300 and up. Collector's items range into the thousands of dollars.

Nearby at 29 Rue Ancienne, Marianne Brand Ceramique has porcelain tableware, much of it handcrafted in rich blues and earth tones and unusually shaped. There are rectangular plates ($40 to $50 each), square soup bowls (about $25) and attractive ceramic hurricane lamps (about $80).

Playsir Jouets (29 Rue Ancienne) sells contemporary toys and games. Tucked among the Swiss Ken and Barbie dolls ($20 and up) are French and German editions of Monopoly and other games. There is a fine selection of jigsaw puzzles, many featuring pictures of Alpine retreats and other places ($15 for a 1,000-piece puzzle and $32 for a 3,000-piece puzzle).

At 36 Rue Ancienne, L'Arcade du Bois showrooms are filled with handcrafted wooden home accessories, objets d'art and gift items, including olive wood vases (about $50), cheese boards (about $65), lamp bases (about $40) and salad bowls ($26 to $85).

Roll-top bread boxes cost $75 and up, boxes with inlaid tops are about $37, and large, sculpted wood bowls are $500. Charming carved bracelets for about $3, rings for about $1 and necklaces for about $5 make great gifts.

Gadget Shops

Papeterie du Rondeau (76 Rue Ancienne) is the place to buy greeting cards and post cards, as well as gadgets for office workers and schoolchildren. Pencil sharpeners that look like penguins ($2) and erasers ($1) shaped like everything from little race cars to strawberries are fun and functional.

Comte-Graines (86 Rue Ancienne) supplies local folks with everything they need to keep their gardens green and their flower boxes filled with blooms.

This is a source for the latest garden gadgets, including innovative hoes, watering pots and sprinklers. Gifts for those with a green thumb are supple garden gloves that provide a sturdy grip ($4 and up) and packaged flower seeds ($1 and up).

Nearby, the charming Place du Marche is a rectangular park ringed with landmark buildings, restaurants, cafes and shops.

Stop at Martel (Rue du Marche 8), a delightful tearoom, for refreshment and to buy beautifully packaged candies, including rock candy in the shape of seashells and starfish (about $8), truffles, chocolate rabbits and penguins ($3 each), and three-inch chocolate patties with nuts ($2 each).

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