In Switzerland, snowfall may signal the start of peak tourist season, but summer is just as equally an opportune time to visit this region of Alpine Europe. Hoteliers know this and as such, Raffles Hotels & Resorts on June 6 will unveil the latest addition to its collection, Raffles Le Montreux Palace, as well as a special package to commemorate the opening.
Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, the 235-room hotel originally was constructed in 1906. Renovations include the addition of four restaurants, two bars, a 21,000-square-foot spa, fitness facility and meeting space for up to 1,200 people.
The property offers views of Lake Geneva and the Alps, which are said to have inspired such varied artists as the writers Lord Byron and Vladimir Nabokov to Queen frontman Freddie Mercury and the entire band of Deep Purple.
According to Jill Button, director of sales for the hotel, the best rooms to book are the corner deluxe rooms.
"They are very spacious and as they are on the corners of the building, they have magnificent views of the lake as well as of the mountains," she says. "They also have a winter garden that is wonderful to have breakfast in early in the morning, overlooking the lake and the Alps."
Rooms are decorated in warm colors like burgundy, royal blue and eggshell and all include a few pieces of antique furniture to give each room its own feeling of classic elegance. Most rooms have a balcony or veranda, giving guests a private opportunity to enjoy the view and soak up some Swiss sunshine.
Standard rooms offer views of the mountains and Superior rooms offer a view of Lake Geneva. Most suites overlook the lake and have private seating areas.
In honor of the soon-to-be-opened property, the Raffles Le Montreux is offering a "Fashionable Summer" package, where guests receive a complimentary third night when booking a two-night stay at the hotel. The package also includes a daily complimentary Swiss buffet breakfast, a welcome cocktail in the Bar Rose d'Or and unlimited access to the Willow Stream Spa. The package's special rate starts at $426 per night (remember the third night is free) and are valid for travel between June 6 and July 6 and July 2 through September 5.
To book, visit www.montreux.raffles.com or call 866-840-8211. For special requests or questions, agents can contact Michael Smithuis, general manager of Raffles Le Montreux Palace, via phone at +41 21 962 1004 or e-mail at [email protected]
The start of summer is an ideal time for the hotel to be opening its doors, as the season sees many special events come to the area. "Probably one of the busiest times of the year is during the Montreux Jazz Festival," says Button. "It takes place each year the first Friday in July for two full weeks, including three weekends."
This year, the event is taking place from July 6 through July 22.
More Seasonal Events
Next June, Montreux also will host the Ferrari Grand Prix, which, "for the aficionado of Ferrari, is a must," Button says. In addition to the summer events, the Christmas markets in Montreux that run from November 24 to December 24 also bring a lot of visitors to the area. Button recommends booking rooms at least six months in advance throughout the year in order to ensure availability.
In addition to the seasonal swell of festivals, Montreux also offers plenty of activities, including train rides to vineyards, chocolate factories and the medieval town of Gruyeres, the home of the namesake cheese. The region also offers hiking, biking and paragliding.
"Our concierge is here at all times to assist our guests in booking helicopter flights over the Alps, organizing wine tasting tours or dinner with famous chefs in the area," Button says. "In fact, the Lake Geneva region has perhaps the most Michelin-star restaurants in the whole of Switzerland."
The country seems to best exemplify the diversity of all the European Alpine regions. Regarded as the skiing capital of the world, Switzerland in the winter months offers a range of ski towns, quite literally from A to Z, such as Arosa and Zermatt. Come summer, those snow-capped mountains give way to cavernous valleys that offer breathtaking views perfect for picturesque sight-seeing hikes and walks.
Those looking for a more leisurely Alpine vacation can opt to take a ride in one of Switzerland's many mountain trains, which allow them to take in the greenery and peaks of the Alps from the comfort of a restful seat.
In the winter, Europeans and Americans alike flock to the area's snowy lodges to ski and snowboard, while the summer welcomes visitors on escorted tours and cruises that traverse the vast and panoramic landscape. If you're lucky enough to experience both seasons in Switzerland, you're bound to have a completely different experience on each trip.
Given the popularity of the region, conglomerate tour companies like Globus Journeys and smaller operators like Alpine Adventures offer extensive itineraries to Switzerland through both the winter and summer seasons.
For example, Travcoa's (www.travcoa.com) "Magnificent Alpine Lakes" trip offers a luxuriously long stay in the Alpine Region. The 12-day trip meets in Geneva, Switzerland and travels by train to Milan Italy, where guests will end their trip. In between, they'll enjoy views of the Matterhorn mountain range, which borders Switzerland and Italy, as well as participate in wine and cheese tastings and explore medieval castles. In Milan, guests will get a chance to view Leonardo da Vinci's famed painting, "The Last Supper."
Departure dates for 2007 are August 19 and September 9 and pricing per person is $9,395, not including airfare. Trip dates for 2008 are August 22 and September 19, but agents must call 866-591-0070 for pricing. Travcoa offers a 10 percent commission rate.
No matter the season, airlift to Switzerland's Zurich Airport (www.zurich-airport.com) is consistent. The gate-way to the Alpine region, it has more than 120 airlines operating out of it, plus it serves as a hub for Swiss International Air Lines (www.swiss. com), British Airways (www.britishairways.com), Lufthansa (www.lufthansa.com) and Air France (www.airfrance.com)—all carriers that connect Zurich with more than 50 countries.
United States-based operators flying to Zurich include Continental Airlines (www.continental.com), Delta Air Lines (www.delta.com), United Airlines (www.united.com) and US Airways (www.usairways.com). Emirates (www.emirates.com) also serves Zurich.