LA RESERVE: COOL ON THE FRINGE

October 24, 2010 in SWITZERLAND | Comments (0)

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La Reserve – pool in October sunshine

A resort hotel with a cool and playful difference from other five star hotels in Geneva. La Reserve lies in a park with its own jetty on Lake Geneva, only 5 minutes taxi ride from Geneva Airport, 10 minutes from Cornavin Station – and a 15 minute boat ride from the quay in the city centre.

I took the boat – an option from March to October. It is a pleasant walk from Cornavin station down Rue Mt Blanc … and along the waterfront past the grand traditional hotels of Richemond, Beau Rivage and D’Angleterre to the mooring in front of Grand Hotel Kempinski.

The October sunshine brought a holiday feel to the waterfront, and turquoise brilliance to shallows in the lake. The miraculous sight of Mt Blanc seemed to float like a gigantic meringue behind the foothills.  It seemed all very personal. It was only me to catch a ride, and someone had swiped La Reserve’s mooring. We had to somehow keep the boat still, and get my luggage on board. And then away, speeding over the sparkling blue.

Throughout the boat ride to La Reserve, Mt Blanc seemed to float along with us, far off in the French Alps. While the wake of the speedboat rose in high ridges, dwarfing the distant St Peter’s cathedral on the hill of the old city.

We moored at the hotel’s own little bit of lake frontage. The boatman (a modern individual) pointed at a tunnel I should navigate to reach the hotel (under the road to Lausanne)…but seeing my dismay, called someone to help me with my luggage up the stairs.

It was 3.45 when walked into the “park” of La Reserve. Someone was by the pool sunbathing in the warm late afternoon.

I had less than 24 hours to enjoy my stay – but would be pampered to perfection.

LA RÉSERVE: RESORT IN THE CITY?

La Reserve lies in a grassy park with formally clipped hedges and some giant leafy trees, with partial views of the lake and the magic of Mt Blanc.

The first thing you feel is the relaxed atmosphere, far from uptight or stuffy. Geneva is a centre of international diplomacy and huge organizations so as a city it expects quite a lot of formality – which enfolds you in some richly traditional hotels on Geneva waterfront. Though a five star design hotel, La Reserve is in no way “posh”, perhaps because of the young clientele, resort setting and playful and somewhat extrovert decor.

In the evening the hotel comes into its own right, and a magnet for Geneva’s young “Le beau monde”. For one thing there is plenty of parking for all the gleaming cars, for another it is reputed to have Geneva’s best Chinese restaurant, along with a gourmet restaurant, a DJ in the comfortable lounge and (in the summer) a safari restaurant in the park.

The lounges spill out to wide terraces facing the pool, lake and mountains. In the daytime the extrovert individuality of the public areas emerges with leather and velvet, reds and purples, gold leaf and shining studs. Elephant sculptures here and there, and glass parrots hanging from lamps, are among the quirks of the safari design theme. But in the evenings the lamps come on, bathing all in sunset glow. The deep comfy leather chairs are filled with the beautiful young Swiss speaking lively French.

La Reserve is proud to call itself a resort, a destination spa, a city hotel, and an airport hotel. It is all those to one degree or another though it has more rightful competitors to the title city hotel.

With a sizeable 2000 sqm spa area, this is the place for a really mind-escaping massage. The spa features 17 treatment rooms, indoor pool, gym with 6 trainers, and health restaurant. Oh indeed – and a hairdresser and beauty specialist too, but the main thrust is health care using signature treatments under the guidance of a physiotherapist and medical doctor with additional homeopathy diploma. At the moment they are offering 4-day, 7-day and 14-day courses of treatment. The health restaurant true to the hotel’s eye catching design combines white leather chairs with a striking striped mat that seems to be heading straight through. A nice touch is a table full of mystical glass containers holding different concoctions for different health purposes. One tasted very medicinal.

On the sporty side, adding to the profile as Geneva’s only city resort, there are two tennis courts and two instructors. Child care is provided and a children’s supervised play area with roomy tree house, right by the outdoor pool. In the summer there are water activities too.

The hotel building has on the internet been criticized as having “motel structure”. No doubt many motels have thought of the idea of spread out low-rise buildings, but have surely not laid claim to the design. There are two wings at La Reserve, so the one has garden view, and the other has both garden and lake view. Altogether 85 rooms (30-40 sqm) and 17 suites (50-130 sqm), most with terraces or balconies.

I was shown a deluxe room with a terrace. Nice feel, a little less extroverted than my suite. Superior rooms and Executive rooms cost less and have park views.

I had the good fortune to be upgraded to a suite that stretched across the end of the front wing (number 216), with separate lounge opening onto a French balcony with lake view, and bedroom opening onto a roomy balcony with park view. The lounge was on the sunrise side, and the bedroom and balcony on the sunset side – a good place to eat one of the rosy apples they had placed in the lounge.

View from suite 216 (above), bedroom below.

My next good fortune was to be smoothly massaged and kneaded into forgetfulness at the spa (forgetting all the heavy luggage I had hauled around this sunny October).

That was followed by further good fortune: a meal in The Loti fine dining restaurant. I was told that this was not a gourmet restaurant, but given to good food from fresh produce. However, the good looking, radiantly healthy chef produced creative masterpiece after masterpiece, not fazed by my sudden announcement I did not eat meat. First course included a crème made from fennel with a delicious decoration of vegetables. Then followed pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin shell, with truffles waiting on the pumpkin bottom to surprise me.

That was followed by truffle risotto. Then came a choice of three gleaming raw fish for me to choose from. The chef settled on my behalf for John Dory (a sole-shaped saltwater fish)…needless to say, grilled to perfection, served with a side vegetable of Swiss chard stalks in Swiss chard crème. By the time I got to course three I was not able to eat more than half, and kept honestly assuring my host that I really loved it all. Nor could I get through so much wine as was so thoughtfully poured into my glass. We tried the wine produced by La Reserve´s owner at both his French wine estate and his Hungarian (3 different bottles).

The bed in my suite was superbly comfortable, and the thick lavish curtains kept me in the peaceful dark. In the morning I admired but forgot to photograph the black granite bathroom, with bidet and loo just out of sight, but snapped the morning sun glancing over the lake. Opening the salon doors and standing there I realized there was a hiss of traffic from behind the hedge – morning rush hour going in to Geneva, with the lake beyond. Lucky the room is soundproof.

Breakfast was adequate though not extravagant, with a lot of eggy things in silver dishes, muesli, fruit salad, bread, cold meat, cheese, and not lavishly buttery croissants.

Tried to do some work in my spacious suite – sitting on the red velvet armchair over the wave-patterned red and white carpet, but couldn’t get the wi-fi to work. I thought how one could seat at least 8 people comfortably in that private lounge. Noted the bookshelves needed more books. Noted some marks on the carpet and decided someone on short-term contract at one of the international agencies in Geneva had stayed here for a few months and lived it up.

Before I left, the concierge gave me some tips for Geneva visitors.

Dine in the park by the lake at Perle du Lac (north of Quai du Mont Blanc)

Take a boat over the water from Quai du Mont Blanc to the pier of the famous fountain (Jet d’eau) squirting high out of the lake

Walk or take a taxi to the beautiful old town on the hill. Get the taxi to drop you off at Place-de-Bourg-de-Four – a popular square high at the “back” of the hill. Dine in a restaurant of that name. Then walk back towards the water, through the quaint narrow streets – a downhill walk.

Visit St Peter’s cathedral at the crown of the hill and see the archaeological findings underneath it.

I can add one few more. My favourite place in Geneva area is the little jazz club Le Chat Noir in Carouge.

And oh yes – back at Mont Blanc Pier you can hop on a boat, to cruise on that radiantly green and blue inland sea. Old medieval towns: Yvoire, with castle and absurdly pretty streets and restaurants, Lausanne, Montreux and Evian – where I have just been. Now I am heading home… 

And they were right. It WAS only 5 minutes drive to the airport…


GENEVA REVISITED

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Return to Geneva 6 October

Cool, multicultural and tolerant – and sometimes quite stuffy…

Geneva is one of the world’s most beautiful cities – with a gorgeous flow of blue and turquoise water right through its heart. The sparkling lake rushes out into the Rhone River under city bridges with a speed that takes mallard ducks rapidly downstream. Its banks lined by graceful buildings with views of the mountains and Mt Blanc…

On clear sunny days like today, when Mt Blanc appears surrealistically light and white, the people of Geneva seem to grow lighter too…

Lying in a basin among the Jura Mountains, Mt Salève and the Alps, the city itself is compact.  You can easily walk to most Geneva attractions including the old town on the hill.  Solitude follows you along the old town’s austere narrow streets, as grey as they were for centuries, yet hauntingly graceful. Till you find a square where young people meet…and suddenly there is something of Paris…a Latin verve. On the crown of the hill is St Peter’s cathedral with archaeological excavations beneath. Modern art museum below on the flats and the watch museum are other popular curiosities. On both sides of the lake between the old town and Cornavin Station, shopping calls with plenty of competitive French and other chains as well as small exclusive boutiques – and of course watch shops galore.  

Geneva is an intimate city, a city you embrace. In the summer much happens along the park-like banks, among roller skates and acrobats. Bains des Paquis – the popular bathing pier near the top waterfront hotels – is packed with local people all summer long, who eat there for reasonable prices, drink wine, sunbathe, play guitars – and swim.

Sunbathing in October at the Paquis pier

 

But in many ways Geneva remains aloof. Though sensual, beautiful, and astoundingly multicultural and tolerant, she holds her distance. Probably because the whole world descends on Geneva, to visit or to work at the UN and other international organizations – the inhabitants draw back. Who you are can hardly be interesting – you are yet another foreigner.

The high-level diplomacy, and the importance and earnestness of the international organizations, banks and other companies in Geneva make a mark on the top level restaurant and hotel life, which is rather known for being haughty, formal or even “stuffy”. But there is the other side of the coin – a choice of cabarets and erotic shows with scantily attired (your-place-or-mine) hostesses, quite legal in Switzerland. A bunch of techno clubs and rock clubs, plus nightclubs with sophisticated if money-hungry ambiance.  Apart from which there is always a niche for something cool…

Carouge over one of the Rhone tributaries by city tram or taxi is a Bohemian area of Geneva with plenty of cafe life and music. My favourite night spot is the little jazz and blues club Le Chat Noir in Carouge. This is the place to hear French African music right at the cutting edge. Carouge is full of life and atmosphere, with a backdrop of the Salève.

Another tip is La Reserve – see my next post.

Note: In Geneva a pampering train and tram service with loads of different lines and stops close together encourages you to leave the car at home. You can even reach the cable car up the Saléve on a municipal tram. Suburbs, towns and villages stretch along both banks and alpine foothills easily reached by public transport. Many of these satellites are not in Switzerland, as Geneva is almost surrounded by France.


GRUYERE: MORE THAN CHEESE

October 19, 2010 in SWITZERLAND | Comments (2)

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5 October

A favourite excursion from other alpine resorts, the little fortified town of Gruyères perches on a hill surrounded by the alps. We drove there through burnished mountain woodlands along a winding road. Past a door in a cliff, where they used to store the Gruyere cheeses – the cheeses are of course named after the town.

It is ridiculously pretty, this little walled town full of hanging signs, quaint old houses and colourful flowers. And so – naturally – full of visitors and curios. I tried snapping a few shots of the fountain in the cobbled square, but always someone walked half in or half out my frame.

We sauntered further to the castle, which is encircled by a narrow path; as we circumnavigated, peace reigned, while autumn blazed warmly. This castle dates back to the 1400s when the counts of Gruyères had their heyday as a military power. It was also a place where lords and ladies of other alpine castles met for jousting, feasting and hunting of wild boar. There is a museum in the castle as well as two other museums in the town.

Down to the medieval church. Then on to the very Swiss sight – vines, sheep and castle on a hill, all in one shot.

When we returned to the square the sun came out and the people had gone. Must have been a tourist bus. A moment of delicious abandon – we sat on the verandah of a hotel and ordered raspberries with cream. If clotted cream is a fond memory from Cornwall it is eclipsed by Gruyeres cream. The spoon could stand up in it…


Gstaad Palace fairytale

October 17, 2010 in SWITZERLAND | Comments (2)

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GSTAAD PALACE

3 October – magic autumn summer

In the main street of Gstaad, with chalet style shops offering designer labels  and hotels blooming with colourful window boxes, it is not hard to work out where Gstaad Palace lies.

On top of a hill overlooking the town, its slender white towers rise up behind the trees like something from a fairy tale. And to continue the fairytale theme, after she meets her prince she checks in at the Penthouse suite. From the suite’s generous terrace the magical towers point up, within view of your Jacuzzi. And all around are tall mountains to create more magic.

Inside you have a chalet- style lounge or parlour, with fireplace adorned with stag horns, and traditionally decorated yet very elegant dining set. Each of the 3 bedrooms feels like a suite, and each different, with so much art deco flourish you could study them  all night – yet warm and harmonious in a mix of  luxury and alpine tradition.

Penthouse bedroom 2

Third bedroom – for the nanny 🙂

I was only a viewer, not a resident, shown around very kindly as the hotel was closed. Gstaad Palace opens only in winter and summer, keeping to times of high occupancy (65-85%). Note these are my pix – not taken by the hotel, and candid camera therefore…

As the bedrooms were empty I was given a viewing feast. The décor of the rooms is very special – I can only call it Gstaad Palace style – full of original charm, variety and detail. And the views in all of them are fit for a fairytale queen.

My choice until I win the lottery (or marry the king) might be a deluxe suite – in rosy florals – incredibly cosy and pretty without being twee. Great views from the balcony. My disappointment would be one of the newly decorated Junior suites – too brown.

 But it would be fine to have a Tower suite on the sixth or seventh floor (with two bedrooms). They made interesting use of the space inside the towers, with a round bathroom with Jacuzzi, and a round, private (ahem) smoking  nook leading off one of the bedrooms. Plus generous balconies and large living room with pleasant but quirky colours.

Tower suite with a round smoking “corner” in Palace tower

View from a Deluxe Double Room, showing the Olympic pool and tennis courts

The main restaurant was being totally renovated, which meant the public areas were topsy turvy with stored furniture and wood dust. The original intentions of a palace in medieval style were all the more evident in the accordingly austere atrium adorned with age-worn Swiss canton emblems in front of a colossal fire place that creates that après ski warmth in the winter.  

But the vistas were as magnificent as ever from the windows surrounding the half empty lounges. They brought in views of the garden, backed by tall green mountains dotted with pastures, and chalets.  The glaciers glittered on rugged rocky peaks between them.  In the winter of course this is all fairytale white.

Apart from the buffet restaurant under renovations, there is a rustic Swiss restaurant lined with wood  … an Italian restaurant under the chef of Il Pellicano, and a gourmet restaurant. The nightclub expands its dance space by lowering a wooden platform over the indoor pool.

A magnificent fireplace adorns the spa – very stylish and modern. Again the views distinguish the spa from a million other wellness facilities worldwide  – and a swim out pool where you can feast on snowy peaks from warm water. In summer the Olympic swimming pool is a feature, and tennis courts. Tennis weeks are among special events, along with jazz events and many others.

The Gstaad Palace was built in the 1913 and is family owned. Hence the appealing sense of individuality. I can imagine some minimalists would prefer a flash new design hotel without patterned carpets in the hallways. But then this Palace might win anyone over to lavish creation…


GSTAAD: PALACE & PEAKS

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ARRIVING BY MOUNTAIN TRAIN

The Classic version of the Golden Pass panoramic train snakes up the mountains from Montreux and Lake Geneva. Served in my graciou seat, cappuchino and cheese sandwich (loads of Swiss cheese), I did not need to leave the stunning, gripping views.

GSTAAD STATION – ALPS ALL AROUND

Here you arrive by mountain train from Montreux

Gstaad main street in October – flowers, cappuchino and shopping…

In Gstaad you are in a valley within a ring of mountains. In summer the mountains are green, in autumn green and gold with white peaks and glaciers beyond.

From the town you have a choice of lifts taking you to the closest tops, from where you can see row upon row of more peaks, as the rocky bosom of the earth rumpled up into these giant folds….

One lift goes up to Eggli 1557 metres, another lift to Wispile top station, 1991 metres above sealevel. I wrote the following on top of the mountain…

MT WISPILE

Top. Top of the world. Wispile top station slopes up to the summit at Stand 1939 m…though beyond are higher mountains Les Diablerets 3209 m and beyond that Mont Blanc 4810 metres.

Being here gives meaning to the expression “ringed by mountains”.

From down in the valley of Gstaad we were swung up in a little cabin high over chalet roofs, pointed spruce and green grass…sun-green grass with grazing brown cows. Up at middle station Lib jumped off with her two poodles to walk up a zig zag path to the top. I swung on with a feeling of anticipation and isolation. Beauty! Views over the valley for miles.

But nothing like the views at the top. I imagine them in winter on the dazzling white, in their slalom gear and bright clothes shooting off down the steep sides through the woods. Now I stroll in more than 20 degrees in sunny October.

Mt Wispile’s summit is a short walk from the top station with genuine 360 degree views of alpine peaks, a rocky jagged circle, dusted with early snow in places, where really grown-up mountains bare white teeth at the sky.

At the top station is a restaurant with huge deck, and playpens and playrooms. Wispile is certainly child friendly. Llama are grazing, and miniature goats – great attractions for the kids. If you follow a 15 minute circular trail around the top of Mt Wispile you also pass children’s playgrounds, with exciting swings that at their high point hover over a steep drop. Kids’ excited screams float out through the high mountain air.

In the winter this open space around the summit is the nursery ski slope.

I write this in October, sitting on the wide wooden  deck of the rustic restaurant. The sun bakes us into lazy mood. We plead for one of the blue sunshades – that is how hot it is only a few months from midwinter.

I had a cappuccino and deliciously mild (unsweet) apple strudel garnished with blueberries, red currants and mint leaves. Later when Libby arrived from her 50 minute walk UP the mountain we ate salad with mountain bread and a glass of wine. (35 chf for us both).


Chalet & restaurant hotel Elite

October 6, 2010 in SWITZERLAND | Comments (0)

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HOTEL RESTAURANT ELITE

 

The second hotel in the village is Hotel Restaurant Elite, run with love by Nicole Peck and Kitty Brand.  It lies up the winding road from Hotel de Ville, passing green pastures with cows grazing, the tower and the church. Up on the slope the views are as alpine as you wish, tinkling sounds included.

Elite has 10 rooms, several with balconies. Spacious, clean and rustic, with attractive floral tiles in the bathroom that I viewed.

We had a most memorable Swiss style dinner there, with local wine. Highly recommended – they had a variety of potato pancakes (rösti) bursting with succulence and flavor. The favourite is full of onions with grilled bacon crumbled on top.

Hotel Restaurant Elite – Telephone 0041 26 924 52 12. Price as at October 2010: 136 CHF for a double room, 68 CHF for a single room. Elite has 6 double rooms, 2 single, 2 triple.


Chalet restaurant hotel Hotel de Ville

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HOTEL DE VILLE, ROSSINIERE

Family room

October 6, the tall wooden chalet was blooming with hot red geraniums. The hotel lies straight on the road through Rossiniere, but thanks to new sound proof windows it is quiet in its bright and rustic interior.

Owner Ms Cosette Hämmerli showed me round. There are only 9 cosy intimate rooms with bright new duvets. The original rooms were renovated in 2009 to include bathroom with toilet and shower. I saw the family room, with a nook for the third bed retaining the original beams. A very cute small double room also retained the dark timber beams under the sloping roof. She is proud that there is even a room for people with handicap, so it was larger and had a larger bathroom.

The hotel had closed for 2 weeks to gear up for the coming winter season. The wooden Swiss chalet style dining room was empty. But down in the bar at street level Ms Hämmerli was giving a staff a pep talk – and had in meticulous Swiss fashion printed a manual for each. I drank a steaming hot flavoursome cappuchino, better than most.

Hotel de Ville – Telephone 0041 26 924 65 40. Price as at 6 October: 150 CHF for double room. Closed 2 weeks in autumn and possibly also March. The hotel has 7 double rooms, 2 family rooms.


Rossiniere nature & 500 people

October 4, 2010 in SWITZERLAND | Comments (4)

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View from road past the church

Medieval church

Hotel de Ville with bell tower in background

The village, which has only 500 inhabitants, is friendly.  If you happen to meet someone on its steep and peaceful streets, Bonjour is the word. They are proud of their village, which has a number of old buildings with history. Top of the list of attractions is the Grand chalet renovated by the French artist Balthus (Count Balthazar). Then there is the medieval church dating back to 1316 and the clock tower. The tower looks charming – but was in fact a PRISON in the AUSTERE old days. The Hotel de Ville is another part of Rossiniere’s history, now a charming family hotel, renovated last year.

From Rossiniere you are a few stops on the Golden Pass panoramic train to Gstaad for the high life. The main activity here is walking – fabulous walks along the valley, round the lake, or high up among forest, pastures and cows. A 2-hour walk takes you to Château d’Oux, from where you can return on the Golden Pass train. On these alpine slopes wild life abounds. As the owner of small poodles, Libby my host experienced the scary side of that … her little toy poodle was attacked by a wild boar. The tiny dog had a huge wound, which fortunately healed.

Charming Girardet chalet on the slopes of Rossiniere

View from chalet


ROSSINIERE: SILENCE & COWBELLS

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Bells. Chimes, clangs … and sllence between tinkles.

It’s the sound  and silence of the Swiss mountains, as predictable as Swiss chocolate, but somehow more spiritual. A village on the mountain train line up to Gstaad and beyond, Rossiniere, has cows in the “backyard” and goats in the “frontyard” ringing their bells as they browse. Behind the chalet are  rinsed green fields that dot the long steep slopes where  big brown cows lean uphill sturdily as they munch and tinkle. More labile extra-tinkly goats are fed just over the road in front. Three sheep “mow” the grass on a bank by the church.

Rossiniere lies in a V-shaped valley in Canton Vaud, with opaque green Lac des Vernex, church and two little hotels – and its little mountain railway station. Most of the chalets lie on steep winding roads on the sunny south-facing slope, erupting with flowers in carefully tended windows boxes. Plunging down from a rocky summit, the northern slopes are mostly covered in spruce dotted with mountain ash and other leafy trees, like upward dabs of gold and dark green brush. It’s been really warm since arrival – a glorious early autumn, more like the northern summer.

Late afternoon walk above Rossiniere


Train and boat to the alps

October 3, 2010 in SWITZERLAND | Comments (1)

My journey was the grand old way of a century ago – by train and steam boat to Evian, then by boat, train and mountain train to Rossiniere and Gstaad. The boat part is entirely optional – the train leaves out of Geneva airport straight for Lausanne and Montreux…

You need to sit on the right side of the train for lake views  – but that means on the left as you back out of Geneva airport. Trains are really comfortable and a respectable way to go in Switzerland.

The rails are right next to the water between Lausanne and Montreux.  There you change to the Golden Pass Panoramic…hopefully the beautiful Classic version.

Views from the mountain train are quite unforgettable – here I snapped Les Avants as we passed by heading for Rossiniere.

Rossiniere

Rossiniere inhabitants chewing in green meadows

 Please click to see larger image

Pastures in the valley, Rossiniere