Evian, France, long known for the purity and healing qualities of its water, has evolved as a destination for rejuvenation and relaxation for Europe’s elite. The town is nestled along the southern shore of Lake Geneva at the base of the Alps, providing a most natural setting to enjoy the outdoors.
The Evian Water Company commissioned the construction of Hôtel Royal in 1905 in honor of King Edward VII, although he died without ever visiting. The hotel has hosted royalty, celebrities and even the G8 summit in 2003. After a two-year closure and meticulous renovation completed in 2015 by Paris-based interior designer François Champsaur and architect François Chatillon, who seamlessly combined the Belle Epoque grandeur with stunning contemporary design, Hôtel Royal is better than ever. Our favorite bits: Refurbished original mosaic floors and Gustave Louis Jaulmes’s neo-Baroqoue frescoes; a Wonka-style glass elevator trimmed in wrought iron; manicured gardens and topiaries on the private 47-acre grounds. Yet, amid all this splendor, the feel is comfortable, unfussy and children are welcome everywhere.
Of the 150 guestrooms, 32 are suites. We stayed in room No. 321 and No. 322, a Residence Lake View room connected to a Sejour Lake View room, the most popular family room combination. Each 400-square-foot room had a King bed (the kids’ bed was made up as two twins) and large picture windows and balconies from which the views of Lake Geneva go on for miles. Bathrooms have double sinks, marble baths and a separate shower, plus generous closet space. Suites ideal for families: Junior Suite Rotonde (No. 118) in the central rotunda of the hotel. It has 580 square feet of space, a King bedroom and sitting area with sofa bed that sleeps one; and is connectable to a Residence room. The Belle Epoque Suite (No. 111) has a larger sitting room with a sofa bed that sleeps two, antique furniture accents, and can be connected to two Residence rooms. Tip: Lake views are worth it, the perspective is fantastic.
Top Accommodations: The sixth floor, reached by a private elevator, has seven suites providing panoramic views of the lake and the Alps. All these are interconnecting and can be reserved for exclusive use. The Royal Suite (No. 604) is tops with more than 2,000 square feet inside and another 600 square feet of private terraces. We loved the large living room with a sitting area and a pool table, dining table for six and a separate art deco bar. The suite has two bedrooms that can sleep four adults and a child, grand bathrooms and walk-in closets. The Presidential Suites (No. 601 and No. 607) are 1,000 square feet with charming antique brass beds and a sofa in the master bedroom, separate living room with sitting area, dining table, desk and a small den area with pull-out sofa (handy for kids). The remaining four Junior Exclusive Suites (No. 602, No. 603, No. 605, No. 606) have 200-square-foot terraces with chaise lounges, plus 600 square feet of interior space with King bedroom and separate sitting room.
The Royal Suite has a large living room with a sitting area and a pool table, dining table for six and a separate bar.
No matter the season, fun flows in Evian. In summer, there is golf, tennis, boating and water sports on Lake Geneva, and there’s river rafting, hiking, mountain biking, zip lining, and even hang-gliding in the mountains. The golf facilities are extensive: It is home to the Evian Championship, the only women’s golf major in Continental Europe. The course has 72 challenging holes overlooking Lake Geneva, plus a top-rated golf academy offering instruction for kids and adults on seven practice holes, driving, putting and pitching ranges, plus a high-tech swing analyzer. In winter, skiing is 15 minutes away in Bernex with a ski school for kids; for more expert slopes, Les Portes du Soleil (12 resorts, 300 runs) is 40 minutes away. Ski lessons, equipment and transportation are all arranged by the hotel; guests need not think of or bring a thing. In fact, Tracy Clement, director of the Sport / Culture Department, says they often get businesspeople in for a day or two from Geneva with only suit and tie. Clement ([email protected]) can be contacted for VIP arrangements.
Our visit in autumn was glorious — we were whisked to a forest adventure course 30 minutes away for a thrilling afternoon zip lining between trees, climbing and maneuvering through outdoor obstacles surrounded by amber, orange and red foliage. The following morning we enjoyed a hike with Virgile, a Hôtel Royal guide for more than a decade, who entertained us with tales of his recent climb up Mount Blanc, while pointing out the actual snow-capped mountains pictured on the Evian logo and the basin where Evian water collects to begin its 15-year natural purification journey. We also took a spin on the hotel’s free electric bikes, a relaxing way to get around.
Hôtel Royal and sister property, the four-star Hôtel Ermitage, share what’s acclaimed as the largest Kid’s Club in France. Summer is high season; about 70 to 80 children a day (from babies to teenagers) will be entertained in the spacious clubhouse with activities like cooking, arts and crafts, acting and games; plus there’s billiards, XBOX, indoor pool, soft play and baby rest area, along with a playground and sports courts outside. Our visit was during a French school holiday and the club was buzzing with laughter and singing as kids prepared a show for Halloween. The Kids Club contact is Carole Aversenq ([email protected]), director at Hôtel Ermitage.
The 12,000-square-foot Spa Evian Source is a fluid space with lake views, 24 treatment rooms, two steam rooms, a sauna, aqua pool / gym and — the best — an outdoor hydro-circuit, a series of seven different Jacuzzis linked by a swim trail. Spa treatments, using products by La Prairie and Comfort Zone, are focused on “health through water.” Children are introduced to spa life with a range of treatments designed specifically for pre-teen and teenage skin. Our 11-year-old daughter loved her first facial — the kind therapist cleared up some minor blemishes and instructed her on proper daily cleansing. For adults, the signature is a Luxury Caviar experience with facial, body and hair-care treatment served with a glass of champagne and caviar canapés. Contact Amanda Deloncle ( [email protected]), spa manager, with unique requests.
Les Fresques is a fine-dining restaurant, overseen by Chef Patrice Vader, where guests choose between four or six courses featuring local produce, fish and meat.
Hôtel Royal’s three restaurants and Le Bar are gorgeous with frescoed ceilings, mosaic floors and large picture windows overlooking the lake. Every meal was delicious and superbly presented, from La Veranda’s extensive breakfast buffet — fresh breads, pastries, smoked fish, meats, cheeses (Abondance and Reblochon are local and magnificent), choice of about 20 jams and spreads, exotic fruits, eggs, or whatever you want to order — to fine dining at Les Fresques by Chef Patrice Vader, a real treat, where you choose between four or six courses featuring local produce, fish and meat. The service is impeccable and friendly enough for children. We also enjoyed a terrific dinner at La Table, the fine dining restaurant at Hôtel Ermitage. Don’t Miss: A foosball table in the lobby of Hôtel Ermitage, a great way to relax after dinner with kids.
A five-minute stroll from the hotel is the town of Evian-les-Bains, a further reflection of the Belle Epoque era with a lakeside promenade, cobblestone pedestrian streets, casino, marina, beaches and historic sites, like the Villa Lumière, the former summer residence of the Lumière family, and the Palais Lumière, the former thermal spa, now a cultural center. On the way to the town, don’t miss the Cachat Spring where Evian natural mineral water emerges; you’ll see locals filling up their water bottles for free. Other essentials include a visit to the farmers’ market on Tuesdays and Fridays; a stop at a stellar cheese shop, La Ferme du Noyer, known for shrink wrapping cheeses and meat for travel; and a ride on the retro funicular railway (April to September).
Hôtel Royal offers complimentary private shuttle service to the town, casino and golf center. Transportation is also arranged for outings and Geneva airport transfers (about an hour and a half away), so there is no need to rent a car. Advisors can get in touch with Samuel Berne ([email protected]), the director of sales and marketing, or General Manager Laurent Roussin ([email protected]), who can also assist with top clients.