Once upon a time, there was a little boy who loved running through the maze of corridors at the Beau-Rivage Genève and play hide and seek with his sister. Those are some of Monsieur Jacques Mayer’s first memories of growing up in a Grand Hotel.
He’s one of the fourth generation owners of this historic hotel, where royalty, heads of state and movie stars have rubbed shoulders for more than 150 years. As he was reminiscing about the past and sharing stories of his family legacy over a drink in the Atrium Bar, which is where I am sitting as I am writing this, his face lit up with a boyish smile. Now I’d like to share my story of my stay at this charming luxury hotel in Geneva with you.
Geneva is the second most populous city in Switzerland and home to many international organisations, including the headquarters of the United Nations and the Red Cross. It was in Geneva where the Geneva Conventions were signed and other important international documents were drafted. It therefore comes at no surprise that the Beau-Rivage Genève has welcomed a fair share of famous and influential people in the course of its long-standing history.
As Kofi Annan once said: “The Mayer family welcomes humble guests royally and humbly welcomes royalty.” I couldn’t agree more. I truly felt like a princess upon entering my suite, the Suite ‘Saint-Exupéry’, named after the famous writer and poet. The 150m2 duplex Lake View Loft Suite features an entry hall, a wardrobe, a guest toilet, its own dining room and a spacious living room overlooking Lake Geneva, the emblematic Jet d’Eau and the Mont Blanc. Up one flight of stairs (a whole 16 steps!) a generous sized gallery with skylights, so one can observe the stars at night, awaited me. On this floor there’s a King size bed decorated with lots of plump cushions, a sofa corner and a walk-through closet leading to the massive bathroom. The bathroom features a whirlpool tub, a double sink, a cubicle with a toilet and a bidet, a walk-in rain-shower and beyond the rain-shower an en-suite Hammam! Yes, you heard that right! A private steam room fitted out with tiny dark green mosaic tiles to match the green marble in the bathroom. For someone like me, who considers spas as one of the greatest worldly pleasures, I was in heaven! Needless to say, I did not even want to leave my suite…
Each room and suite has its own character. My suite, like most of the other rooms and suites, was decorated in a classic style, featuring antiques, original artwork, sculptures and exclusive deco items. It was almost like staying in a museum, where you can experience different design eras. Even though my style as an interior designer is mostly modern and contemporary, I have a strong appreciation for classic styles. I admire the artisanry, wealth of details and exquisite materials. During my interior design studies, I had to write a thesis about the history of styles, which is why I have visited many a historic house in places such as London and Paris. The more I learned about the various periods, the more I appreciated them. What always fascinated me the most was the strong link between social events, economic developments and design. This fact is also very evident at the Beau-Rivage Genève. When it opened in 1865 the overall design was neo-classical, to which soon elements of Art Nouveau and later on Art Deco were added. In recent years the additions have been state-of-the-art technology and all the latest mod cons, such as a flat screen TV integrated in a mirror. It is almost as if each generation, now in its fifth, brought a breeze of fresh air into the space, without, however, altering its authentic and historic charm.
What I loved so much about the Beau-Rivage is the attention to detail. It didn’t feel like other hotels, it felt more like a home away from home. This may be down to the fact that the hotel is family run, but in my opinion it is also because of the furniture and artefacts that have been collected for several generations which are now displayed throughout the hotel. There’s so much to explore and discover, such as the more than 160 cherubs found on mantlepieces, ceiling frescoes and statuettes watching over the house and its guests.
The Beau-Rivage Genève, member of The Leading Hotels of the World and Swiss Deluxe Hotels, was always a luxury hotel. In its early years this meant you could have the staff bring a foot bath or a body bath for CHF 0.50 and CHF 3 respectively to your suite. Soon after the hotel was one of the first hotels in the world to have a hydraulic elevator and the only building in Geneva to have gas lighting. More recently it was one of the first hotels to introduce free high speed WIFI. During its 150 years of history the hotel has undergone several renovations and extensions. The latest such extension was the addition of the Celestial Floors, which is where my suite was located. Here you can truly see how old world charm meets modern day technology and luxury. The hotel now counts 72 rooms and 23 suites, each one of them elaborately designed down to the last detail. There are 6 historic suites, where the original design has been preserved as much as possible. Some of these feature stunning stained-glass windows, which can also be admired throughout the public spaces of the hotel.
Just like each generation added their personal touch to the Beau-Rivage, so did each personality who visited the hotel. The early guests were aristocrats, especially from England, on the Grand Tour. The railway station, which had opened in 1858 put Geneva on the map and made it a popular destination en route to France and Italy. Soon after the affluent middle class alongside head of states, military officials, writers and movie stars became regular visitors to this iconic hotel. The Beau-Rivage Genève thus became an integral part of Geneva’s history. Eleanore Roosevelt drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whilst staying at the hotel and Empress Sissi was fatally wounded in front of the hotel and then died in her suite, now named after her, only hours later. More recently, the Beau-Rivage Genève has welcomed the likes of Roger Moore, Angelina Jolie and the Dalai Lama and many other high profile guests.
Breakfast is served in the restaurant Le Chat-Botté. It’s a buffet style breakfast offering a variety of hot and cold options, as well as eggs to order. Le Chat Botté is also one of Geneva’s most acclaimed gourmet restaurants. Multi-award winning Chef Dominique Gauthier scored 18 out of 20 Gault-Millau points and also received a Michelin star for his creative, contemporary cuisine. Le Patara is another in-house alternative serving Fine Thai Cuisine. Of course you can also enjoy in-room dining, which is what I did on two occasions. After all, it’s not every day I get to enjoy the luxury of a duplex suite overlooking Lake Geneva with my very own dining room…
As always when visiting historic places, I couldn’t help but wonder: ‘What if the walls could talk?’ After all, the Beau-Rivage Genève is more than a hotel, it’s a house filled with history, treasures and memories. I may not get a Suite named after me, but I still feel as if I have now become a small part of the Beau-Rivage Genève’s history…
P.S. If you love hotels filled with history as much as I do, then you may also like Les Trois Rois Basel (Switzerland), the Andaz London Liverpool Street (UK), Penha Longa Sintra and M Malmaison Porto (Portugal).
Beauty Suite Bellefontaine
On the fourth floor of the hotel you will find a room dedicated to beauty and wellbeing – La Suite de Beauté Bellefontaine. Bellefontaine is a Swiss cosmetic brand that combines science with nature. Inspired by the abundance of natural resources in the Swiss Alps, the founder Peter Yip, son of an influential family from Hong Kong, decided to create a luxury cosmetic brand and named it ‘Bellefontaine’ – beautiful fountain or fountain of beauty. The exquisite ingredients include herbs and flowers such as the Edelweiss, the national flower of Switzerland. You can choose from a wide selection of facials, body treatments and massages to suit your needs – I opted for a personalised massage. The therapist took great care to adjust the pressure and focus according to my needs.
Statue of Sissi
In September 1998 a statue of “Sissi” was erected near the hotel Beau-Rivage to commemorate the 100th anniversary since the assassination of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. The British sculptor Philip Jackson emphasises her tall and very slender figure, something that was very important to Sissi, and turns her head as if she were looking towards her suite at the Beau-Rivage.
Courtesy Beau-Rivage Genève
Simone Aïda Baur of Global Inspirations Design
Note: This blog post was created in collaboration with the Beau-Rivage Genève (press trip).