A GLAMOROUS RETREAT ON THE SHORES OF LAKE GENEVA PROVIDES A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER WITH SOME SERIOUS PAMPERING . . .
The French have an expression: 'Reculer pour mieux sauter.' It roughly translates as: 'Take a step back so you can make a better leap forward.' This would be an apt motto for Evian's Hotel Royal, set in the town where the world-famous mineral water has its source. Here, the prevailing ethos is that rest, relaxation and a programme of re-energising through careful nutrition and massage are the keys to health, beauty and personal improvement.
Unsurprisingly, the hotel, which was a big hit with the eight premiers who slept happily beneath its baroque ceilings during the 2003 G8 summit, has now become an established destination for mothers and teenage daughters on bonding missions.
I went with my 18-year-old daughter, Freya, and we discovered that the hotel, where lounging about is seen to equate with good behaviour, emanates such an atmosphere of luxurious calm that it is the perfect location for intimate conversations.
Now that having a child in your 30s is the norm, many mothers are coming to the end of their attract by date just as their daughters are flowering into young, womanly loveliness. But this is the perfect time to go on a spa break together.
While daughter is being advised on exercise, nutrition and the de-beautifying effects of nicotine -- which, coming from someone other than her parent, is all the more effective -- mother can quietly go about attempting to halt the disintegration evidenced by crepe neck and inquiring whether she ought to go on plant-based HRT.
The spa occupies one wing of the hotel and you are encouraged to go there in your white towelling dressing gown and slippers.
My daughter had received the Abhyanga massage, which involved 'pressure, stroking, friction and vibration', and her feedback was all positive. At an average 75 minutes long, each Oriental massage leaves you so relaxed that you are reluctant to return directly to your room or poolside lounger.
Instead, you need only take a few steps into the spa's Aga Khan room, where you can lie down, enveloped in a white linen duvet, to 'recover from the recovery'. It recreates the reassuring sense of being in the nursery under the care of a nanny.
For the older client, the spa's director, Dr Evelyne Reyt, offers a blood analysis to determine your speed of ageing and which mineral supplements would be appropriate for you. I also received an astonishing seaweed firming mask, which saw off my crepe neck for a good three days.
It was a handsome waiter in morning dress who recommended a reflexology session with Eliane. He had tried it himself and confided: 'She's something special and I cry for two or three hours afterwards. I don't know why. She just relieves me.'
Sounded good, and so I did some research and discovered that Eliane Charles Portier, an expert on shamanistic medicine as well as reflexology, has healing skills which are recognised by clients who return to her again and again from around the globe. I had to try her out.
The results were certainly interesting. I was dumbfounded when, after a brief study of my feet, she diagnosed an emotional issue lurking just beneath the surface of my consciousness, and even gave a date for its onset. She then, somehow, exorcised it. 'Go on -- it's good to cry,' she urged.
Freya, on the other hand, was clinically exhausted, she said, and needed much more rest than she was getting. After our treatments, we went into a profound sleep, swaddled in the recovery beds of the Aga Khan room.
Regarding fatigue, I was already extremely pleased that I had not scored an own goal by taking an exhausting long-haul flight somewhere exotic for my period of R&R. British Airways flies to Geneva at convenient times in just 75 minutes from both Gatwick and Heathrow -- and from there, the Royal is a 45-minute drive away. It's practically on the doorstep.
There are other advantages, too. As my daughter's role model, I have only myself to blame if her behaviour is unladylike. But levels of elegance and sophistication at the Royal, which is surrounded by a 45-acre park between the Alps and Lake Geneva, are so civilising that the hotel could almost double as a finishing school.
Door banging and boisterousness became a thing of the past in this ordered and genteel environment. 'Go on, Mummy,' Freya would say, holding the doors open for me.
Indeed, as we dined in the Cafe Royal, the grandest of the hotel's restaurants, where the vaulted ceilings were hand-painted by Gustave Jaulnes in 1909, we were surrounded by chic Euro-Sloanes with perfect manners.
And it rubbed off on Freya. I noticed her resisting the temptation to chase the waiter into the kitchen when he failed to bring the dreaded ketchup, and sitting up straight and eating with her mouth shut of her own accord. It was a mini-miracle.
There were ample opportunities to bond with the Euro-Sloanes, both in the hotel's billiard room and on the ski slopes, which were only 15 minutes away. A day's skiing, complete with equipment and passes, can be easily arranged for a small supplement -- in summer, guided mountain walks on these wild flower-strewn slopes are offered instead. I also made sure that Freya brushed up on her foreign languages by telling staff that they should serve her what she wanted only if she asked for it in French.
Kylie Minogue comes here from time to time -- the staff described her as 'really kind and sweet' -- but most guests are chic French and Swiss haute bourgeois, English gentlemen and the odd, slightly edgy-looking, twentysomething Russian billionaire.
Forty per cent are families -- there are unlimited things for children to do and those above two can be billeted into a supervised children's camp or teenage Fun Club, leaving the parents free to loll on poolside loungers, in the Turkish bath, the sauna or in a curiously reinvigorating dark room with a sparkling ceiling of tiny lights.
And joy of joys -- dogs are welcome, not in the public rooms, of course, but you can see them trotting through the lobby en route to their masters' quarters.
A door from the spa leads directly into the Jardin de Lys restaurant, and you can go there in your towelling robe. We ate lunch there every day.
Most teenagers, like their parents, want to eat as much food as possible without becoming 'gross', and to this end, hotel chef Michel Lenz has spent years devising dishes of visual beauty and seemingly substantial appearance, but with only a relative handful of calories.
Six or seven courses will arrive at your table, each served on the finest gold-edged porcelain.
You will be eating for ages and it is almost impossible to believe that crevettes on rocket, followed by sorrel soup, followed by risotto, followed by sea bass, followed by cheese, followed by passion fruit, could possibly be less than 400 calories -- yet the quantities and display have been carefully devised to amount to no more.
Obviously, it is up to you whether you wave away the bread basket and the excellent wine, but you will not need them. These are the lightest of menus, designed to promote optimum digestion with potent nutrients and vitamins, and seasoned with plants that stimulate and invigorate your Qi (energy).
Even without the spa and the synergetic cuisine, you could not help but feel better just by visiting Evian. Not only does the water, best drunk at room temperature, have its source here, but the small town stands 500m above sea level -- apparently, the optimum altitude for fresh air.
And from your balcony, the view across Lake Geneva, whether milkpond mild or faintly choppy, also has its own therapeutic potential.
There is no need to leave the boys behind. The Russian billionaires spend time in the casino, five minutes from the hotel, where big and small amounts of money can be won and lost. There is also the Evian Masters Golf Club for those who fancy a knockabout.
Meanwhile, the little ones will have a whale of a time learning to cook, painting posters or rehearsing for plays put on for the parents.
I was urged by another guest, a rippling-torsoed French banker and one of the few I saw taking advantage of the spa's gym, not to miss the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, a 35-minute boat trip across the lake.
No sports enthusiast could fail to be thrilled by the displays of clothing of legendary athletes, such as the boxing boots of Muhammad Ali, and there's a video theatre where you can watch footage from every Olympic Games that has ever been filmed. I watched l936, with Edward VIII presiding.
But most important, our visit offered a rare opportunity for us to be quietly together without the backdrop of English voices.
It is always refreshing to have a break from your own usual domestic persona. When else does one have the chance to be with one's daughter for 24 hours a day in conditions where the only requirement asked of you is that you relax as much as possible and beautify yourself as much as possible?
With everything done for you, and not even any mess to tidy, you cannot help but be happy.
When you feel refreshed and beautified, you are in the perfect frame of mind for bonding -- and besides, it seemed that all the other teenagers there were simply too relaxed to answer back or stay up beyond ten o'clock.
As a result, everyone just cosied down into their luxurious, linen sheeted, hospital-cornered beds as the electric shutters glided noisily down.
It is a happy atmosphere and no wonder 70per cent of the staff have served for more than ten years. On my first night in the restaurant I began to ask the maitre d': 'Est-ce que c'est possible . . ?'
With a plomb, he interrupted me: 'Oui.'
• Royal Parc Evian, South Bank of Lake Geneva: 00 33 4 50 26 85 00; royalparcevian.com. Doubles start from ?203. BA flies to Geneva from ?68 return.
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