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Escape The Heat

Summer holidays in the French Alps

With the weather in Britain going from wet and cold to suffocating hot and humid in just a question of days, a sweltering beach holiday destination may be far less attractive than it used to be; why fly to another country, in high season, just to experience the same baking temperatures you could find in Skye, Swansea or Sussex?

The modern summer holiday is about escaping the heat. Fortunately, there are many cool (in both senses) destinations an environmentally friendly train ride away. Enter Haute-Savoie, in the French region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. In case the word “Alpes” is not enough to set the stage, I’ll clarify: it’s got altitude, which makes for clean air and cooler climes; there’s still plenty of sunshine (pack factor 50); there’s lots to do, year-round; it’s supremely serene and jaw-droppingly beautiful; and oh, the food.

For this trip to the Haute-Savoie, I enjoyed the hospitality of the Handwritten Collection, staying at their two new properties, one in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, a stone-throw from Chamonix and the other one in Annecy, known as the Venice of the Alps, for the numerous canals the river Thiou forms as it passes through the town.


In the past year, two new four-star hotels by the Handwritten Collection – part of the Accor hotel group – have opened in the region. The newest of the two – Le Saint Gervais Hotel & Spa – debuted in January and is already a firm favourite of guests who are looking for the magical combination of incredible nature, fantastic food, stress-melting spas, and a very personal approach to hospitality.

Situated at the north end of the picture-postcard town of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, the hotel is an oasis from which to explore the region by bicycle or on foot in summer. In the winter, there are two ski areas nearby that offer supreme slopes without the crowds that plague more well-known areas.

The design of the bright lobby at Le Saint-Gervais Hotel & Spa finds its roots in the shapes and colours prevalent in Art Deco.

The Handwritten Collection’s ever-present refrain is, “What’s your passion?” This is the primary question the group poses to its hotelier partners, and the answer is never the same twice. For the owner of the Saint Gervais Hotel & Spa, it was his home country of Turkey, which is reflected in subtle touches that infuse every aspect of the guest experience, from the beautiful hand-painted dishes in the restaurant, Avanti, to the spa’s marble jacuzzi (not to mention the products used in the treatments). The light-filled and Art Deco-inspired lobby makes you feel that you are being welcomed into a grand home (which the hotel once was); then there’s the citrussy kolonya (eau de cologne) that’s misted on guests’ hands upon arrival – a symbol of Turkish hospitality since the Ottoman empire.

Superior double rooms feature a balcony, from which to enjoy the fresh mountain air as soon as you wake up.

Every facet of the hotel exudes laid-back, unfussy ease. The rooms’ sunset palette and clean lines are a nod to the golden age of Hollywood by way of Istanbul. Ranging in size from Superior (double bed) to Suite (two or more beds, suitable for families) every room breathes quiet luxury: recessed lighting, soft velvet headboards and supremely comfy sheets, pillows, robes, slippers and throws. Every room has a balcony from which you can take in the awe-inspiring scenery.
Superior double rooms feature a balcony, from which to enjoy the fresh mountain air as soon as you wake up.
Whether you’re here to hike, bike, ski or simply get some fresh mountain air, visit the spa. There’s a sauna as well as an indoor pool and jacuzzi. In the summer, take a dip in the small but beautiful pool with a view of the mountains. Spa services including massages and facials using Les Thermes Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc products, made from Mont Blanc thermal water and alpine plants.

The Spa consists of an indoor pool, a Jacuzzi, a sauna and four treatment rooms. It allows access to the outdoor pool and its sun terrace is open all summer.

Descending the stairs towards the hotel’s Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, Avanti, the scent of truffles is unmistakable; after that, it’s almost impossible not to order the truffle carpaccio or the fresh home-made tagliatelle with truffle shavings. The summer menu also includes fresh burrata, tomato and basil salad; grilled sardines; carpaccio made from either beef or the fish of the day, with lemon confit and sumac; and brochettes of salmon or lamb and vegetables. Pineapple carpaccio with speculoos biscuit crumbs and pina-colada sorbet is an ultra-light summer pudding; enjoy it with raki – the national drink of Turkey, which is made from twice-distilled grapes – or a small, sweet Turkish coffee.

Avanti serves dishes based in seasonal produce accompanied by a great selection of wines.

After (or before) dinner, Le Marie Paradis, the hotel’s high-ceilinged bar, located in the historic part of the building, is essential. Bartender Samuel Baha makes a special mojito, a signature drink with raki, white and brown rum, brown sugar, green lemon, mint, sparkling water, bitters and fresh redcurrants. The outdoor terrace has views of both the mountains and the historic high street of the town of Saint Gervais. The interior is palatial, and there is a separate, palatial “living room” that would be perfect for hosting a private party of 40 or more guests.

The outdoor terrace has views of both the mountains and the historic high street of the town of Saint Gervais.

And finally, the hotel has five meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 110 people for banquets/parties, conferences, away days or retreats.

Book your stay HERE.
Learn more about Saint-Gervais-les-Bains HERE.


The second Handwritten Collection property – the Splendid Hotel Annecy – opened in May. The hotel’s recent transformation at the hands of renowned French designer Thierry d’Istria is a loving ode to the building’s 125-year history. For this property, the answer to the question “What’s your passion?” was Art Deco. So d’Istria worked with the owner to preserve what he could; in this case, one feature stood out: the gorgeous staircase. Around this gleaming spiral, d’Istria designed an interior that’s brimming with references to Art Deco and its more angular cousin, Bauhaus.

The original staircase of the building was preserved by French designer Thierry d’Istria, who designed the rest of the interior with multiples reference to Art Deco and to Bauhaus.

The lobby and its neighbouring bar area are a celebration of Art Deco with circles, mirrors, arches and monochrome punctuated with sumptuous sunshine-coloured velvet furniture and curtains; the floors are pure Hollywood regency with marble and geometric tiles. Hallways on the upper floors have flocked geometric wallpaper that invites you to touch it; the overall effect is both welcoming and chic, like visiting the home of an eccentric and well-to-do aunt who loves to entertain.

The Splendid Bar offers a fun retro chic atmosphere where to enjoy a drink before or after dinner.

The guest rooms exude a quieter but still quirky vibe, with curvy velvet headboards and bentwood seating; accent walls are covered in Extinct Animals wallpaper by MOOOI and Arte, the interiors brand of Dutch interior designer Marcel Wanders – playful and dreamy. A tiny statue of Adonis – a mortal lover of Greek goddesses Aphrodite and Persephone – can be found in each room (make of its meaning what you will; only d’Istria knows for certain). The suites have wraparound balconies with views of Canal du Vassé and Lake Annecy as well as living rooms. One of them features a separate room with a sofa bed that sleeps two. In all of them, both setting and bedding are exquisite; guests will find themselves sinking into the crisp white duvet and generous pillows at the end of the day, cocooned, indulged and happy.

The Superior Deluxe Family room features a double bed and a double sofa bed, complete with a generous balcony overlooking the lake.

Splendid breakfasts are plentiful and varied, with a wide variety of hot and cold options, fresh fruit, and locally produced yogurt and cheeses. But there’s one sweet thing you won’t find anywhere else: gâteau de Savoie, a cake so cloud-light, it almost doesn’t qualify as cake. There’s no restaurant on site, but since the hotel is located in the heart of the old town, there are many dining options just a few minutes’ walk away, serving everything from salads and croque-monsieur to regional specialities including fondue Savoyarde, tartiflette, raclette and diots et crozets. The area also boasts seven Michelin-starred restaurants, but these fill up months in advance, so book ahead.

Annecy is known as the Venice of the Alps for the numerous canals the river Thiou forms as it passes through the town.

The main focus of Annecy is, of course, its 14km-long lake, which is the cleanest in Europe. Water Taxi Annecy offers tours of the lake, highlighting its fascinating history as well as some of its most outrageous and high-profile properties. In Annecy proper, there are three beaches for swimming – all of them are free. Dotted around the lake, there are 10 others, some of which are open to the public. There are paddle-boats and sailboats for hire, and the hotel has its own paddle-board complimentary to guests. Indoor entertainment options include Annecy Castle and its museum; the Palais de l’Île, a tiny museum in what was once a prison; the 20th-century Basilique de la Visitation; and the Musée du Film d’Animation. And in the winter, there are two nearby ski areas that are ideal for beginners; for more experienced skiers, there are options a bit further away.

Book your stay HERE.
Learn more about Annecy HERE.

Words: Lisa Hillman
Opening picture: © Krzysztof Golik

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