The City Lights of Lausanne
The Royal Savoy Hotel & Spa offers an elegant oasis on the northern shore of Lake Geneva
Review by Rupert Watkins
Perched on the edge of Lac Léman (better known perhaps as Lake Geneva) lies Lausanne. Home of the Olympic headquarters, an hour’s train Geneva and an easy but stunning rail journey away from the mountains and Gstaad, Lausanne is a well-located base to explore the charms of western Switzerland. Lying in the French speaking part of the country and built on a series of steep hills, the city is tolerably compact, especially in its older mediaeval parts around the 13th Century Cathédrale. Highlights range from the Musee des Beaux Arts with its collection including works by Renoir, Degas and Matisse to the Olympic Museum and the offbeat Collection de L’Art Brut.
In the quiet Ouchy district of the city near the Olympic Museum and 12th Century castle, the Château d’Ouchy, lies the Royal Savoy Hotel & Spa. The grand and striking Art Nouveau building opened in the early 20th Century as a stop off on the Grand Tour and for those seeking the milder winter climate on the north shore of the lake. Following a comprehensive seven year restoration and development, the hotel re-opened at the end of 2015. Both the interiors and exteriors have been completely renovated. If you look carefully up at the eves of the building, the delicate exterior tiling was discovered during this work having been covered and forgotten in the decades before. The sharp eyed amongst you may also note the “Royal Hotel” on the front of the building; until 1943, the same family owed both the Royal Hotel and a nearby Savoy Hotel at which point the former closed and the names amalgamated.
Inside, a lot of work was done of cleaning and re-polishing the Byzantine style tiling in the hotel’s public spaces. The result is grand, elegant and supremely comfortable. Being swiftly welcomed by the hotel’s exceedingly courteous and professional reception staff, my guest and I were shown to our Deluxe Room overlooking the hotel gardens, new wing and Lake Geneva. The rooms are modern grand with luxurious materials and tastefully muted colours creating a restrained and supremely comfortable cocoon. The king size beds are firm and incredibly comfortable.
The attention to detail in the renovation comes through in the bathroom – the bath itself was large enough for two people to lie side by side. From the marble surrounds around said bath and washbasin to the heated floor (including in the large rainfall shower), the details stand out. Hermès toiletries await you. One rather nice touch are the black and white photographs on the walls of the bedrooms – they create a sense of history and continuity as you can clearly see despite changes in taste the soul of the hotel remains the same.
Venturing downstairs for an early evening drink, the bar is a smart and elegant spot to slake your thirst before you head through to the Brasserie Du Royal for dinner. An opulent and luxurious restaurant, service is discreetly attentive. Under chef Marc Haeberlin, the menu offers immaculately cooked and presented food. My guest and I started with Scallops floraline with cauliflower and curry condiment and smoked fera with a vodka and lime cream. Both dishes were very fresh with the slight zing of the lime picking up on the flavours of the fera whilst the slightly earthy curry condiment offered a pleasing contrast to the lightness of my scallops.
Accompanying our meal, we opted for a bottle of Swiss wine. The Domaine Des Chables M Neyroud was light and fruity proving excellent drinking throughout the meal. The Royal Savoy’s wine list is 30 per cent Swiss to showcase the breadth and expertise of the country’s wine makers.
Moving onto our main course, my guest enjoyed supreme of pigeon with fois gras and beetroot, the gamey taste of the rich meat complimenting the earthiness of the fois gras whilst the beetroot cut through the dish offering a nicely tart counterpoint. I opted for a local Vaud canton speciality, the papet Vaudois cabbage sausage with alsacian horseradish. Chef Marc Haeberlin’s take on this dish, the stuffed meat and leek sausage is split open upon serving. Very rich, the leek and sausage meat combined well though it initially was a somewhat unusual taste, the horseradish gave the dish a nice bite. Served in two portions, I gamely fought but was unable to see off the second helping. Similar to its emphasis on the country’s own wines, the hotel aims to source almost all of its food locally from within a radius of 15 miles.
Following a sound night’s sleep, we awoke to snow – we were informed it was the first of the season in Lausanne itself. Those seeking a fun day could do worse than what we decided to do – jump on the mountain train after having changed at Montreaux and head up into the mountains. The traditional halmet of Château d’Oex is a mecca for hot air ballooning enthusiasts as well as having 420km of alpine skiing runs. The high plateau of Les Mosses through to La Lécherette is also popular with cross-country skiers. Those seeking the high life could stay on the train two more stops for Gstaad. A magical day wading knee high through the fresh powder left us feeling suitably ravenous to sample the delights of the Royal Savoy’s Winter Garden upon our return.
The hotel’s seasonal lounge (it runs from November until February), a rustic lodge has been created outside the entrance and guests are invited to sample the hotel’s precise and elegant take on après ski cuisine. We began with The Radically Royal Raclette and The Cow who loved Mulled Wine and Chocolate. The raclette was a precision but quirky take on this classic dish, the slabs of cheese being panko encrusted to sit alongside beautifully cured ham. The cow was marinated in mulled wine spices and served with a dark chocolate salsa. Both delicious, warming dishes – a marvellous blend of needed comfort food and haute cuisine (if that’s possible?). My guest and I spent the remainder of the evening discussing meat and chocolate pairings. A slightly lighter dish, the Dapper Deer was also hugely enjoyed, the gravelax was gamey paired with nuts and a squash tartar. We had discussed the (shock) idea of not having the fondue but our friendly waitress knew better and when she gently suggested we were still hungry, the resulting rich, hot and creamy cheese ended the meal beautifully sending us bed bound in a very satisfied state.
Being taken round the hotel during my stay, all the types of rooms and suites are furnished in a very similar style and palette though there is a slightly different aesthetic between the rooms in the main hotel and those in the newly build wing which also houses the basement spa. When the Winter Lounge is not open, the Royal Savoy has its rooftop Sky Garden for the spring and summer. With magnificent views of the lake, this offers both lighter meals and is a panoramic spot for a drink. Those seeking a refined environment to enjoy a Havana can smoke in the comfort of the hotel’s Cigar Lounge. The hotel constantly strives to be a destination for locals not just its guests, Lausanne’s cigar lovers can store their smokes in the hotel’s lounge and during our stay clearly many locals love popping into the lounge bar. Membership and day rates for the spa are also available.
The recent redevelopment also created the spa, a tranquil oasis of calm and relaxation. The hotel offers a 24 hour gym, small indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, Turkish baths and Jacuzzis as well as a private spa for women and private spa areas for both couples and small groups of up to eight. The outdoor part of the pool (automatic sliding doors allow you to move from inside) is warmly heated and it was invigorating and fun to swim feeling the snow gently falling on your head. The sauna was certainly the place to stretch out and gently thaw after our snowy cross country trek around Château d’Oex. For those needing treatments there is a comprehensive list of massages and beauty therapies using top end Swiss brands such as La Vallée and Biologique Recherche.
Whether you choose to enjoy to charms of the lake or the mountains – or just wander the city’s elegant streets and sample delicious Swiss chocolate (Blondel on Rue de Bourg is a traditionalist’s must), regardless of the time of year, the Royal Savoy offers an immaculate and modern base in this corner of Switzerland.
Swiss Rail offer a comprehensive selection of regional fare networks; visit www.sbb.ch/en
A three day rail pass for the whole of Switzerland (not just Geneva & Vaud Canton) cost from £170 at www.swiss-pass.ch/swiss-pass/
One night’s accommodation in a standard double room with breakfast, unlimited access to the Spa and public transport card starts at £225.