Chambesy and the Chateau de Penthes

A Visit to the Museum of the Swiss Abroad

By Kate Tooke
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

From Green Landscape Journal: A Blog by the Team of Landscape Architects Working to Redesign the U.S. Mission Grounds

Amazing field trips and long design charrettes have left little time for exploring Geneva, but it turns out that Chambesy, the little neighborhood we currently call home, has a wealth of resources. A few mornings after we arrived I woke up early to go for a jog and discovered a comprehensive trail system just down the road. Although Chambesy is only a few kilometers from Geneva’s center, the trail system here winds through what feels like countryside. It cuts across cultivated fields bounded by mature hedgerows, skirts small pastures and barns inhabited by bell-wearing cows and sheep, and joins with quiet lanes upon which ancient houses and churches sit. At the top of one hill you can look out over central Geneva, Lac Leman and beyond to snow-capped Mont Blanc. Perhaps most amazing is that is nearly impossible to get lost on these trails: at each intersection there is a large color map board with a marker on where you are. These maps are a brilliant tool to help both visitors and residents understand their surroundings and encourage exploration…I hope someday American neighborhoods can engage this trick of wayfinding.

Tuesday morning’s field trip took us to another Chambesy gem: the Musee des Suisses dans le Monde (Museum of the Swiss Abroad) at the Chateau de Penthes.  The invitation had come the night before from Anselm Zurfluh, the museum’s head, who we met a reception thrown for our group. Anselm, a charmingly enthusiastic man who simply radiated pride in his country, shared the history of the museum property with us over coffee and fresh, hot croissants. The property was once the self-sufficient grounds of the chateau: vegetable gardens, flowers and cows mixed with exotic tree species brought back by exploring children of the family. The museum maintains excellent care of the grounds, and in particular has planted heritage fruit trees and developed a long-term fertilizer free mowing plan for the meadow. A loop path connects the museum to the Botanical gardens and makes for a great lunchtime walk from the US Mission. Anselm told us to watch for a rare native variety of tulip that grows in the woods along one of the paths. In addition to touring the grounds, we went inside the chateau to build a better understanding of Swiss history and culture. Although we learned much about the Cantons, the Swiss government and the Swiss Guard, Anselm’s ideas about what makes Switzerland unique stick with me most. He asserts that it is the Swiss love for all things technical, the small close-knit structure of the cantons and the independence gained from the banking system that has given rise to Switzerland’s success as a nation. We are working to incorporate these concepts into our design for the US Mission.