First Look

La Reserve, Geneva

La Reserve Hotel and Spa, which opened in January, is Geneva's first high-design property, and already the city's best hotel. It's an unlikely accomplishment, considering what designer Jacques Garcia, who also did the Hotel Costes in Paris, had inherited: La Réserve was a soulless low-rise 1969 building between the railway line, Geneva airport (a four-minute drive), and the main route toward Lausanne (Geneva's city center is ten minutes away). For starters, Garcia painted the white exterior brick terracotta-red and planted soldier-straight rows of boxed-yew hedges and topiary parrots in the hotel's four-acre park. A safari theme is carried throughout the hotel's interiors, with rattan on corridor walls, leopard-print carpets, and wall sconces that look like parrots and toucans in orange, jade, and purple resin. The lobby is decorated with 100,000 fluttering gold leaves affixed to the walls, and there's an elephant (man-made, mind you) standing at attention with trunk held high. In Loti, the main restaurant, grilled fish and simply prepared vegetables are served under a huge canvas tent held up by bamboo pillars. Lest all this jungle chic add up to theme-park kitsch, Garcia has loaded the interiors with bordello-style decadence: Throughout the hotel are acres of velvet, silk, brown leather, and lacquered reds.

All 102 rooms are big, a true luxury in Europe. The room to get is one of the nine Lake Suites (particularly 210, in Vatican red), all of which have leather desks, black-granite bathrooms, pillows like air, and perfectly crisp white cotton sheets.

The hotel has a bar done in black resin and back-lit onyx, and a second restaurant, Tsé-Fung, tricked out in sexy red lacquer, ebony, and olive-green silks. The food, while not aiming for Michelin constellations, is fine: familiar (spring rolls, et al.), healthy (no MSG upon request), and a welcome break from the foie gras at Switzerland's traditional tables. The spa, which, after the lobby, is the second heart of the hotel, has an indoor pool surrounded by white-leather-and-chrome chairs and 17 treatment rooms. This is a design extravaganza, to be sure. But unlike hotels that put the spectacle before the service, La Réserve understands that bespoke wallpaper (which it has plenty of) can't take the place of old-fashioned attentiveness. Rooms, $390-$5,390. At 301 Route de Lausanne, Bellevue; 41-22-959-59-59;

Hotel prices show high-season rates from the least expensive double to the most expensive suite.