Returning to the Hotel Beau-Rivage in Geneva was like going to meet a dear old friend – a friend who is always well-dressed, always perfectly mannered and always utterly charming. Great hotels are, after all, rather like people. Each has its own character and its own personality . And they need looking after. It was wonderful, therefore, to find that the Beau-Rivage was in splendid form. Everywhere I looked, I saw evidence that this grand old lady was being properly loved. A plump velvet cushion was carefully placed on a sofa, a fine bronze statuette gleamed in a corner and a restored fresco decorated a ceiling. The immaculate condition of this marvellous building is a real credit to its owner, Mr Jacques Mayer (pictured). He is the great-grandson of the hotel’s founder, Jean-Jacques Mayer. They should each be proud of the other, for the Beau-Rivage continues to do now what it has done since its opening in 1865: provide luxurious accommodation and proper service to discerning patrons from around the world.
Those patrons have included some notable figures, like Richard Wagner and King Alphonsus XIII of Spain. And the hotel has played its part in world events as a result. Here Charles, Duke of Brunswick, drew his last breath in 1873. He was one of Geneva’s great benefactors, which is why – in the park next-door – he is commemorated with a monument, which for grandeur and extravagance rivals London’s Albert Memorial. Twenty-five years later, another death drew international attention to the Beau-Rivage. Just after leaving the hotel, Empress Elizabeth of Austria was stabbed by an anarchist. Brought back to her apartment, she could not be revived. The General Manager, Ivan Rivier, kindly allowed me to view again the room in which the Empress died – which is now a place of pilgrimage for Austrian royalists.
This weight of history is, however, borne lightly by the suave and sophisticated Beau-Rivage. As soon as I reached the top of the steps (from the surprisingly unassuming entrance), and saw again the gurgling fountain at the bottom of the soaring atrium, I felt at home once more. Members of staff at the Reception and Concierge desks were careful to use my name, a small courtesy which I always appreciate. Soon I was being shown into my apartment on the second floor.
Number 215 was exactly the sort of room I like. The hotel is proud of the spaciousness of all its 91 rooms. (I peeped into one of the standard category, and can confirm that such pride is merited.) But this was a ‘Prestige Suite Lake View’ – you will need to check the rate for specific dates on the hotel’s website – and was truly splendid. In the proper entrance hall were a gilt table, wall lights and an umbrella in a stand. A door to the right led into a shower room with, beyond, my very own sauna. (I have never partaken of one of these Scandinavian delights, and I have no immediate intention of doing so, but it felt good that it was there if I needed it.)
Through a glass-panelled door was the charming bed-sitting room, an essay in cream and pale blue with suggestions of the 18th Century in its period style. Gilt table lamps and a crystal chandelier provided the artificial illumination. Ever keen to keep my readers informed, I paced out the room and found its length was 20 feet and its breadth 11 feet. Certainly, there was plenty of space for the supremely comfortable bed, a sofa, two armchairs, a writing desk, a drinks cabinet in the Chinoiserie style, a lovely arrangement of fresh flowers and a very large television receiver. The last had the ability to play compact discs, and I was therefore able to enjoy the melodies which accompany me on my travels, by Messrs Elgar and Gershwin. Equally captivating was the view of the lake through my three French windows. The famous spout of water, the Jet d’Eau, was directly ahead, the Old Town – crowned by the Minster in which Calvin preached – was to the right and, beyond the lake, were snow-topped mountains. Each morning it was a sublime pleasure to reach a languid hand towards a bedside button and then watch as the panorama was revealed by the ascending shutters.
The bathroom, too, was a chamber of some style, with a stained glass window between it and the bedroom. The tub was of a generous size. It was framed by Ionic columns. I do like columns in a bathroom, don’t you? There were two wash basins, decked out with toiletries by Clerins. Here I could bathe and perform my ablutions in comfort.
Shaved and bathed, and dressed in a tie and starched collar, I set off for dinner. The hotel has a restaurant which serves Thai food, but that was not my destination. (I tend to avoid those cuisines which have developed in non-wine cultures.) Instead, I headed for the Beau-Rivage’s other dining room, Le Chat Botté. I suppose we would translate this as The Scalded Cat, although I fear botté actually means booted or kicked. But those of you who love your feline friends need not fear: the only cruelty I found at this highly regarded restaurant (it has a Michelin star) was being done to the demons of low standards. They were certainly suffering, for this long, low, comfortable room is one of the best gastronomic destinations in Geneva.
Here standards are high. The glassware is by Schott, the cutlery is by Christofle, the napkin rings are silver and on each table a single tapered candle burns in its silver holder. A clean napkin is brought immediately for any diner who leaves the table for a moment. This setting is right for French cuisine of the highest quality. And that is precisely what comes from the kitchen of Chef Dominique Gauthier (pictured).
Chef Gauthier offers three set dinners – for 140CHF. 170CHF and 250HF and a set lunch for 70CHF. I chose four courses from the carte (for which you should allow around 220 francs). First, on a large white plate and with a lovely, painterly appearance, came Winter vegetables, with Jerusalem artichoke mousseline and roasted pistachio oil. This was a delicate, carefully judged dish and made an excellent beginning to my meal. My next dish was equally subtle and precisely balanced – sea scallops accompanied with the utmost courtesy by black truffle. And the divine fungus worked its aromatic magic on my main course, too, which was the highpoint of the meal: sole from Yeu island, steamed and served with broth and truffle. This was superb, and reminded me yet again what a privilege it is to eat the food of a master chef. I ended with an exquisitely executed Chartreuse soufflé with vanilla ice cream.
Those of you who love your claret will be in very heaven when you survey the prestigious wine list. Indeed, if you have the means and the inclination to drink some of the finest red Bordeaux ever made, the cellar will gladly offer its riches. Here is a quartet of them, with the prices in Swiss francs: 1945 Lafite (6,500), 1945 Latour (6,495), 1947 Mouton-Rothschild (9,550) and 1947 Margaux (5,555). Prices of the list’s 1,105 offerings run from 38CHF for a local white to 19,250CHF for 1982 Pétrus. Other bottles to catch my eye were: 2005 Romanée-Conti (17,000CHF), Krug Grande Cuvée (625CHF), 1947 Yquem (7,495CHF) and 32 examples of Côte Rôtie, including Mr Guigal’s 2001 ‘La Turque’ (1,350CHF).
The Sommelier, Vincent Debergé (pictured), is also the Restaurant Manager, and ensures that the service of both the wine and the food is courteous, efficient and entirely proper. For my remarkable sole he recommended a white burgundy, with exactly the bright freshness to stand up to the ingredients of the dish (St Aubin, ‘Pitangerets’, Paul Pillot, 2012 – 166CHF).
Two other meals I must mention. I returned each morning to the restaurant for breakfast, where – settled into a capacious armchair and with the Daily Telegraph to one side – I tucked with relish into food of the highest quality: brioche, home-made jams, lots of different breads, slices of turkey breast, cheeses, fruit salads, Corn Flakes, bacon and scrambled eggs (all from the buffet), and mushrooms on toast and onion omelettes (brought from the kitchen). All were delicious. And then there was tea in the sitting room – for I felt it was important that I did not neglect my eating while I was in Geneva. Here, in a green fauteuil, beneath a crystal chandelier, by a marble fireplace, I devoured delicate pastries and scoops of ginger ice cream.
The Beau-Rivage in Geneva is a very, very good hotel. I look upon her as an old friend. She is clearly loved by those who own her and those who work within her doors. May she long continue to prosper.
13 Quai du Mont-Blanc, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland.
Telephone +41 (22) 716 66 66
Fax +41 (22) 716 60 60
Double rooms from 1,010 francs, breakfast extra
Check the hotel website for special offers and for the rates for specific dates.