More than fancy water: What you need to know about visiting the town of Evian, France
Since the discovery of the purity and healing qualities of its mineral water more than two centuries ago, Évian-les-Bains, France, has been a go-to destination for rejuvenation and relaxation for Europe’s elite.
While the Evian water -- now known throughout the world -- is still a draw to this picturesque area of the Haute-Savoie region of the Alps along the south shores of Lake Geneva, today you'll find modern conveniences mixed with the old-world Belle Epoque glam. A destination that is charming enough for romance, busy enough for families and with the opportunity to sample delicious regional food and wine while enjoying natural beauty.
Summer is the high season with festivals, music and loads of sport from boating to zip-lining, but like the water, fun flows year-round with skiing, hiking and mountain biking in the cooler months.
How to get there
Evian is less than a one-hour drive from Geneva (GVA) airport with direct flights from more than 20 U.K. airports. From London, British Airways offers up to 20 flights per day and it's a wise usage of Avios, thanks to Reward Flight Savers.
We found lots of availability starting at 7,500 Avios plus $.65 one-way in economy. It is easy to bag a cheap cash fare as well -- currently, there are flights for as little as $50 return with EasyJet. For the eco-conscious, it is possible to get to Geneva from London by train in around six hours with a change in Paris, with prices starting at less than $130 one-way for dates in March.
Where to stay
Though the town of Évian-les-Bains has a storied past as a retreat for Europe's moneyed class, there's now a good mix of accommodation from historic luxury resorts and modern chain properties to quaint lakeside inns as well as more modest holiday rentals. The Evian Resort, now owned by French conglomerate Danone, sits on 47 acres stretching up from the lake and town center and includes two luxury hotels: the five-star Palace Hôtel Royal and four-star Hôtel Ermitage, two spas, an 18-hole golf course and training center and a children’s club and a casino.
Five-star: Palace Hôtel Royal
Located in the hills above Evian-les-Bains, the five-star Hôtel Royal is a unique and luxurious resort, offering incredible views of Lake Geneva amid manicured gardens complete with topiaries. Commissioned by the Evian Water Company in 1905 in honor of King Edward VII (though he died before visiting), the hotel has hosted royalty, celebrities and even the G-8 Summit in 2003. Following a complete and meticulous two-year renovation, Hôtel Royal reopened in 2015 with 150 rooms including 32 suites. The new look combines the palace's Belle Epoque grandeur (think mosaic floors and neo-Baroque frescoes) with state-of-the-art amenities and contemporary furnishings by Paris-based interior designer François Champsaur.
In the 1,200 square meter Spa Evian Source, treatments, using products by Biologique Recherche, are focused on “health through water.” Despite all this splendor, the vibe is relaxed and comfortable, with a good mix of couples and children. Part of both Leading Hotels of the World and the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts Program, depending on how you book, you can possibly score benefits such as a room upgrade, breakfast, late checkout and a $100 food and beverage credit.
Prices start at 228 euro ($247) for a sejour park view room in March.
Four-star: Hôtel Ermitage
Just a two-minute walk up the hill from Hôtel Royal is the four-star 80-room Hôtel Ermitage. The décor is warm with modern furnishings influenced by nature, lots of wood, leather greens and blues and the guest rooms offering more amazing lake views. The scene is relaxed with table football in the lobby and games at the bar and a children's club, which accepts babies from 4 months to kids aged 12, plus teens.
Summer is high season — about 70 to 80 children a day (from babies to teenagers) will be entertained in the spacious clubhouse with activities like cooking, arts and crafts, acting and games -- plus there are billiards and Xbox for the teens. Meanwhile, parents can relax at the spa with nine treatment rooms. For dining options, there's rustic French cuisine at La Table, plus two bars and a terrace restaurant in summer.
Prices start at 152 euro ($165) for a standard double room in March.
Four-star: Hilton Évian-les-Bains
Located on the edge of Lake Geneva, a few minutes walk from the center of town, the 170-room Hilton Évian-les-Bains is a well-positioned option for enjoying Evian, especially if you have Hilton Honors points. The hotel has a big outdoor pool (in summer), a spa with Hammam and seven treatment rooms.
Prices start at 35,000 Hilton Honors points per night or 150 euro ($163) for a king guest room in March.
Three-star: Hôtel Les Cygnes
On the other side of town, literally sitting right on the lake 50 meters from the marina, is the quaint 39-room Hotel Les Cygnes. While not as modern as the others, the property built in 1926 oozes charm with a dining terrace under a century-old trellis, a private beach with pontoons and boat moorings, a swimming pool, mini-golf and games for kids. It offers a good variety of rooms including a family room that sleeps four, a triple and romantic options for couples.
Prices start at 80 euro ($87) for a double room in March.
Apartments and villas
There's a good selection of apartments and villas for groups and families, and you can find options in the town center and a bit further out on popular sites like Airbnb and Booking.com -- ranging from economical studio apartments in town to luxury six-bedroom villas on the golf course.
Where to eat
French fare is what you want to eat in the Haute-Savoie, so expect hearty dishes influenced by the products from the lake (perch and whitefish) and the mountains: meat, pork, game and lots of dairy -- famous local cheeses to try are Abondance, Reblochon and Tomme -- and of course, the wines. In this region of France, 70% of the locally produced wine is white. Grape varieties include Jacquère, Altesse and Roussanne and go well with the local cuisine, and if you're a fan of red, Mondeuse and Persan are your best bet.
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For a splurge, try Michelin-starred Les Fresques at Hôtel Royal where Chef Patrice Vander prepares gorgeous dishes with local foie gras, crayfish and blue lobster in a beautiful room with views of the lake. One of the most incredible meals we've ever had. Open for dinner only, booking is essential.
Less formal (and less expensive) but with an equally delicious menu featuring local products and produce is La Table at Hôtel Ermitage. It's open all day and has a great Sunday brunch.
Au Jardin d'Eden
In town, try Au Jardin d'Eden, for hearty local French dishes in an elegant corner cafe.
Or Le Muratore, which has been in business since 1870. Try fresh fish or the "Alpine dish of the day" -- and in summer ask to sit on the gorgeous terrace.
There's a local farmers' market in the village on Tuesdays and Fridays where you can sample many of the local products. This is a tasty way to spend a morning and buy some food to pack a picnic to enjoy along the waterfront at sunset. Stop at the stellar village cheese shop, La Ferme du Noyer, where they will shrink wrap cheeses and meat for travel.
What to do
The compact town has a lakeside promenade, cobblestone pedestrian streets, a working funicular (summer only), a marina, beaches and historic sites like the Villa Lumière -- the former summer residence of the Lumière family (the brothers famous for inventing the cinema).
This became the town hall in 1927, and is now known as the Palais Lumière. It was a former thermal spa and is now a cultural center.
There's also a casino. Casino Evian, built in 1911 in neo-Byzantine style, is still busy with gaming tables, slot machines, four bars and restaurants and nightly entertainment. Past the casino, along the waterfront is Le Fabuleux Village des Flottins, a series of wooden sculptures made from local driftwood.
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Water, water everywhere... in town, see locals filling their bottles for free at the Cachat spring, which sits underneath a pink and white neoclassical archway built in 1903. This is the most famous of the many sources of the renowned water that emerges as if by magic after a 15-year natural purification journey.
Naturally, you can bathe in Evian water. At the 380 square meter Evian Les Thermes in town you can choose from a series of hydro-treatments using Evian water, from a double-jetted tub, various heated table and shower scrubs, Hammams, steam rooms, to a Japanese-style Iyashi dome for weight loss.
For even more on the water theme, in summer you can visit Les Jardins de l'eau du Pre Curieux (the curious water garden) by boat and learn about the different ecosystems related to water: pond, stream, marsh, wet meadow and delta. It is also possible to tour the Evian bottling facility which is three miles outside of town.
With Lake Geneva and mountains all around (yes, these are the snow-capped ones pictured on the Evian bottles), lots of sporting activities are on offer. In summer, water sports on the lake, golf, and tennis and nearby there’s river rafting, hiking, mountain biking, zip-lining, and even hang-gliding in the mountains.
The golf course is the site of the Evian Championship, the only women’s golf major in Continental Europe, with 18 challenging holes overlooking Lake Geneva, plus a top-rated golf academy offering instruction for kids and adults on seven practice holes, driving, putting and pitching ranges, plus a high-tech swing analyzer.
In winter, skiing is about 15 minutes away by car in Bernex with a ski school for children -- or for more expert slopes, Les Portes du Soleil (13 resorts between Mont Blanc in France and Lake Geneva) is a one-hour drive away.
Easily accessible from the U.K. via Geneva, Évian-les-Bains offers a good mix of stunning natural beauty, Belle Epoque glamour and history, sport and delicious food and wine from the Haute-Savoie, making for a fun and easy getaway for either romance, groups or families.