©Elisabeth of Austria *1865|Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Local Legends and HistorySissi the Empress
Local Legends and History

Sissi the Empress

Think you know all the secrets of the Monts de Genève? Far from it. Mythical characters have visited the area.
Discover the characters and places brimming with anecdotes for new perspective on the Monts de Genève. Open the book of myths and legends.
And you will find Sissi, Empress of Austria who hiked on the Salève before us!

A little bit of


The scene unfolds on 8 June 1888 at the foot of the Salève mountain in Étrembières. It is the day the railway line was entrusted to three electrical engineers from Geneva. Their project was to build an electric rack train linking Veyrier and the Plateau des Treize-Arbres (the plateau of thirteen trees) on the Grand Salève. Winding along the cliffs, it took them four years to brave the hostile terrain and build the track. The train was inaugurated in 1892, becoming the world’s first electric rack train!
With 12 self-propelled coaches for 480 people. This gave the “Balcony of Geneva” enormous potential for visitors. Monnetier-Mornex quickly became a popular destination. Hotels and restaurants sprouted on the Plateau des Treize-Arbres. And speaking of sprouting, Swiss botanist Henry Correvon created a botanical garden nearby. And not a small one! It covered 6,000m² of garden open to the public. He tried to acclimatise many plants from the Jura, the Alpes, the Pyrénées and even some species from the Himalayas. It was a stunning floral bouquet that took visitors on an exotic journey.


The Empress

Elisabeth de Wittelsbach, Vienna icon and a woman with a nonconformist spirit. You probably know her by the name of Sissi, Empress of Austria.
Born in Munich on 24 December 1837, she was the daughter of Duchess Ludovica and Duke
Maximilian of Bavaria. She grew up in Possenhofen, on the banks of Lake Starnberg. She led a carefree life, enjoying the natural surroundings that forged her curious and relaxed character.

Her life changed on 18 August 1853 when she accompanied her sister Helene to Bad Ischl to celebrate the 23rd birthday of the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I of Austria and their engagement. But he fell under Elisabeth’s spell. She was only 15 years old at the time but the next day he announced his intention to marry her. Difficult to refuse, she married the emperor in Vienna on 24 April 1854. Elisabeth became the Empress of Austria at the age of just 16. Forced to marry a man she didn’t love, she was troubled from the first year of marriage. Yet, in 1855, their first child, Sophie, was born. She was followed by sister Gisèle and brother Rodolphe a few years later. However, during a trip to Hungary, the young Sophie succumbed to illness.

This worsened the young Empress’s psychological disorders and she had a severe crisis in 1860. She decided to retire to Madeira for treatment. Two years later, when she returned to the court of Vienna, Sissi began to doubt the customs of the dynasty. She expressed her personal interests and divergent attitude. Strong, independent and curious, she continued to travel the world and learn new languages.

The Salève mountain

& the empress

Let’s wind back. Sissi had visited the city of Geneva many times, either on holiday or for official visits as empress. She had become attached to the city she had got to know walking around. The city has completely changed since. Next time you are in Geneva, imagine Sissi calmly walking around in a bygone era, with carriages trotting through the cobbled streets.
It was just one year before she was assassinated that Sissi decided to explore Mount Salève, on 29 April 1897. That’s why the electric rack train and Monnetier-Mornex get a special mention.
She embarked on the train at Étrembières station, headed for the Treize-Arbres. She contemplated the distant horizon as the train climbed slowly to the top. The train journey along the cliffs is enchanting with a breathtaking view of the Geneva basin.
A hiking enthusiast, once at the top, she walked around the Treize-Arbres, spending the afternoon enjoying the view from “Geneva’s balcony” and appreciating the serenity with invigorating mountain air.

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