For decades, visitors have sought out the scenic wonders of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) in the southwestern corner of Switzerland. Native son Jean-Jacques Rousseau popularized the lake among the Romantics, and Lord Byron and Shelley both made pilgrimages here.
Formed by the Rhône, Lac Léman is the largest lake in central Europe. It consists of the Grand Lac to the east and the Petit Lac to the west, near Geneva. The lake covers 582 sq. km (225 sq. miles); more than half belongs to Switzerland, the rest to France. The French own most of the southern shore, except for Geneva in the west and the Valais in the east; the Swiss hold the entire northern shore, which forms a large arc. The water is limpid blue, except where the muddy Rhône empties into it.
Famous people who chose to live on the lake's shores have included the historian Edward Gibbon; writers Honoré de Balzac, George Eliot, and André Gide; composers Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt; the aviator Charles Lindbergh; and actors Charlie Chaplin, Yul Brynner, Audrey Hepburn, James Mason, Noel Coward, William Holden, David Niven, and Sophia Loren (many of whom went here originally for tax reasons but liked the area so much that they stayed on until their deaths). Some of these actors, such as Chaplin and Hepburn, adopted Switzerland as their permanent home and were buried here.
Since 1823, steamer trips have been the most popular way to tour the lake. Nearly all the cities, hamlets, and towns along the lake have schedules posted at the landing quays, and service usually runs from Easter to October. If possible, though, we recommend touring by car or bus so that you can stop and visit sights along the way. Railways also run along both shores.