On the Swiss Riviera, a historic property attempts to balance past and present

A close look at..
Montreux | Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic

When a Grand Hotel in Switzerland is brought to mind, the almost immediate association is a gracious historic building from the Belle Époque, a multitude of balconies with intricate iron railings, a view that embraces the natural spectacle of the Alps…
The Suisse Majestic is exactly that. Opened in 1870, it bears testimony to a time when wealthy English ‘tourists’ launched a fashion that would later be called ‘tourism’ and that helped to put Switzerland and its reputation in hospitality excellence on the map.
Even today, the area of Montreux advertises itself as the ‘Swiss Riviera’ and obvious indeed are the parallels to its famous French-Italian namesake: a rail line hugging the landscape and providing access that is a performance in itself, the high-rising peaks that protect south-facing locales, a particularly mild micro-climate, the views that open onto a deep blue expanse of water. But unlike the seemingly boundless Mediterranean, it is the mountainous French shore opposite Montreux that provides the ingredients which create a truly breathtaking alpine vista from almost every angle.

The Appeal
Back in the days, the ‘Grand Hotel Suisse’ certainly must have been the epitome of convenience and luxury as it allowed its wealthy guests to walk right out of the Montreux train station and into the hotel. Little has changed today, as the hotel’s facade is immediately recognizable to whoever arrives by train from Geneva, Italy or, even better, the scenic Golden Pass Line from Lucerne via Gstaad. Once inside the lobby, one is almost instinctively drawn to the panorama that glints through the enormous floor-to-ceiling bay windows of the contemporary restaurant addition. Due to its topography, Montreux is organized along different levels that run parallel to the lake and are connected by steps. Originally, the building accommodated this level change by a lower (lakeside) and upper (station-side) entrance, thus creating two distinctive buildings, ‘Majestic’ and ‘Suisse’, which make up the hotel. Following the hotel’s extensive renovation and reopening in 2010, the lower entrance has been abandoned, essentially compromising the direct access to the lakefront through the lower wing.

The somewhat unassuming modern front door opposite the train station leads directly to the hotel’s public rooms which are situated four levels above the lakefront – a particularly pleasant asset for the actual restaurant, the terrace (which is transformed into a lounge by a tent-like structure during winter), the lobby bar and the reception area. ‘From Tradition to Trend’ being the new motto of the hotel, only the original dining room (now used for events) and a few of the actual meeting spaces feature their restored Belle Époque décor. The remaining public areas are renovated in a generic ‘present-day’ style which, with regard to the building’s architectural pizazz, seems sterile and quite stark, courtesy of a color scheme that draws a lot upon the contrast between gleaming white walls, dark furniture and some colorful touches for fabrics.

Still, when liberated from its temporary winter structure, the terrace – actually a veritable outdoor lounge above Lake Geneva – commands a panorama that undoubtedly merits the word ‘Majestic’ of the hotel’s name.

The Quarters
The 155 guest rooms and junior suites are distributed among the two wings of the building, essentially located above or below the main floor at the center of the hotel. While absolutely spotless, a lakeside room that comes with the privilege of a front row seat for the beautiful scenery outside, almost makes one want to forgive the laminate flooring and absence of any carpeting inside. As in many historic hotels of that period where next to no major structural changes to the guest units have been undertaken, the rooms are on the smaller side and the (retrofitted) bathrooms even smaller. Though the latter being clad in marble and perfectly supplied, more luxurious touches in the guest rooms proper are hard to be found.

The View
The major asset of staying at Suisse Majestic, the lake and mountain panorama, can only be enjoyed from the front facing rooms which are supplied with private balconies. Lakeside rooms on the 4th floor have the benefit of generous terraces but are situated directly over the restaurant and outdoor lounge. The units in the lower part of the building could also be slightly impaired by traffic noise on the lakefront Grand-Rue. At the top of the building, the seemingly ‘floating’ views from the 8th floor Junior ‘Executive’ Suites pretty nearly recall those of cruise ship staterooms. Not at all offering the same outlook even though they have balconies as well, the rooms on the city-side literally face the train station and are probably the least desirable.

The Quality
Quality and high rates are synonyms of Swiss hotels and in this combination, the Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic is a reliable and safe choice in Montreux. Since beautiful historic hotels are not in short supply here  – the spectrum reaches from ultra-deluxe corporate (Fairmont Le Montreux Palace) to uninspiring (Golf-Hôtel René Capt) – the Suisse Majestic’s positioning as ‘charming and en vogue’ certainly is a distinctive factor that seems to work to its advantage. Breakfast overlooking the lake is a joy; foregoing an excessive spread, the buffet is comprehensive and of excellent quality with beverages made to order. However, as for ambiance, and especially in connection with service, the hotel lacks an individual personal note which would compensate for several shortcomings and evident compromises.

The Name of the Game
In the Swiss version of Cannes, a historic property that tries hard to achieve the delicate link between tradition and modernity, but that is essentially saved by the views that it commands.

Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic
Avenue des Alpes 45
1820 Montreux
Switzerland

 

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