There’s an evocative phrase in French – les pieds dans l’eau. It means literally ‘feet in the water’ and is used to describe a property or place that is right up along the shore.
The Hotel Les Cygnes, in the renowned resort of Evian on Lake Geneva, has its pieds dans l’eau. You can’t get any closer to the lakeshore.
In a town filled with luxury hotels and reminders of a glorious past, this lovely and welcoming haven provides a different atmosphere. It is utterly delightful and welcoming but rather than grandiose, it has a homespun character. Teddy bears are stuffed into every corner, the walls are crowded with images and art, and each floor is separated by French windows, keeping out any noise from the happy eaters downstairs.
The setting may be idyllic but two other things stand out in this lovely hotel: the friendliness of the staff and the quality of the food.
The staff pretended not to notice as I had my first ever water-tasting class right in their main bar – and we didn’t even buy the bottles there.
And then there was the food, classic French with a liberal sprinkling of local specialties.
Dinner here is a special event, especially if you’re sitting at the outer edge of the restaurant – just above the water. You can hear the waves of Lake Geneva lapping against the veranda and the vacation feel is real.
“You know, we have our own spring,” said Sébastien Bruet, the hotel’s owner. “It’s called the Graziella and it’s still here. France requires us to test it twice a day if it’s going to be bottled for drinking. You can imagine how much that costs so we just use it for the pool now.”
In 1984 Les Cygnes was made up of a big house, a bakery and a café, with a few rooms rented by the year. The big house was bought by the water giant Vittel in 1906, which it used to bottle Graziella water until 1926.
After its stint as a bottling plant the house was refurbished, expanded, redesigned and was wildly popular for a time. Fashion being what it is, the restaurant shut down for a few years in 1995 and reopened in 2002. I have no idea what it was like then but I can certainly vouch for this new incarnation.
So if you’re looking for a lakeside hotel, with all modern amenities, wonderful food, great atmosphere and its own spring…
Things every woman traveler should know
- You’ll feel perfectly fine on your own at Les Cygnes. Plenty of families and groups of friends dine here but the staff is so friendly you’ll be completely at ease.
- It’s a bit on the edge of town, about a ten-minute walk to the center along the lakeshore.
- The hotel’s parking lot is actually across the street.
- Evian is a safe town and I wouldn’t hesitate to walk around on my own at pretty much any time – and it does have an active nightlife. At the height of summer I’d be a bit cautious with the bling, but delinquency usually centers around parking lots and the defacing of flower beds. Even these are solved right away now that the town has installed a few video cameras.
- The best way to get to Evian is by boat from Lausanne across Lake Geneva, or by driving around the lake from Geneva. The drive takes a bit over an hour.