Hotel Richemond, Geneva, Switzerland

Guests tend to return again and again to Hôtel Richemond. For some, it is the attentive service that makes them feel right at home. For others, like a well-known American rock star, it is, perhaps, the privacy accorded to celebrities. The star has stayed three times at the Richemond, a hotel with an Old World feeling about it. The guests are jealously guarded by doormen and a management that doesn't tolerate intruders like paparazzi. And, indeed, none was visible when the star's clan (minus the star himself) stayed last year in the hotel's "royal suite," the most expensive at $3,400 a night.

At those prices you expect special treatment. Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti had no difficulty finding his favorite olive oil in his suite's kitchen during his stay. "He likes to cook pasta at 3 a.m., and he wanted this special olive oil, so we ordered it," says Philippe Rubod, the Richemond's 36-year-old director. "Our job is to say yes." The Richemond does that very well. When guests come to stay for long stretches, the hotel cleans out their rooms and moves in their personal furniture, which the Richemond keeps in storage for its clients. The hotel still keeps some loyal customers' wardrobes and other private belongings. One customer was the late French author Colette. She wrote her last novel at the Richemond, and an apartment has been named after her; the Suite Colette can be yours for $2,300 a night.

Before it became known as one of of Switzerland's best hotels, Hôtel Richemond was a family pension named the Riche-mont. It has remained small, with 100 rooms and suites. Four generations of the Armleder family have run the hotel since it was founded in 1875, by Adolphe-Rodolphe Armleder, the son of a German maker of oak wine barrels.

For Adolphe-Rodolphe's great-grandson, Victor Armleder, who now heads the hotel, Hôtel Richemond aspires to be what he calls a "personal hotel," which offers the kind of service a "gentleman or lady" would expect to find in a fully staffed home. This means the staff will press your suit on short notice at 7 p.m. or serve a meal for eight in your suite at 2 a.m. Both Victor and his widowed father, Jean, live in the hotel, and it's safe to assume that their close proximity keeps the staff on its toes.

Room service includes round-the-clock access to 300 video titles (there is a VCR in each room) and a fine cigar list. This being Geneva, where Havanas of virtually every size and type are available, the hotel sells Cuban cigars individually or by the box. Thus, guests can pick among two dozen cigars, including the Richemond's own label as well as Punch Double Corona ($9 a piece, or $233 for a box of 25), Montecristo Especial ($7, $183), El Rey del Mundo Lonsdales ($8, $200), Davidoff Chateau Latour ($9, $216) and Davidoff No. 1 ($10, $250). The least expensive cigars are Flor de Cano Coronas and Richemond Diva ($2.60, $81).

This is not a flashy place. If hotels were people, this would be Old Money, not nouveau riche. For starters, the Richemond is set back about 50 yards from Geneva's renowned Lakeshore Drive, where some of the city's most glamorous hotels flaunt tremendous views of the Alps, Lake Geneva and Geneva's tourist attraction, the Jet d'Eau, a water jet that spurts foamy water like a geyser high above the surface. While you can admire Mont Blanc from some of the Richemond's rooms, you won't face bumper-to-bumper traffic when you walk out of the hotel, which is situated across from a small park, Jardin Brunswick.

Epicureans can choose between two restaurants in the hotel. Le Jardin offers casual elegance. Locals often eat on the terrace shaded by a bright green awning. The menu stresses fresh ingredients like fresh-picked asparagus, wild mushrooms and raspberries (when they are in season) and grilled sole. Haute cuisine is served in Le Gentilhomme, a restaurant decorated with heavy red drapes, red chairs and sofas, silver candelabra on every table (there are just 11), and a heavy, wood-and-silver, rolling caviar trolley that the supplier, Caviar House, refills with fresh caviar daily. The master wine list is available at both restaurants and for room service and includes 450 different selections. A vertical list of Pétrus goes back to 1947.

From the thick carpets to the walls padded with richly decorated fabric, the Richemond communicates comfort and a sense of serenity in the middle of a noisy, European business capital. "We are more like a club than a hotel," says Rubod. "We speak more of the 'friends' of the Richemond than the 'clients' of the Richemond. Someone like Michael Jackson knows that once he has passed the doors of the hotel, there won't be photographers and journalists here. Guests are left alone; they know they can circulate freely within the hotel without being bothered."

But for all visitors, the Richemond is a quiet haven--a welcome refuge among the many large, luxury hotels of Europe.

-- Per-Henrik Mansson

Hôtel Richemond
Brunswick Garden, Geneva, 1211
Phone: (4122) 731-1400
Rooms: from $210 per night