The spa town of Evian-les-Bains on the shores of Lake Geneva, Haute-Savoie, has played host to a glittering list of guests spanning royalty, celebrities and notables over the course of two centuries. In fact, it was so popular that even Frankenstein holidayed here…
The history of Evian
The curative virtues of the water in Evian were first discovered in the late eighteenth century by a French aristocrat. The Marquis de Lessert, whilst out walking in the town in 1789, took a drink from a natural spring. He was much taken with it pronouncing it to be ‘easy to drink’. It started a trend and an enterprising local started to sell bottles of it. People were wowed by the water’s qualities. If it was good enough to drink, it was certainly good enough to bathe in. The first “Hydropathetic Establishment” (thermal spa) opened in 1826. Hotels, restaurants, and a casino followed, keen to cash in on the visitors who flocked to the town.
What to see in Evian
From the hotel it’s a downhill stroll and twenty minute uphill cardio-vascularly challenging hike back to the town of Evian-les Bains. It’s a surprisingly culturally rich town with a medieval hospital and a thirteenth century church. The Belle Epoque stye is obvious with a lake front 1878-built casino and a theatre with a neo-classical façade which was built in 1885, the 1900-built Palais Lumiere, and the 1826-built Cachat Pump Room (which is being restored). The funicular railway was completed in 1907. At the Cachat Source, Sainte Catherine’s Fountain, built in 1903, the locals fill up their bottles with free, magnesium-rich, sand-bank filtered water. A French count fleeing from the French Revolution, suffering from gallstones was said to be cured by drinking the water from this source daily. It flows year round at a constant temperature of 11.6°C.
Tranquil. Sans gaz.
Lac Leman (Lake Geneva in English) is the largest lake in western Europe. It gets its name from either the Greek for ‘lake’s port’ or the Celtic word ‘limos’, referring to the local fertile mud. It’s just a 30-minute ferry crossing from Evian to Lausanne from where you can easily visit the Swiss Riviera and the steep-sided UNESCO-listed Lavaux vineyards on the shores of the lake. If you do, stop for a tasting of the local Chasselas wines. The Domaine Bovard in Cully is one of the best, their Buxus Sauvignon Blanc is superb. In the 12th century, Cistercian monks created miles of walls and terraces using French stones across the lake to support the terraces. So, there are, arguably, two French sides of Lake Geneva. The monks also planted the original vine rootstock.
Lunch at Tout un Monde Restaurant in Lavaux and you’ll enjoy a view down most of the 104 mile perimeter, croissant-shaped, 25-mile long by 11-mile wide lake which is fed by forty-two rivers. From the terrace you see Evian, the Bernese Alps, Mont Pelerin, the Savoie and Valais mountains, Montreux and Vevey. While digesting your char, féra, perch fillets and lake shrimps you can watch the yachts and swanky boats as you relish the fabulous view.
Everyone sleeps well at the Hotel Royal. All except Mrs Frankenstein. She and her husband honeymooned there, before she was strangled. In Mary Shelley’s dark tale, Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the monster, agrees to create a mate for him. Destroying it before completion, the monster vows ‘I will be with you on your wedding night.’ On the day Victor married Elisabeth, the monster breaks into the bridal suite at the Hotel Royal and strangles the new bride.
The 467-acre 150 room hotel opened in 1909 in honour of King Edward VII who died before he could schmooze there and blag some luxury. The hotel was allowed to keep its royal status. The Jean-Albert Hebrard-designed “white steam ship anchored in the hills” sits above Lac Leman. One of the first spa palace hotels, the hotel has always been a magnet for the rich and famous. The spa’s relaxation lounge is the Aga Khan III’s old apartment. They still have the original chandelier in storage. The Royal was the holiday choice for sultans, maharajahs, shahs, and other royalty as well as celebrities and statesmen. Just 45 minutes from Les Portes du Soleil, Europe’s largest ski area, it hosted the 2003 G8 summit.
Frankenstein’s monster would never have made a spa therapist. But he could have been mistaken for a customer. Or health tourist. He had the gait of one. Frankenstein walked like he had a metabolic disorder or a urinary ailment. Or maybe he was just getting used to the very scanty, hardly-there and rather tight briefs the spa staff make you wear.
By Kevin Pllley and Janine Marsh
Website: Evian Tourist Office: tourism.evian-tourisme.com
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