Luxury travel guide on Lake Geneva

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Nestled in the body of the Alps, between France and Switzerland, is a crescent-shaped lake – one of the largest in Western Europe. Wide, deep and breathtakingly beautiful, it’s a little-known vacation destination; too often overlooked for nearby ski resorts in the winter or the smaller seaside resort of Annecy in France in the summer.

I thought as much when I landed in Geneva last September, and saw the lake whizzing past my taxi window, and the Alps looming dangerously above me. This region harbors a myriad of unseen delights just waiting to be explored. There is the unsung beauty of a city break in Geneva, endless outdoor activities and charming lakeside towns, with a Belle Epoque atmosphere, from the French Évian-les-Bains – where I was heading – to other impossibly chic locations along the North Shore, affectionately known as the Swiss Riviera.

The Lake Geneva shore in Evian-les-Bains

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How to get there…

Given its vastness, straddling two countries, there are several entry points to Lake Geneva. One of the easiest routes is to fly to Geneva itself. The route is covered by most major airlines, including Swiss Air, and the average flight time from London is 1 hour and 42 minutes. From here, most places along the lake can be reached by car or train. There is a regular route from Geneva to Lausanne, and the upper Golden Pass Line, which passes through some of Lake Geneva’s most impressive scenery, can be booked as part of a longer train stay in the Swiss Alpine region. Once in a while you might be lucky enough to catch one of the old Art Nouveau trains still in service. An accidental slice of Orient Express luxury with stellar views…

Why go?

The simple answer is: why not? This region has so much to offer, starting with Geneva. The city is often downplayed as just a scrupulously clean financial center (or a great place to buy a watch). While both things are true, of course, Geneva is much more than streets and impeccable watches. Take a boat from the quai de Genève-Mt-Blanc and marvel at the wonders of the shoreline (and Geneva’s “Jet D’Eau” fountain) tree-lined promenades with turn-of-the-century townhouses. Stroll through Geneva’s beautiful parks, Eaux-Vives, Jardin Anglais, Perle du Lac or Mon Repos, visit the iconic UN Palace of Nations or marvel at the treasures of the historic city center, which includes Saint -Pierre, and is best appreciated for its narrow, winding streets littered with charming cafes and restaurants.

aerial view of the rhone river flowing through the heart of geneva, switzerland
Aerial view of Geneva

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There is also the natural beauty of the lake, which is hugged by the Swiss and French Alps. From sightseeing boat trips to more active pursuits like waterskiing and kayaking, the area’s natural splendor is just waiting to be explored. Hiking, biking and paragliding are the most popular summer sports, while skiing still dominates these mountains once the snow falls.

Stay close to the shore and you can have a captivating trip enjoying the charms of the region’s riviera. Évian-les-Bains is brimming with history and Belle Epoque seaside resort atmosphere, where there are the culturally rich towns of Lausanne, Vevey and Montreux, or the fascinating little medieval town of Yvoire. At every turn there is a new and beautiful village, made all the more luxurious and quiet for not being touristy.

lausanne, switzerland
Lausanne

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Where to stay

If you decide to base yourself, or at least start your adventure, in Geneva, you can’t do better than the luxurious lakeside hotel The Woodward, which feels like it exists on its own island in the city. , and even has a Guerlain spa. . The so-called Riviera towns are also full of excellent hotel options. In Vevey, a beautiful seaside resort near Lausanne, you must opt ​​for the historic and opulent Grand Hotel du Lac which is brimming with old-world luxuries, or choose the quaint but supremely elegant L’Ermitage near Montreux.

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We opted for one of the oldest and most famous in the area – the Hotel Royal, part of the Evian Resort on the French side of the lake – in Evian-les-Bains. The history of the hotel is directly linked to the natural mineral water spring of Evian (yes, where the water comes from) which transformed the district into a spa town, welcoming holidaymakers who, at the beginning of the 20th century, would come to ‘take the waters’. The grand palace hotel was designed as a luxury base for these visitors, and its ‘royal’ title was affixed when it was built in honor of British monarch Edward VII. The King, whose former royal suite has been transformed into the hotel’s exemplary spa, was to be one of the resort’s first guests, after it opened in 1909. Sadly, he would never stay there, dying in 1910 The promise of luxury and a high profile clientele has been met, however, and the hotel has hosted everyone from Proust to Ray Charles and Greta Garbo as well as, in the 1990s, the G7 and, a week before our visit , the President of France.

hotel royal evian
Hotel Royal Evian

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If its history is its unique calling card, location is its real asset. While the rooms are gorgeous and the infinity pool towers over itself, seeming to flow all the way into the lake, it’s the view that never ceases to impress. Located in a wooded area in the hills, the hotel is not only peaceful, it offers an unparalleled view. Open your windows in the morning and a breathtaking view of Lake Geneva welcomes you, just before the Alps, which hover majestically to your right. You never really adjust to the simplicity and beauty of this view.

Where to eat

The area is famous for its excellent cheeses and cheese dishes (hello Raclette) but in addition to after-ski treats, there are countless excellent restaurants in the area. Lausanne, one of the first resorts on the northern shore of the lake, offers a list of incredible restaurants, including the historic and atmospheric Café Beau-Rivage or Pinte Besson, one of the oldest restaurants in Switzerland. In Montreux, head to the Montreux Jazz Café, named after the city’s famous jazz festival, for great food but an even better vibe.

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We dined at the Michelin-starred Les Fresques restaurant at the Hôtel Royal Evian. A narrow gallery with long windows and a view of the lake, it also houses a stunning ceiling fresco (which gives the restaurant its name) and which you can see from the mirrors in your menu. As you might expect, the food here is sublime, with a range of locally sourced ingredients, from fish caught in lakes and rivers, to stuffed mushrooms and regional goat cheese. The sommelier selected some of the best wines I’ve ever drunk – including one from Haute Savoie (the French department that adjoins the lake) – and you can even choose your steak knife from the knife menu.

hotel royal evian

What to do

From the distractions of Geneva to the bucolic beauty of the lakeside towns, you are spoiled for choice. Highlights should definitely include a trip to the medieval French town of Yvoire, which is full of cobbled streets, historic buildings and stunning landscaped gardens. There’s also Montreux, famous for its jazz festival (in July), its great turn-of-the-century promenades and its captivating island castle Château de Chillon.

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We chose to spend a day exploring French Evian-les-Bains, reaching it by a noisy and charming 1900s funicular down the mountainside. Well worth a visit – a beautiful little Belle Epoque town wrapped around the history of the natural water source of Evian; from its great pump rooms to its museums and spa buildings. As well as having a glass of water from the natural spring (it definitely tastes better), be sure to visit the sumptuous town hall, former home of the Lumière brothers, known to be among the world’s first filmmakers.

There are many great organizations to help you explore the region, such as Inspiring Travel Company, who can tailor individual packages taking into account its different centers and activities. In winter, they can line up ski and spa stays, along the Portes du Soleil (12 ski resorts linking France and Switzerland), with days of skiing and snowshoeing and afternoons of well-deserved massages.

swiss riviera of lake geneva, leman to montreux, switzerland
lake geneva

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Indeed, making the most of the late summer deals, perhaps the nicest thing we did on our trip to Lake Geneva was a hike in the mountains. Our guide, Virgile, who works at the hotel, took us through forests and valleys riddled with bell cows to dramatic heights where the lake lay below us, dappled with the shadow of clouds at above which we were standing. Despite all the bustle and often grandeur of its neighboring towns, this day hike reminded us why Lake Geneva itself is the biggest draw.

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