Classic Lakefront Luxury In Switzerland
Geneva is a charming city, excessively lakefront, with a new town, an old town, and a suddenly hip Bohemian town. It is home to unique attractions like the signature Jet d’Eau fountain, Patek Phillippe Museum and CERN, the large hadron collider that is to physics what the Eiffel Tower is to towers, offering excellent and wildly popular tours (online registration routinely sells out in seconds, if not minutes).
But Geneva is also a key gateway, both to the vast Lake Geneva (really Lac Leman) region and the Alps. The former includes a slew of popular tourist spots on both the French and Swiss sides worth visiting, including Lausanne, home to the Olympics, Montreux, with its world-famous jazz festival, and Evian, famous for its water but more worth the trip for its luxury golf resort. The latter is especially appealing in ski season, and I’ve flown in and out of Geneva on my way to Chamonix, Val d’Isere, Les Gets/Les Arcs, and other world class ski resorts like Megeve. It also has excellent train connections everywhere in Switzerland and onto the rest of Europe via one of the world’s most renowned and famously efficient national railways.
Geneva is also one of the world’s safest and most tourist friendly cities, with free public transportation for all overnight guests, even a free direct train from the very user-friendly airport, and lots of information and assistance seeing the sights and getting around through an excellent tourism office. Though it uses the Swiss Franc, Euros are widely accepted, and just about everyone speaks English along with French, Italian and German.
So, whether you are coming to visit the city, or coming to travel further, you are probably going to stay here. For a city its size that is more famous for non-profits than banks, Geneva has a surprising slew of topnotch luxury hotels. All the big names are represented, including Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Ritz-Carlton, Kempinski, Luxury Collection, Dorchester Group, Intercontinental and so on, and most of them sit right next to each other, literally side by side, so location is not nearly as much an issue as it is in most cities. The last time I was in Geneva I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, and I thoroughly enjoyed it (read more here), but I like to try out new things, so I wanted another experience. My first step was to Google “Best luxury hotel Geneva.”
I think the UK papers do a better job critiquing European hotels, so I clicked on the Telegraph’s list. At Number One was the Hotel d’Angleterre. Then I tried US News & World Report. Hotel d’Angleterre. I don’t put a lot of stock in TripAdvisor, especially when it comes to luxury, but when I looked there it was: the Hotel d’Angleterre. Not just for 5-Stars, for which it was tops, but number one for all hotels in the city at every price point, which is quite unusual. I definitely do not put much stock in Conde Nast Traveler’s reader polls, but despite my well-informed skepticism, they too have picked it as the city’s best hotel. I needed to check it out. So I did.
Built in 1872 by acclaimed architect Anthony Krafft as a luxury hotel on a spot chosen for its stunning views of Lake Geneva and snowcapped Mont Blanc, the Hotel d’Angleterre has been world class ever since. The hotel’s privacy and intimacy has long made it a magnet for celebrities and visiting dignitaries, something Geneva is never in short supply of, with the WTO, WHO and European headquarters of the UN based here. Famous guests have ranged from Michael Jackson to Celine Dion to former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
For the past two decades it has been part of the Red Carnation group, about twenty hotels owned by the Tollmans, a South African couple who are apparently very discerning, very well-traveled, very into food, and very much hands on - and it shows. Their collection includes the superlative Ashford Castle in Ireland, where I have stayed, an indisputably world class property, and the Oyster Box in Durban, South Africa, where I have also stayed, which is absolutely fabulous. Most of their other properties are in the British Isles and Southern Africa (including the renowned Twelve Apostles in Cape Town and Bushman’s Kloof in the Kalahari, where I have not stayed but are both very highly regarded). If you are a savvy traveler, Red Carnation is a brand worth knowing (the d’Angleterre is also a member of Leading Hotels of the World).
The Hotel d’Angleterre is a true luxury hotel in the grand European style, but on a smaller scale, reminiscent of places like the Hassler in Rome. It is also a true boutique property with just 45 rooms, all of them elegant, spacious, decidedly not cookie cutter, and most with drop dead lake views. They are residential in style, feel size and furnishings, with fabric covered walls, framed artwork and opulent automated drapes. Despite the old school charm, everything is up to date, including the array of international power outlets and bedside USB ports All rooms notably feature stunning marble clad bathrooms that seem to go on forever.
Excess is not necessarily a positive virtue, but in this case, and in the immortal words of the Grateful Dead, “Too much of anything is just enough.” French press or automated Nespresso machine for your in-room coffee? Why choose, as they give you both, along with an impressive tea station. Oversized walk-in rain shower or soaking tub? Why choose, they put a rain shower in the tub too, along with the handheld. The array of first-rate toiletries is so vast that it can be confusing to pick one. The spacious closets feature more hangars than I have ever seen in any hotel room, and the table is adorned with a bowl of more complimentary chocolates (Swiss of course!) than any place I have been. I have also seen a lot of welcome notes from hotels in my time, most of them pre-printed and immediately tossed in the trash. This was the finest example ever, so touching I took it home, personal and handwritten by the omnipresent and longtime GM, who you are likely to see during your visit as he moves through the hotel, lobby and restaurant, keeping everything running as smoothly as a fine Swiss watch.
The theme here seems to be to provide you with everything you could want, and then a little more, and to do it in a highly personal way. After nearly 150 years of superlative service, the hotel even has own motto, a rarity in the industry, which it lives up to daily: “No request is too large, no detail too small.” Service is excellent, high touch and personal, the kind of place where everyone from the doormen to the front desk staff to the waiters at breakfast remember you after your first appearance. On check in, every guest is given a charming and informative orientation of the city on a map with the locations and recommendations for all the key attractions and neighborhoods. The water taxi/ferry system across Lake Geneva is a great way to get around, free with the pass the hotel provides (every hotel in Geneva does), and all four lines originate immediately outside the d’Angleterre, as do an array of dinner cruises, tourism cruises, even stand-up paddleboard rentals. To cap off your arrival, it’s one of the few remaining hotels outside of tropical resorts that maintains the wonderful tradition of offering you a welcome drink in your room.
The aptly named Windows restaurant overlooks the lake with a lot of glass and an outdoor dining terrace, elevated one floor above the street for unobstructed views. Food quality is very good, and the menu is studded with personal selections by Mrs. Tollman herself, while the ingredients are of the highest quality and meticulously selected from all over Europe. The wine list is deep and international, but especially strong in superlative Swiss wines, which are excellent but hardly known outside the nation as very few are exported. Dinner is a fine dining affair, breakfast an upscale take on the European buffet, there is a classic afternoon tea, and people from all over Geneva come for Sunday brunch.
The d’Angleterre is also home to its subterranean Leopard Bar, one of the city’s most beloved and iconic watering holes, compete with white-jacketed bar staff and live music, skewing jazz, six nights a week. It is one of the finest hotel bars in the land, and there is also a separate cigar lounge for those so inclined.
The one thing the hotel notably lacks, especially for a luxury hotel in this day and age, is a spa and fitness center, which will be important to some travelers, though they can easily arrange in-room massages and beauty treatments. In addition, all guests receive complimentary access to Let’s Go Fitness, a well-equipped club just across the street from the hotel, complete with a full array of classes. They will also provide everything from a yoga mat and DVD to an in-room stationary bicycle.
What it does offer that many rivals do not is a slew of organized private local experiences, ranging from a guided cycling trip around the lake with a former champion to an expert-led educational cigar tasting session at the city’s famous Cigar Bank. You can enjoy a 3-hour fishing excursion with local fishermen on the lake, renowned across Europe for its tasty fish, followed by preparation of your catch in Windows. Alternatively, you can join the restaurant’s acclaimed chef, Michael Coquelle, to Geneva’s morning market to select the finest ingredients, return and prepare your own lunch in a guided culinary masterclass in the hotel kitchen. You can even visit a watch studio and participate hands-on in making your own watch, here in the world cradle of watchmaking.
Finally, and it won’t matter so much to most American travelers, but with its “Everyone is a VIP” program, the hotel is exceptionally pet friendly, always a big plus in my book.
I loved the Hotel d’Angleterre, an independent, boutique charmer in a strip of big fancy hotels, smaller than its neighbors in size but not stature. As the Telegraph so aptly put it, “This grand hotel stands proud on Geneva’s lakefront, and has been welcoming royalty, heads of state and celebrities through its opulent doors since 1872. It’s five-star all the way, with a discreet ambience, silver service, and mood-lifting views.”