Scenic Switzerland – Lausanne, Montreux and Geneva via BA Club EuropeLHR-GVA
It was a typically British (ie. slightly overcast) mid-July day as we entered a busy Terminal 5 at Heathrow and headed to BA’s First Wing ahead of our flight to Geneva. There was a short wait for a desk to become free to collect boarding passes; I noticed that attractive flower arrangements have been added to the once clinical space to make the wait a little more elegant. With both lanes in operation, there was no wait for security screening by friendly staff just around the corner, and we were shortly traversing the corridor to the Galleries First lounge.
We headed through the lounge to armchairs near the terrace. Whilst the lounge was fairly busy, this space never feels too overcrowded (at least in the main seating area) thanks to the high ceiling height, natural light and spaced out seating clusters. There was a fair quantity of empties lying around along with a smattering of crumbs here and there on the floor, so I approached the roving supervisor to ask for the area to be cleaned, passing TV presenter Richard Arnold on the way. Despite receiving new and re-covered furniture (along with new carpets and freshly sanded oak floors) last year, some furniture is beginning to look distinctly worn.
The terrace had been taken over by a Kew Gardens sponsorship for the summer, and looked faintly odd with artificial grass, deckchairs and random paintings of gardens and plants. (The image here is taken from a visit to the lounge in early September.)
As lunchtime approached we moved over to the Refectory; the beluga lentil and avocado salad from the menu was pretty good, although the buffet items were the usual low quality ‘meh’-inducing experience that not even a glass of Henriot could improve. It was nice to see scones, jam and cream available in the lounge.
Club Europe and oneworld Emerald passengers were invited to board first at Gate A6 through the Priority Boarding lane. Taking us the 469 miles today in 1h20 would be G-EUUL, an A320 delivered new to BA in 2002 and configured today with 6 rows of CE.
Jackets were taken as I settled into 1A and hot towels passed around (always useful to clean the window, tray table and/or middle console with). We pushed back from the stand five minutes behind schedule and held for a little while before takeoff from Runway 09R.
A few minutes after takeoff the crew were quick to commence the afternoon tea service; a choice of ploughman’s salad or sandwiches, both served with a slice of cake. Whilst the ploughman’s is the more substantial of the two options (being served with packaged bread), it’s also the unhealthier of the two options given the amount of processed meat, so I opted for the pitiful and unappetising sandwiches. It’s a real shame BA have stopped serving scones onboard afternoon tea flights in CE.
Afternoon tea is probably the weakest of the meal services in CE on Short and Medium length flights; on a more recent Short sector from NCL, I ordered the Muslim meal for afternoon tea, which was a more substantial and more appetising salad. I do find it odd that BA insist on putting little pots of milk on the trays when not everybody will use it; a prime example of this is my order of a peppermint tea to conclude the meal service.
We came into land at GVA over the lake, affording great views.
As we were taxiing to the gate, midway through the cabin crew’s arrival PA, a member of the flight crew interrupted the announcement with an abrupt ‘cabin crew stop PA’. I’d never heard this before, but whilst waiting to disembark at the gate overhead the Purser talking to the Captain who advised they could not hear ATC in the cockpit during the taxi because of the cabin crew’s PA. Maybe somebody pressed the wrong button, but it was slightly alarming to hear the urgency in the flight crew’s voice.
A tiny queue for immigration had us in the baggage reclaim hall fairly promptly, collecting our free bus tickets from the machine adjacent to the customs exit; this is a great initiative by the city and meant we were at our hotel – around 10 minutes from the airport – with the minimum of hassle.InterContinental Geneva and Exploring Western Switzerland
An austere tower block on the outside, once past the bamboo and through the doors the InterContinental Geneva is elegance personified.
The lobby is expansive, featuring matching seating areas on either side, a bar in one wing and the main restaurant (Woods) in the other.
Upstairs on the mezzanine are smoking and wine lounges, together with expansive conference facilities through several halls (featuring photographs of well-known past guests) and breakout spaces. Whilst not intimate, the décor throughout oozes corporate sophistication, and is very tastefully done.
We were welcomed by staff along the route to reception, and offered a mini Toblerone from a small wooden chest by the concierge as there was a short wait to check in. A second member of staff was summonsed, my Ambassador status was acknowledged and an extensive introduction to the hotel given – a little too extensive for my liking, but all done very professionally. We were escorted as far as the lift, just around the corner from reception.
Our Deluxe Lake View room on the 15th floor (a double upgrade from a Superior room) although small was light and modern, with an expansive picture window overlooking the city, lake and mountains in the distance.
There’s not much between Superior and Deluxe Lake View rooms (aside from the view, obviously); they’re the same size (although bizarrely Deluxe rooms with a standard view are slightly larger), but they do feature a Nespresso machine and complimentary bottles of water. The Ambassador water, fruit and a welcome gift of chocolates was placed in the room, and the water was replaced every day of our stay – this last activity is something ICs regularly ‘forget’ and need reminding of.
The non-matching bedside tables were slightly perplexing, although at least there were power sockets on both sides of the bed. The low pendant lamp over the left hand table met my head on several occasions.
The bathroom was a slightly odd ‘Swiss chalet’ style experience, resplendent with retro pink toilet, bidet and bath (only the basin had been replaced with a modern white affair). Odd styling and dated tiling aside, the bathroom was on the large side for such a small room and featured the usual IC Agraria amenities. Storage space was minimal with just a small ledge above the basin and nowhere to hang hand towels. The multiple mirrors were not anti-steam, although as always it was pleasing to see a shower screen as opposed to a curtain.
After dropping our bags in the room we headed out for a walk around the pleasant local diplomatic area, taking in the outside of the United Nations complex, Place des Nations and several embassies and consulates.
We headed back to the hotel for in-room dining that evening, and after a battle with the window blind that was far easier to close when I worked out how it was meant to be operated called it a night ahead of our excursion to Lausanne the following day. Incidentally, turndown service is available only on request in rooms (although I believe is offered automatically in suites).
Breakfast the following morning in Woods restaurant was a generally good experience; the ambience of the restaurant was perfect, with multiple seating areas including pleasant airy spaces adjacent to the exterior bamboo-flanked terrace.
Service was a little patchy across our four mornings, but the buffet offering was solid as one would expect from an InterContinental, with egg dishes available to order.
Utilising the complimentary bus passes we’d been given at check-in, we hopped on the regular bus service from the stop next to the hotel into the city centre (a mere 10 minutes away), picking up extortionately priced tickets for the train to Lausanne from a machine at the main Cornavin station. The 40 minute train trip is certainly one of the world’s more scenic, taking in rolling vine-clad hills on one side and the shores of Lake Geneva on the other.
We spent a pleasant day strolling around this small, attractive and very walkable city, taking in the medieval streets of the old town, Gothic cathedral and the grounds of the Olympic Museum.
We took the train back to Geneva and dined that evening at Spice of India, a small and semi-authentic Indian restaurant near the station, with flavoursome fare and impressively swift service by a lone waiter despite the half full restaurant.
The following day, a slightly longer hour-long ride took us to Montreux at the far end of the lake.
In contrast to Lausanne, this resort town is pretty touristy, but as we walked further along the nicely planted promenade the crowds thinned, such that by the time we neared Chateau de Chillon (very much the purpose of our trip here) we were virtually alone.
The famous castle, jutting out into the lake itself, made for a fascinating few hours’ exploration along the well signposted self-guided tour. A visit here is highly recommended.
Back in Geneva, we visited Au Petit Chalet that evening for dinner as a last resort as a number of restaurants I’d lined up were closed (it being a Sunday evening). This tourist trap is best avoided unless you like a combination of fake décor, surly service, billy basic food and a pervasive smell of fondue wafting throughout. We gave up after one course and headed back to the hotel for a much more refined dessert.
Our final full day of this trip was spent exploring Geneva’s city centre, starting with the beautiful botanical gardens before heading along the lakeshore to the old town.
Deflated by our dining experience the previous day and with the lure of the comfort of our room at the IC, it was to be in-room dining once more that evening.
Our final morning in Switzerland offered the opportunity of another walk around the picturesque old town of Geneva we’d enjoyed the previous day, before jumping on the bus to the airport. GVA-LHR
GVA was heaving as we walked through to BA’s check-in area to find a short queue at the single Club Europe desk. Despite having hand baggage only and mobile boarding passes, I wanted to be sure to get an airport printed boarding pass as I’d heard reports of the unmanned automated Fast Track security barrier rejecting some BPs. Upstairs, the line for main security stretched the full length of the terminal building, but we ducked under a Tensabarrier and accessed Fast Track with no issues. The Fast Track search lane isn’t separated from the main search area, which means the experience isn’t very private and passengers from the main area filter into the Fast Track lane; all round not a great experience.
Despite being branded as a Galleries lounge, BA’s lounge at GVA is essentially still a Terraces concept affair. Refreshed a few years ago, the lounge is due to be completely refurbished and expanded to the new Galleries Evolution concept (branded as ‘British Airways Lounge’) next year, which can’t come soon enough.
The entrance to the lounge is slightly odd in that one has to press a button to operate the automatic doors, I guess to prevent the doors from opening as passengers walk past in the corridor. This corridor is where the shared washrooms are located. A simple rectangle, the lounge features a small business area behind reception and a single large seating area with luggage storage and news stand off to one side. It was at the end of the lounge where we found a couple of seats adjacent to the former smoking room and long since defunct fountain water feature, now covered in random houseplants.
Halfway along the lounge is the bar and buffet area; basic snack items of cheese, olives, peanuts and crisps were joined by some sorry looking breads and leftover breakfast pastries. A few uninspiring salad pots didn’t do anything to lift the buffet, although the warm ratatouille and chipolatas were a nice touch. Brownies and Movenpick ice cream was also available. In contrast to our visit to T5 Galleries First earlier this trip, empties were cleared quickly and the lounge looked clean and tidy.
Priority Boarding was well enforced at Gate B33. This evening would be my second flight aboard G-EUPH, a 17 year old A319, today with 5 rows of Club Europe. Jackets were taken and a flight time of 1h15 at up to 36,000ft was announced as I surveyed the always decent legroom in 1F; Row 1 is certainly the best in the house on these densely configured narrowbodies. Post hot towels, we pushed back early from stand for a 10 minute wait in line for takeoff from GVA’s single runway.
Dinner service commenced with a choice of chicken salad or caprese panini (which looked more like a ciabatta from where I was sitting). I opted for the chicken salad, which was pleasant despite the miniscule portion size. Warm bread was offered from the basket for those opting for salad. Introduced a little after the changed meal service for CE flights, the side salad for the hot sandwich option and the cheese plate for both options appears to have been ‘enhanced’ away. The former plastic dessert pots for both options have been replaced with a fresh plated dessert; tonight’s cake was edible but bland.
A short hold had us landing on Runway 27L on time and parking at Gate C56 (one of the furthest possible T5 gates) a short time later. With no queues anywhere in the terminal, including a completely empty transit train from T5C to T5A, we got back to the T5 Long Stay car park in time to see the sun setting behind a glinting T5 in the distance.
Thanks for following along on this long weekend – as always, comments are appreciated and questions welcomed.