France Travel Review: Évian Resort
During my years of globe-trotting with the luxury press I’ve never heard mention of the destination, Évian-les-Bains or even the abbreviated, Évian, as mere mortals know it. I’ve heard many tales of the Riviera jet-set and the foodies who took early retirement in Provence and even the cosmopols with a pied-à-terre in every capital city, who eulogise about mornings in the Louvre slipping the hordes, who’ve come to worship at Leonardo’s ‘Lisa’ in preference to gazing admiringly with the other chin strokers, at his ‘Virgin of the Rocks’.
In the age of the ‘aged’, (10,000 people a day are retiring in the US alone) and more importantly those trying to arrest that inevitable journey (yes, that’s the rest of us), it is even more baffling why Évian has only troubled the dinner tables of the elite in bottled form. For those who prefer the physicality of jet skis, the challenge of mountain trekking or the beats of a Technics turntable this is not your gig. You’re free to leave after this full stop.
Évian is ‘the’ chill-out zone, a place to relax, rejuvenate and feel better about yourself. You really don’t appreciate the power of water until you’ve been here. It informs everything in Évian. It sets the tone. It determines the pace. It even shapes the sports and complements the food. It may sound strange, but it’s key to your stay.
I stayed at Évian Resort, an expansive, generous and tranquil oasis near the Swiss border with views onto Lake Geneva. In a nutshell, it has a couple of hotels, Spas, Golf Club, Kid’s Resort and ok I admit, it does have a full activities programme for Water Sports, cycling and trekking for those who may want to get the adrenaline going before a heavenly massage. There’s also a collection of stunning gardens and even a Casino which does seem a little out of kilter with the whole experience. The fluidity is maintained by an efficient hotel shuttle service from one activity and destination to another.
I checked into the 4 Star, Hotel Ermitage. No flunkeys standing on ceremony here. You breeze in, check-in and take a lift to your room, part the sliding balcony doors and gaze out onto the beauty of Lake Geneva and the manicured greenery of 47 acres below.
Built in 1909 by the architect Martinet, the Hotel Ermitage has been described as stylish, not opulent.
I concur. Opulence misses the point. Its charm is effortless, retaining the feel and intimacy of a family home. It is able to navigate the high wire act of pleasing romancing couples whilst still remaining family friendly.
The Parisian interior designer Patrick Ribes’ renovation is a silent triumph, maintaining serenity and intimacy, embracing natural forms but not compromising the elegance and old world charm. This is played out across eighty rooms with nature’s own colour palette and materials framing the architecture, using daylight to illuminate.
That feeling of authenticity and staying true to regional tradition is translated to the menu designed by the Chef at La Table. Content is determined by local produce and the season. Alternatively, one can enjoy the informality of La Bibliothèque, with its broader, Mediterranean selections. Night caps are taken fire-side at Le Birdie, a welcoming, easy listening bar.
So let’s go to the money shot, Spa Quatre Terres. It really is Hotel Ermitage’s jewel. Natural hues convey a calming effect and earthy treatments continue the theme. Elements include pure clays, semi-precious stones, crystals and oils which detox the body leaving you feeling lighter, renewed and invigorated. There are ritualistic echoes of India, Tibet and China and the therapists’ expertise is peerless. You won’t enjoy the escapist design of city spas like the Kempinski in Geneva but it’s the process, technique and expertise that creates the end result one truly desires – that of well-being and complete relaxation. There are varying treatments using 4 main mineral elements: crystals, clay, earth, stones. I was in a coma like state after my Traditional Chinese Hot Clay treatment which returned a youthful, smoothness and glow to my skin. Waking up was probably the hardest thing.
Minutes from Hotel Ermitage but a world away is the Belle Époque, 5 star splendour of Hotel Royal. Set in the same 47-acre park between lake and mountains, its structural beauty is unquestionable. Built by the architect Jean-Albert Hébrard in 1909 with the ambition to be the world’s best hotel, it was later dedicated to Edward VII.
The prominence of the baroque style architecture in ceilings and domes defines it. Bespoke furniture is hand made in England using rosewood, mahogany from Cuba, Ceylon lemon tree, oak and ash. It has a timeless magnetism and you can see why it was patronised by Hollywood siren, Greta Garbo and swashbuckler, Errol Flynn.
Walk outside, past carefully arranged flower beds, you are immediately seduced by a scented Rose garden and then glimpse the nearby Royal Vegetable Garden, home to the rarest varieties of vegetables and the finest fruit trees.
Dining here was a delight. The extravagance of Edward VII room with its subtle mix of heritage and frescoed flamboyance was an experience. The chef concocted a number of home grown culinary delights that consistently raised the bar. Vegetables were mined from the garden outside which added a sense of uniqueness and individuality.
Hotel Royal possesses its own gem, Spa Évian Source. It truly is a haven of calm with beauty treatments, hydrotherapy and the latest generation of fitness equipment. Again it doesn’t share the high design values of other named spas but its the programmes and treatments that matter.
Treatments traverse the themes of regeneration and youthfulness – the ‘source of balance’, realigning the body’s energy. I was too busy relaxing to think of that as I lost myself in the 5-star Évian Massage (50 mins), a semi-energising oil-based treatment that stimulates the peripheral parts of the body to soothe and dissolve tension accumulated in the body’s energy centres, working the extremities of head, feet and hands. I don’t think a pick-axe would have woken me. Only an intuitive glance at the clock reminded me I’d overstayed my welcome.
Other treatments focus on the ‘Source of beauty’, working and relaxing the face. This can be furthered with other beauty services from manicures and pedicures to revitalising hair and oxygenating the scalp.
For those wishing to adhere to a particular well-being programme of eating healthily, sleeping well, exercising, hydrating and revitalising, the 6-day Spa Detox wellbeing programme is the answer. There is an initial diagnostic assessment enabling the design of a 16 treatment pathway.
Children are facilitated all year round across an expanse of 4,000m2. It’s a dream drop off point for parents and a fantasy destination for kids with a pool for all seasons, outdoor games, creative workshops and instruction and introduction to different sports. Qualified staff attend the toddlers with other activities designed for varying groups up to energetic 11 year olds, then Royal Rider (12 to 16 years) engages teenagers with thrill-packed experiences not forgetting essentials like the latest multimedia equipment. This allows parents to indulge in full spa days or time on the golf range.
Call a shuttle and in minutes you’ll arrive at The Golf Academy. It’s an enjoyable, no fuss, release. Golf Pro, Patrick Terru’s natural approach immediately puts you at ease. The Academy itself has been thoughtfully designed by a team of specialists and all the nuances and challenges of a championship course have been recreated in a series of modules in a glorious lakeside setting.
Each player can enjoy a tailored teaching programme to both fit and challenge their game. There is also an abundance of technology from video swing analysis, new club design and bespoke fittings. There is currently major renovation being undertaken across the course’s 37 acre site. Impressively, it already hosts a number of high profile competitions from the Évian Pro-Am to the Ladies Évian Masters, which draws the world’s golfing elite.
What’s particularly exciting for partners or groups who wish to play golf and spa, is the adjoining accommodation at Manoir du Golf. This summer it will open its doors to golf enthusiasts. Built in 1911, it retains a cosy, manor house feel, perfect for golf devotees who can also enjoy the Évian Resort’s facilities.
There are no hard and fast rules and regimes at Évian Resort. You call the shots. You can gorge on the full french blow-out – fantastic food, late bars, throw some dice and even catch some rays in the bargain, returning home feeling like Alain Delon, only half a stone heavier. You can also be selective with your intake and explore some spa magic, amble along on auto pilot and feel rejuvenated and ready to face the world. Or alternatively you could go all the way and plan a dedicated detox and revitalising week, make menu choices that match your health regime and cherry pick the Spa treatments that are going to make you feel like your younger self and much the better for it. The good news is, all of this is achievable at Évian Resorts. There’s no 1980s Jane Fonda workout here. It’s a place that keeps time with you and your needs; body and mind, at your pace and rhythm.
Healing through Water
Everybody is at liberty to enjoy the life enhancing facilities of Les Thermes d’Évian®, near the waterfront. Here, the legend of Marquis de Lessert, who discovered the benefits of this crystal clear, “easily-absorbed” water, resonate loudest. The science is impressive; evian® natural mineral water is pollution-free, pH neutral and has both a low-mineral content including bicarbonates, calcium and magnesium, and a low sodium content. A dietician’s dream. It owes these unique properties to its origins. The hydrogeological site formed 35,000 years ago filters and enriches the water during its 15-year journey sheltered under thick layers of clay. You can understand why some English Premier League teams ‘pre-season’ here.
Spa programmes address issues as diverse as rheumatology, bone and joint problems, digestive and urinary system complaints and metabolic disorders. There are natural comparisons with the springs in the Swiss village of Leukerbad, where an incredibly mobile, older generation take the waters on a daily basis. This concept of “Health through water” permeates all the treatments, whether warm jets are firing forcefully across your aching shoulders and spine as you stand in the pool, or teeming gallons of hot Evian water seep into your body as the masseuse works her magic. The emphasis is on ‘Wellness’, ‘Fitness’ and ‘Renewal’ and après-massage you feel alive and renewed rather than being so chilled out, you have to ‘time travel’ back to yourself. It’s such a different experience.
Évian Resort. Key facts
· Located 45 km from Geneva Airport
· Rooms from 240 euros per night
· 80 rooms and suites with views of the lake
or of the park
· 2 restaurants
• Hotel Ermitage (Spa Quatre Terres)
• Hotel Royal (Spa Évian Source)
· 2 swimming-pools, hammam, saunas, Jacuzzis
· Baby & Kid’s Resort with a swimming-pool
dedicated to the children (from 4 mths to 16 yrs)
· The Évian Masters Golf Club and the Évian Masters
On the waterfront
• Les Thermes Évian®
• The Casino
Évian Resort, Rive Sud du Lac de Genève,
74500 Évian-les-Bains, France
T +33 (0)4 50 26 85 00
Les Thermes Évian®
Place de la libération
T +33 (0)4 50 75 02 30