From the first step in London towards our destination we had the blue image of Lac Leman, Evian water and Mont Blanc in our minds. But when arriving at Hôtel Royal in Evian we had to add colours to our rather narrow idyllic spectrum: lush green of the hotel’s 47 acres of parkland overlooking Lake Geneva, dark chocolate brown of the balconies and mellow creamy white of the hotel’s façade. And every shade of red in the flower beds welcoming us driving to the entrance.
This was one of Europe’s most opulent hotels when it was built by French architect Jean-Albert Hébrard in 1909. In 1905, the Evian Mineral Water Company (SAEME) commissioned the construction of a luxury hotel. A name was needed that would reflect the prestige of its future guests including King Edward VII who had promised to be one of the first to stay at the new hotel. And so it was that the Royal which opened on 16 June 1909. The King died in 1910 without having visited the suite set aside for him. The name “Royal” remained. In 2015 the hotel reopened after a head-to-toe revamp by French designer François Champsaur and its beautiful interiors today are a chic fusion of historical features and exquisitely chosen, contemporary furniture and fabrics.
For all the prestigious establishments around the world few will rival Hôtel Royal for range of activities, indulgences and pastimes on offer to those who find their way to this majestic place. Not only will you find everything to be expected from a high end hotel in the form of comfort, food and relaxation but also a vivid cultural scene to be explored and enjoyed, one of which are the music festivals presented in La Grange au Lac.
Twenty-five years ago, entrepreneur Antoine Riboud decided to endow the festival he had initiated with his friend Mstislav Rostropovich with a new hall. Rostropovich had seen Menuhin's tent in Gstaad, and dreamed of building one out of wood. Inaugurated on May 20, 1993 by the Minister of Culture Jacques Toubon, the room is made entirely of cedar and pine apart from a huge aluminum shell, suspended from the ceiling to ensure perfect acoustics. La Grange sounds like the inside of a cello; in the background, the birches recall the homeland of the cellist who was the dedicatee. It is a simple barn, which one could discover by chance in the larch forest - but without doubt also one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world.
There is much to be said about enjoying first class musicians performing in idyllic acoustical spaces while you have the time and peace of mind away from everyday stress. But it is only one of many pastimes to be enjoyed. A private lift on each floor carries guests discretely to SPA Evian Source, the hotel SPA with indoor pool, hammam, sauna and outdoor hydro-contact trail, a series of toasty-warm, bubbling hot tubs. Beauty treatments, including the SPA’s signature Royal Caviar body scrub and massage, use exquisite Biologique Recherche products.
As expected, petit dejeuner is a satisfying affair with a chef in white toque cooking up eggs, bacon, anything your heart desires, in the open breakfast kitchen, complemented with a satisfying buffet selection of miniature croissants and pains au chocolat, crunchy French breads, fresh fruit, smoked salmon, cereals, fromage blanc et al fills La Rotonde, a circular room off the La Véranda restaurant where breakfast is served – inside or out, season depending, with panoramic lake view. The hotel has two restaurants: the informal La Véranda with leafy green outlook and contemporary ceiling art by Italian painter Marco del Re; and fine-dining Les Fresques, named after the original Art Déco ceiling frescoes from 1909 decorating the elegant dining room. Chef Patrice Vander, who has been rewarded once again with a star by this year’s Michelin Guide, and his team serve creative, sophisticated cuisine made using outstanding ingredients, inspirational creations enhanced by lake views where the sophisticated modern French cuisine fuses international dishes with local products such as perch, féra, char and crayfish from Lake Geneva.
Whatever you will have fancied from the menu, strolling afterwards throughout the extensive grounds to embrace the colourful grounds is invigorating. And for even more energetic activities at other hours you can opt for a climbing wall, tennis courts and one of Europe’s finest 18-hole golf courses. Further afield, whether booking a champagne dinner cruise on Lake Geneva, sailing to Lausanne in Switzerland on a vintage paddle steamer, sending flowers, renting a helicopter or heli-skiing in the nearby Alps, the concierge or resort’s Sports & Culture team will sort it.
Back in our hotel room, the relaxation had guided us into quiet, reflective moments you rarely get when you travel. As we looked out to the mesmerising lake, we gasped and took another sip of Champagne.