In the first of our four part luxury travel views column from our Summer 2021 issue, LUX editor-in-chief Darius Sanai enjoys fine dining and Alpine views at Mandarin Oriental, Geneva
Geneva is a city that will be known to LUX readers as a place to park the jet ahead of a skiing holiday, and a city to visit a few times a year on banking business.
It is also a centre of tourism, although its hotels tend to be focused more on the business traveller: plenty of exclusive restaurants and conference rooms, less in the way of relaxation and views.
During the lull in the pandemic last summer, I decided to combine visits to clients in Geneva, Andermatt, Zurich, Germany and Champagne into one single drive, rather than the more fraught process of taking planes, trains and taxis.
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Arriving in Geneva by car rather than the usual plane/taxi combination opens your eyes to the city’s location. To arrive from northwest Europe, you make your way down a winding motorway through a valley in the Jura Mountains, with the Alps opening out in front of you beyond the lake.
It was a summer’s day with deep-blue Alpine skies, and I would rather have camped out in a deckchair then be cooped up behind the sealed windows of a business hotel, however luxurious.
Fortunately, the Mandarin Oriental is a place to combine both business and leisure. After a Covid-secure check-in, I was ushered into a lift by myself, and checked into my junior terrace suite. In many hotels, even expensive ones, a junior suite is really an excuse to charge a higher rate by sticking a sofa into a king-size bedroom. But not here.
To the right, a big glass-walled bathroom, with an electric blind you could lower for privacy. To the left, an extensive dressing area, and in the room itself a big glass desk, cabinets and bookshelves, plenty of oriental chic furniture, a triple-bed corner sofa and coffee table, with a lot of space in between. Not a suite of rooms, but a very large, well-designed and light bedroom, which could easily have been divided in two – which would have ruined the effect.
Outside was the pièce de résistance, certainly on a sunny summer’s day (less useful in Swiss winters): an extensive private terrace with sun loungers, chairs, a table, outdoor candles and a Buddha. The terrace looked out over the Rhine river at the point it tapers from the lake, across the old town and the rest of the city to the Alps beyond.
Furnishing was in a pleasing contemporary classic green and gold, and the glass bathroom answered a question Nick Jones, founder of the Soho House group, posed in my head some 20 years ago. At that stage, Nick was just planning to launch his first hotel, Babington House in the British countryside. He told me over lunch that the rooms would be completely different to anything anyone had seen before in a hotel, starting with the bathrooms. “Why should there be a bathroom on the right or left as you go in?” he said, somewhat gnomically.
Now, as anyone who has been to any of the Soho House properties and their imitators will know, you can find a bath almost anywhere within the perimeter of the room. But the problem is that people want privacy and cosiness in bathrooms, sometimes; and at other times they may wish to see the world or the world to see them. The glass-walled bathroom in my terrace suite was the perfect answer: with the blind raised, this was a large, wet, marble part of the bedroom and terrace. And with it down, total privacy.
On my last night I had that welcome rarity on business trips, an evening alone, due mainly to pandemic caution deterring any formal dinners with clients. It was a warm evening, and I ordered room service on my terrace from Yakumanka, the hotel’s acclaimed Peruvian restaurant.
Three staff members arrived and swiftly moved to the terrace to set the table; the courses arrived separately, so they would not get cold.
This is pure, focused cuisine. White fish with calamari, tamarind sauce and tartar; grilled calamari with white chaufa and Szechuan leche de tigre. Particularly memorable was the sautéed rice with calamari, lettuce, bok choy, Chinese cabbage and tortilla.
All accompanied by a creamy but fresh bottle of Deutz champagne and that view across the city to the Alps. A business hotel and a relaxation zone all in one in the heart of town and with the flawless professional service, swift yet relaxed, the group has made its name for.
Book your stay: mandarinoriental.com/geneva
This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue.