Stay at Geneva’s historic jewel-box of a hotel.
As first published in SLOW magazine, May 2018.
By BRIAN BERKMAN
The black spot is where St Peter’s thumb touched the John Dory. At Geneva’s Hotel d’Angleterre, Windows restaurant, Mario is presenting the flat, roundish fish for our approval before cooking. Like everything about this exquisite, jewel-box of a hotel, the classic hospitality traditions of Silver Service are burnished, polished and buffed into a 2018 sensibility but with a respectful knowledge of from where they come. Mario, it turns out, is not French at all but a fully fledged Italian and yet to my wholly untrained ear hearing him speak French to other guests it sounds like his native tongue which was only wrongly confirmed by his flawless English which has that seductive French lilt. Perhaps Geneva has that effect. Obviously Swiss yet its airport is divided into French and Swiss sectors as if a border post. And, Switzerland’s hard-line neutrality really has made it the symbol of the best the Continent has to offer which translates into A-grade hospitality, cuisine, service, shopping and more luxury brands for the global monied population than, very likely, in any other city.
Pointing to the herring-bone laid flooring, hotel general manager, Jean-Vital Domézon says the architect Anthony Krafft’s facade, staircase and timber flooring are protected heritage assets by their equivalent heritage council. He tells me that the 1872 built 45-roomed Hotel d’Angleterre and the adjacent Beau Rivage are among the first hotels on the banks of Lake Leman when ancient walls still surrounded the old town and travellers arriving after night fall had to lodge outside the city.
The conjurer’s agility with which the wine glasses are removed from our table was in evidence again as the oven-roasted John Dory was quickly and elegantly filleted at a heated table-side gueridon trolley.
Through the windows, Geneva’s picture-postcard lake and illuminated luxury brand names are clearly visible. After our memorable dinner, which began with fresh shavings of Alba white truffle falling like scented snow flakes into the creamy white artichoke soup, and ended with a lavish cheese gueridon service, we braced the minus four celsius temperature to walk along the lake before bed.
A cigar lounge is a new addition to Hotel d’Angleterre, a Red Carnation Hotel and sister to Cape Town’s The Twelve Apostles, Bushmans Kloof in the Cederberg mountains and the also iconic Oyster Box Hotel, near Durban. Like at those properties there is The Leopard Room Bar and Lounge, a chic yet relaxed den which is as popular with locals as it is with visitors.
As in all Red Carnation Hotels, rooms are tastefully and individually decorated and the collection of furnishings are another symbol of the attention to detail and personal vision of the Tollman Family who continues to own and run the hotels.
In our lake-view room, number 323, the blue and white colour scheme and over sized blue and white porcelain bedside lights and blue crystal mirror which might have come from a Maharaja’s Jodhpur palace, made for a beautiful and exceedingly comfortable room. If you’ve ever stayed at a Red Carnation property before, your personal preferences will be retained on file and the down feather neck cushion you requested a decade ago will casually be waiting on your bed when you arrive.
Geneva guests are also offered free public transport tickets by the hotel’s wonderful concierge which can be used on trains, busses and on the boats that shuttle from one side of the lake to the other.
Although there is no swimming pool at Hotel d’Angleterre, your lodgings are almost directly across the way from the Bains des Pâquis, public swimming facilities in lake. When we stayed previously in summer it was an exceptionally popular spot for swimming among the swans and sun bathing and in winter it is a centre for sauna, steam and massage.
From Windows Restaurant and indeed our bedroom window Geneva’s famous fountain, Jet d’eau and the snow-capped Mont Blanc mountains glisten beyond.
What makes Hotel d’Angleterre all that more special is that it’s neighbours include other global upscale brands such as Four-Seasons and Ritz-Carlton and yet it is this property that was awarded four stars by Forbes Travel Guide 2016, voted No. 1 in the Top 15 Hotels in Switzerland by Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards 2017 awarded Best of the Best by Readers’ Choice Awards 2016. The guest experience is relaxed but unquestionably warm and elegant where the kind of bespoke recommendations by staff of what to see, what to buy and even how to easily avoid the traffic by using a convenient underpass, is communicated in easy conversation.
Red Carnation are among the few hotel groups that not only permit pets but welcome them with the same stylish warmth as their human guests. Even if you’re too fatigued to walk Fifi after a long day’s shopping, the hotel’s pet concierge will give your pets a lake-side walk and pampering (including special baskets and water bowls and gourmet treats.)
As we prepare to depart and I finger the African beaded bookmark left as a gift for us in the room, I remember what separates this property, and Red Carnation Hotels as a whole, from other luxury beds for hire: there is a palpable, soulful, heart-felt care and affection in this group which starts with matriarch Bea Tollman and, like a cherished family recipe, is bequeathed to and celebrated by all who work there.