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Anecdotes about the Champel district

Did you know? Champel has been home to a spa, tobacco smuggler and a gallows, while Malombré takes its name from a joke…

From pyre to clinic

Throughout its history, Champel has not always been a pleasant residential district as it is today. Until the beginning of the 18th century, it was a dark, sparsely-populated plateau where criminals and political opponents were executed. “Witches” were also burned here. So many people would attend the executions that the site had to be extended. Rue Michel-Servet bears the name of a Spanish doctor and philosopher burned for heresy in 1553. A stele in his honour is one of the curiosities of the district.

The executions took place at a place referred to as “le champ du bourreau”, at the top of what is now Avenue de Beau-Séjour. Today, the clinique de la Colline treats patients where the gallows once stood.

Tobacco in the woods of Conches

In the past, the modern-day district of Champel was frequented by smugglers. They would bring good French tobacco from Coppet to Champel before hiding it in the woods of Conches. The tobacco was then carried across the Arve on the back of a mare and on to Savoy. In Paris, it was said that the people of Geneva grew rich from this traffic.

From Champel-les-Bains to the hospital

Towards the end of the 18th century, the benefits of the water from the Arve were discovered. The property of Beau-Séjour was transformed into a spa resort around 1874. The Hôtel Beau-Séjour was built here – a luxurious hydrotherapy centre boasting 200 rooms. A number of famous people stayed there, most notably the writer Guy de Maupassant and the composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The guests took the waters of the Arve in every conceivable format including baths, showers, vapours and fumigations. The Tour de Champel, converted into a tea room for the spa-goers, is one of the curiosities of the district.

During World War One, the borders were closed. And so the establishment closed with it. In 1942, the state of Geneva installed an annex to the cantonal hospital on this estate.

Where does the name “Malombré” come from?

A funny story is told about the name “Malombré”. In 1853 the banker, Mr David Lenoir, built a villa on the modern-day Chemin de Malombré. In the process, he had three plane trees cut down, which saddened his wife. She had the expression “mal ombré” (poorly shaded) painted on the gate. Her husband then had these words engraved on a plate which gave the Malombré sector its name.


  • Laurent Mutti, Champel, vous connaissez? Geneva, 2000. Brochure published by the Association des intérêts de Champel for the 60th general assembly. This can be consulted in the Musée du Vieux Plainpalais or Geneva Library.
  • Christian Vellas, Genève secrète et insolite, Tours: Jonglez, 2010

Article modifié le 08.03.2021 à 12:29