Travel
3 min

Geneva’s sauna scene

Like any good government town, there’s a dirty, if well-hidden, underbelly

Bains de l’Est offers a shower room with giant rain-shower heads, and the sauna and whirlpool are very clean. The well-appointed steam room is hotter, both in terms of temperature and action. Check out more photos of Bains de l’Est. Credit: Courtesy of bainsdelest.ch

Geneva doesn’t exactly ooze sleaze. Situated on the edge of a pristine lake that shares its name, the country’s second largest city embodies nearly every Swiss stereotype. It’s a bit like a gigantic mall, with banks, souvenir shops and luxury brand stores crammed together, while snow-capped mountains rise in the distance. Serving as headquarters for the European branch of the United Nations, the World Health Organization and countless other international organizations, on the surface it’s as clean and efficient as its public transportation system.

But like any good government town, there’s a dirty, if well-hidden, underbelly. Though Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich, has one of the world’s only male brothels, Geneva is limited to a handful of girls in windows around Rue de Berne, along with a few strip joints and video clubs along the edges. While the video clubs offer occasional gay action, the busy sex tourist with limited time to spare should head to one of the city’s many saunas.

My first visit was to Bains de l’Est. On entry, you’ll find beautifully designed wood-finished lockers operated with a quirky magnetic key system. After that, you’ll walk directly into a full-service bar featuring a mix of drinks and snacks, as well as a selection of free cakes on Sunday afternoons. The shower room has a faux-marble interior with giant rain-shower heads. The sauna and whirlpool are very clean, though lukewarm. The well-appointed steam room is hotter, both in terms of temperature and action, and replaces the usual scent of mildew with lemon and sandalwood. There’s a tiny maze that includes a dark area, sling and glory holes. Individual cabins have lube and paper-towel dispensers, as well as spray bottles of cleaner. In true Swiss fashion, everyone’s expected to clean up after himself.

I was nervous to go to Sauna les Avanchets. The rundown space has a nasty reputation. Reading online reviews of shit-streaked towels, condom-laden whirlpools and stolen wallets, I wasn’t sure what to be prepared for. In truth, it isn’t as bad as people say, but it’s probably not worth the visit. The sauna, steam room and whirlpool aren’t filthy but are nowhere near as clean as other places. What separates it from other spots is that it’s open to both men and women all the time except for Sundays, which is gay only. I ended up there on a Sunday, and there were a good number of guys there, but I can’t say what it’s like during mixed hours. The main allure is its proximity to the city airport, which is a short (though not cheap) cab ride away. If you’re stopped over in Geneva and looking to get off fast, it might be worth a look.

I almost gave up on getting into Club Duplexx. But after determinedly ringing the doorbell for five minutes, I was finally buzzed in. The space has a discotheque feel, with booming house music, trippy flashing lights and a huddle of twinky guys in one corner. The sauna, steam room and whirlpool are all impeccably clean and the appropriate temperature. Towels are unlimited. The bar offers a decent selection of drinks and sells poppers, lube and toys. There are private cabins, a sling and a dark area. Though well appointed if overly designed, the main problem with Duplexx is that it feels more like social club than a sauna, with guys mostly hanging out and chatting rather than getting it on. Perhaps, as the city’s newest venue, it’s still finding its feet. I’d definitely consider passing by again — but after just the slightest hint of grime has started to build up in the corners.

For the most up-to-date travel information on gay Geneva, see our City GuideListings GuideEvents Guide and Activities Guide.

Bains de l’Est
3 Rue de l’Est | map
+41 22 786 33 00
Admission: 16–32 Swiss francs
Mon–Thurs, noon–1am
Fri, noon–5am
Sat, 2pm–5am
Sun, 2pm–1am

Sauna les Avanchets
1220 Ave de Baptista | map
+41 22 796 90 66
Admission: 22–30 Swiss francs
Mon–Thurs, noon–12am
Fri, noon–1am
Sat, noon–2am; Sun, noon–11pm

Club Duplexx
8 Rue Pradier | map
+41 22 900 00 16
Admission: 20–29 Swiss francs
Mon–Thurs, noon–1am
Fri, noon–2am
Sat, 2pm–2am
Sun, 2pm–11pm