Rooms with a view
Switzerland's Beau-rivage hotel on Lake Geneva gives Suzy Belton a fresh outlook
IT'S the kind of grand hotel where James Bond would pull up in his Aston Martin. And it's surrounded by spectacular views that are straight from a 007 movie.
The grand dame of Switzerland, commanding the best view of the lake of Geneva and the Alps beyond, is simply oozing with history.
Its guest book is a work of history in itself. Empress Elizabeth of Austria, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, King George I of Greece, Grand Duke Peter of Russia and the composer Richard Wagner have all stayed at the Beau-Rivage.
Then let's not forget the Duke and the Duchess of Windsor after he had abdicated his throne and silent-movie legend Harold Lloyd was said to climb the columns in the atrium instead of using the stairs. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stayed in 1947, actress Mary Pickford was here a year later, while Clark Gable visited in 1952.
The Aga Khan, the Dalai Lama, actors Catherine Deneuve and Alain Delon, Prince Rainier, Prince Caroline . . . the list is endless.
But you’ll be treated like royalty too in a hotel owned by the same family since the mid-19th Century.
Situated on a quay overlooking the lake, you'll find it hard to tear yourself away from the view across the snow-topped mountains as the cosmopolitan city of Geneva spreads around you.
If you're lucky, you'll be staying at the Beau Rivage. If you're really lucky, you'll have a room with a lakeside view. But not all the views are on the outside -- inside, the Beau Rivage is a spectacular palace.
Its centrepiece is a magnificent atrium, complete with fountain, under a glazed roof some five storeys above. With just 73 rooms and 18 suites, you're guaranteed the personal touch.
Our Lake View suite had two bedrooms -- and the salon can be transformed into a family room if you're travelling with the kids. For such an historic hotel, there's no skimping on modern luxuries so the satellite flatscreen TV has a selection of more than 50 films and 200 CDs and free internet access.
And, of course, those amazing views, including the lake's famous spout of water, the Jet d'Eau (tallest fountain in the world) directly ahead, the Old Town to the right and, in the distance, Europe's tallest mountain, the majestic Mont Blanc.
Downstairs, L'Atrium Bar is a classic of old-world elegance, the kind of place where you listen to the pianist and sip on a cocktail or cognac. And, who knows? A member of royalty or a celeb (Phil Collins celebrated a wedding here) might just pop in. You'll never run out of choice -- the hotel's cellar holds around 35,000 bottles of wine, including rare French classics.
If you fancy fine dining, you're in good hands. Dominique Gauthier, the culinary king at the Chat-Botte restaurant, was voted the country's top chef last year and picked up a Michelin Star, too.
The setting is fabulous, and the cutlery and trimmings alone are worth a king's ransom. You can dine on fine French cuisine, including an amazing cheese-board with varieties from every corner of France. If the sun's shining, the terrace overlooking the mountains is one of the most romantic places in Europe that you'd care to imagine.
For something a little different, Thai restaurant Patara is also excellent. With ingredients sourced directly from Thailand, it's been rated the best of its kind in the city.
When you think of Switzerland you'll think army knives, cuckoo clocks and chocolate. But Geneva feels French (it's a stone's throw from the border) and rivals New York as a multi-national city. Shopping-wise, it's worth taking the tram out to the Carouge market. The area is filed with small boutiques and artisan shops while there are regular food and goods markets.
Modelled on Nice in France, it's also a great place to catch a coffee or party till dark in its many jazz clubs.
For something different, the thrice-weekly Plainpalais flea market offers an amazing array of antiques, records, vintage clothing and other curios at knockdown prices.
On the tourist trail, the Old Town's cobbled-stone streets are a must-see, so check out Saint Peter's Cathedral and visit the Art and History Museum or the Maison Travel -- the oldest house in the city.
The United Nations Building and Red Cross Museum are also worth a look, while the Paquis and Les Grottes districts are filled with multi-ethnic cuisine, reflecting the influx from all around the world to this gorgeous city.