Geneva is often incorrectly believed to Switzerland’s capital. It’s not hard to see why (that accolade actually belongs to Bern) as the world literally makes it home in the city. The UN, International Labour Organization, International Red Cross, you name it, they have headquarters in Geneva. While visitors sip espressos in Geneva’s historic old town, officials decide upon world affairs.
Yet, don’t be fooled into thinking that Geneva is merely an overnight stop for the world’s dignitaries, for the city is as cosmopolitan, vibrant and beautiful as any of Europe’s best. Indeed, if Geneva were up for sale, then it will make a fortune in location alone. It sits snugly around the shores of Europe’s largest Alpine lake, the Alps and France are less than a hours drive away. Outdoor enthusiasts quite rightly go nuts over Geneva, as do those who love fine architecture, shopping and nightlife.
So I guess by now that you’ll have realized that I’m very much a fan of the place, despite only spending only two days in this gorgeous city in June. Two things brought me to Geneva – an opportunity to sample the cuisine of legendary Russian Chef Anatoly Komm and the opportunity to stay at the much lauded Four Seasons, Hotel Des Bergues.
The hotel, like Geneva itself, is ideally located, 4.5km away from the airport, des Bergues is situated on the bank of Lake Geneva and is a 2 minute walk away from the old town. Rich in history, the hotel was officially founded in 1834, although in reality its lineage dates back to the 16th century. In 1565, the property covering the ground where the hotel stands today was sold to the City of Geneva, it was formerly owned by a wealthy German Merchant, Hans Kleberger. After Kleberger died in 1545, his impoverished son disposed of the building and it languished until the 19th century when a society of city officials and merchants decided to build Geneva’s finest hotel.
After opening its doors in 1834, Hotel des Bergues played host to many famous guests and Heads of State, the founding of the League of Nations after the 1st World War resulted in the hotel becoming the headquarters of the French Delegation. In 1917 the hotel was totally refurbished and as recently as 2005, it has been given a luxurious makeover. French architect Pierre Yves Rochon set out to ‘recapture the spirit of this distinguished neo-classical building.’
This all adds up to an extremely refined and elegant hotel which cocoons its guests in understated luxury. From the moment I stepped foot into the marbled entrance hall, I was made to feel very special. I stayed in one of the hotel’s deluxe rooms, which means no check in queue, you are whisked away for a coffee while they sort your bags and get the room ready for you. The hotel incidentally has 70 bedrooms and 45 suites. My room was furnished in a classical Louis-Phillipe style, complete with private bar, free Wi-Fi, all the usual trappings of a 5 star hotel. I took a peek at a few suites, the Presidential Suite was my favourite, modelled on a chic New York Apartment, complete with a personal assistant. Service, as you would expect from a Four Seasons hotel was professional and efficient throughout.
In terms of leisure amenities the hotel is perhaps lacking slightly, there is a fitness centre but a summer terrace, pool and spa will not be open until 2013. No, what makes this hotel special is the small touches, like the lack of check-in, chauffeur airport collection from the airport and extremely knowledgeable concierge. Another cool feature is the hotel’s lighting system, each moment of the day has its own lighting, thanks to the snazzy computer system, so for example at lunchtime it becomes more golden, brighter and at night it is subdued, nicely illuminating the sculptures, pictures and furniture.
And then there is the restaurant, Il Lago, which is reputably one of the finest in Geneva. On entering the decor takes your breath away – hand-painted frescos, depicting Medieval Italian scenery create an extremely elegant, graceful dining room. The chandelier and beautiful table furniture complement the room nicely. Adjoining the restaurant is a plush bar, but the real highlight has to be the outdoor terrace, fantastic for sipping an aperitif during the summer months
I ate at the restaurant both nights, so I can attest to the excellence of Italian chefs Saverio Sbaraglis fine Italian cuisine and Komm’s modern interpretation of Russian classics. Komm was in residence at the hotel during the weekend to display his prowess for the great and the good of Geneva. Suffice to say they didn’t leave disappointed, for Anatoly Komm is one of the world’s gastronomic stars, each course dazzled us with its creativity and intense flavours. His crab dumplings and Borscht have to be tasted to be believed. All this was complimented by an exceptional and varied wine list. In fact, the Four Seasons Geneva is definitely one of Europe best for food and drink lovers.
But perhaps the hotel’s greatest asset is Geneva itself, which draws you in with its stunning Alpine lake scenery, endless opportunity for outdoors pursuits and then reveals a grittier, darker side in the shape of the Pâquis district. This former industrial area now bristles with clubs, bars and alternative venues, some not so squeaky clean as those found in the centre. If chic and moneyed is your thing, however, rejoice as Geneva has enough Gucci and Prada shops, restaurants and bars (try the FloorTwo Bar at the Kempinski) to keep any weekend-break couple happy. In fact, it has pretty much everything, including the United Nations!
Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues
33, Quai des Bergues,
0044 22 908 70 00
Double Rooms from CHF 775 per night
Presidential Suite, Loft CHF 6,100 per night
I flew with Easy Jet from London Gatwick.
Holiday Extras provided overnight accomodation at Gatwick Airport. I stayed at the Gatwick Marriot Hotel.
FloorTwo Bar at the Kempinski Hotel