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Past Forward

Meryle Evans / November 2012

Geneva—The Empress of Austria, assassinated during a visit…Eleanor Roosevelt in residence while working on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…the Maharaja of Patiala arriving with a multitude of trunks…Could an historic hotel ask for a more enticing guest register? Beau Rivage is one of a cluster of venerable “palace” hotels in Geneva, Switzerland, that have hosted myriad celebrities since the 1800s, and one of the few hotels in Switzerland still owned by the same family, the Mayers, who are dedicated to preserving its illustrious past—21st century style. According to president Jacques Mayer, whose great-grandfather built Beau Rivage in 1865, “Hilton may have based his success on three famous criteria, ‘location, location, location,’ but our family has chosen three others: innovation, innovation, innovation.” Actually, Beau Rivage can claim both, situated on the Geneva lakefront, with the distant Alps as backdrop, and the terrace of chef Dominique Gauthier’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Chat-Botté (Puss in Boots), facing the lake.

To help re-create the hotel in a modern mode, Mayer enlisted English designer Leila Corbett Elwes to helm a complete renovation of rooms and public spaces, while expanding food and wine programs designed to appeal to both locals and visitors.

One of several meticulously restored suites pays homage to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known as “Sissi,” who, during a visit in 1898, was fatally stabbed by an unidentified person while boarding a steamship for Montreux. Sissi’s portrait and memorabilia of her stay are displayed in a setting that evokes the royal splendor of the era, with antique furniture and artifacts, restored wood paneling, crystal chandeliers, brocades, and damask drapes, but current occupants can luxuriate in a Jacuzzi, watch flat screen TV in the bathtub, and reach for a bedside console with push buttons that control all of the electronic equipment, including raising the blinds to access a newly built private terrace.

Changes in the hotel’s vast kitchen include a totally revamped chef’s table for eight, with dedicated tableware and space for Gauthier, named Swiss chef of the year in 2009 by Gault Millau, to expand his popular cooking classes.

Presiding over one of Geneva’s richest wine cellars, head sommelier Vincent Debergé, recruited last year from posts at the Ritz and Georges V in Paris, and food and beverage director Israël Benyair, who joined Beau Rivage after stints at Mandarin Oriental hotel properties in Washington, D.C., and Boston, have been scheduling a broad range of wine related events.

Beau Rivage is headquarters of the Geneva chapter of Le Wine and Business Club, a European networking organization of professionals who meet monthly for discussions of economic affairs, dégustations, and Gauthier’s elaborate dinners.

Other innovations, some borrowed from tried-and-true American initiatives, include a Chocolate Bar in the winter; “smooth lounge” evenings during the summer featuring notable DJs spinning electronic versions of great classics from the past 50 years; and Restaurant Week, a novelty in Geneva. Le Chat-Botté was the only participant in the first promotion last year, but has now been joined by two other well-known restaurants, Windows at Hôtel d’Angleterre, and Rasoi by Vineet at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Meanwhile, just up the street, an equally celebrated hotel, Le Richemond, has also experienced 21st century change. Remodeled in a colorful, contemporary style after it was purchased from the Armleder family by Rocco Forte in 2004, Le Richemond has recently joined the Dorchester Collection, renovating its popular Italian restaurant Le Jardin, public rooms, and guest quarters; perhaps there will soon be a Charlie Chaplin or Michael Jackson Suite in honor of Le Richemond’s own roster of notable guests.