INSIDE TRACK: GENEVA

Geneva is a playground for foodies, skiers and the jet-setting elite. We unearth the city’s finer experiences.

 

The Geneva Motor Show has played host to some of history’s most important motoring debuts since the inaugural edition in 1905. This year’s show, from 3rd to 15th March 2015, is no exception, as we unveil the purest series-production McLaren supercar to date, the new 675LT, and the most powerful McLaren ever, the track-only 1000PS McLaren P1™ GTR.

And if you’re visiting Geneva, there’s so much more to be found here besides fondue, cuckoo clocks, and luxury watches. For those in the know, the gateway to the Alps is a destination in its own right, so ahead of the Geneva Motor Show let us be your guide to this fabulous city.

For most, going to Geneva means a business trip or skiing in the Alps. Few spare the time to admire the cobbled Old Town, the expanse of Lake Geneva and the Jet d’Eau, Europe’s tallest fountain surging 140m into the air. Linger awhile, and discerning travellers will find this city has luxury in its grasp. 


 

The Beau-Rivage hotel overlooks Lake Geneva and has a wine cellar with rare vintages like Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1947

 

The hotel: Beau-Rivage

First, you’ll need somewhere to rest your head. For 150 years, royalty, politicians, and refined holidaymakers alike have chosen the Beau-Rivage, an elegant five-star hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva. It’s easy to see why. The open marble atrium that greets you is a quietly magnificent space, with five wrought-iron galleries rising to a skylight above.

Around these galleries are 90 beautifully restored rooms and 19 suites, including the Select Suites, which boast private balconies overlooking the Old Town, the lake, or Mont Blanc beyond. The hotel also has a gym, a spa, and a Michelin-starred French restaurant, Le Chat-Botté, where guests can enjoy wine pairing under the expert guidance of Head Sommelier, Vincent Debergé. For an unusual treat, head down to the hotel’s wine cellar, which has an impressive selection of more than 32,000 bottles and 1500 labels.

These days, the Beau-Rivage is one of the last family-run hotels left in Switzerland. And though it moves with the times, the founder’s great-grandchildren, Jacques Mayer and Catherine Nickbarte Mayer, ensure it preserves the old-world glamour of its heyday – and its discreet service. ‘There’s no request too big or too small,’ smiles concierge Arnaud Baumard (pictured below). ‘Whatever our guests want, we make happen.’

 

 


 

The restaurant: Domaine de Châteauvieux

Gourmet-lovers in the know head west out of the city, where the chocolate-box scenery gives way to the snow-capped Swiss Alps. Less than half an hour’s drive later, you’ll reach Satigny – home to Domaine de Châteauvieux, one of Geneva’s finest Michelin-starred restaurants.

Though this 16th century stone domaine has 12 luxury guest rooms and a suite, it’s chiefly a culinary destination. Owner Philippe Chevrier, one of Switzerland’s best chefs, is in the kitchen everyday with head chef, Damien Coche, personally overseeing a seasonal menu inspired by local produce. Fresh black truffles were delivered during our visit – half an hour later, we devoured one in razor-thin shavings, on grilled Norwegian sea scallops and a bed of macaroni. Next, we savoured roast filet of beef with ricotta ravioli, and apple mousse, caramel tatin and cider vinegar ice cream on a crunchy biscuit.

The privilege of dining at the intimate Chef’s Table among the kitchen bustle makes this a real feast for the senses. For unique privacy, the wine cellar also seats up to 12 guests and in the summer you can dine al fresco facing the vineyards. ‘If you ask, we’ll even tailor a surprise menu and we have a helipad if you want to arrive in style,’ Chevrier tells us. ‘Guests come here for a unique dining experience.

 

Head Chef Damien Coche produces an ever-changing menu at the Michelin-starred Domaine de Châteauvieux in Satigny

 


 

The heli-ski company: SwisSKIsafari

For the more adventurous, the Swiss Alps are one of only two landing spots in Europe, alongside the Italian Alps, where you can heli-ski. Jumping out a helicopter, with nothing between you and the slope below but a pair of skis, you need to know you’re in good hands.

That’s where SwisSKIsafari comes in. Danielle Stynes set up this bespoke ski service ten years ago – and she hasn’t looked back. Operating out of Valais – just over two hours away from Geneva, she now offers sophisticated thrill-seekers luxury heli-skiing in France, Italy, and the Swiss Alps. Her A-team of alpine experts include an avalanche specialist, four professional mountain guides, and a few trusted helicopter pilots led by Roland Brunner, who has logged over 10,000 flying hours. For SwisSKIsafari, Brunner flies a Eurocopter Ecureuil B3 – the only helicopter to have landed on the summit of Mount Everest.

Heli-skiing in the Swiss Alps is breathtaking but unless you have the inside knowledge, you can’t just turn up and do it,’ Stynes explains. ‘That’s what we’re here for. We’re strict about our 100 percent safety record – but beyond that we’ll tailor everything, from accommodation to food, so all you need to do is master your courage and jump.’

 

 


 

The chocolatier: Favarger

A trip to Geneva isn't complete unless you’ve experienced Favarger – the oldest chocolate-maker in Geneva. This grand dame of Swiss chocolatiers was established in 1826, and it still takes great pride in producing its chocolate from start to finish.

Walking into its flagship boutique in Versoix, the first thing that hits you is the sweet, almost nutty aroma of Favarger’s signature chocolate. The secret to its enduring legacy is its recipes, handed down through the years. We sampled each of the brand’s lines: the hazelnut-based Aveline, the premium Manufacture line, and the Heritage bars, which unusually uses unrefined sugar and dried roller milk – as it did nearly 200 years ago.

Favarger is also one of a handful of Swiss chocolatiers that welcomes guests into its factory. Treat yourself to a tour of its Versoix manufacture in French, English or German, and you’ll witness its 22 chocolate artisans in action. ‘Many chocolate makers use liquid chocolate, but we source all our ingredients to produce from bean to bar,’ says Marketing Manager, Richard Berdugo. ‘We’re devoted to fine-tuning our iconic flavour.’

 

Master chocolate maker Philippe Colnel handcrafts Favarger’s distinctive Swiss chocolate using wholly natural ingredients

 


 

The great roads: St Gotthard Pass

The Swiss Alps also lend themselves to another pastime – driving. Many high mountain passes that have played key roles in trade and migration over the centuries are now paved, but as modern tunnels take traffic on the most direct route to their destination, so the wondrous ribbons of tarmac that curl and loop over the mountains are quiet once more.

The best Swiss roads are a few hours from the city of Geneva, along the lake that shares its name, and past Lausanne and Bern. From the world of cinema, James Bond aficionados will recognise the Furka Pass that featured in Goldfinger, and the nearby Grimsel, Susten and Nufenen Passes are on an equal footing with their famous neighbour. Equally enchanting and challenging is the legendary St Gotthard Pass (pictured), and with tunnels handling the demands of road and rail traffic, its ancient cobbled surface can be experienced in relative privacy.

Favour the warmer months for a visit, be up on the roads for sunrise if you can, and as for your mode of transport, we’d of course recommend a McLaren.

 

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