By Bob Bestor

In nearly 13 years of reviewing European hotels, we have been careful to reserve the highest praise for those establishments which truly warrant it. In that time we have inspected literally thousands of individual guestrooms and hundreds of hotels all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland, including many of the best in each country such as: Hamburg's Vier Jahreszeiten, Zürich's Dolder Grand, Brenner's Park in Baden-Baden, the Sacher and Imperial hotels in Vienna, Geneva's Le Richmond and Interlaken's Victoria Jungfrau.

But now, after three separate stays over a nine-year period, we are prepared to term Lausanne's Beau Rivage Palace Hotel the "fairest in the land;" the best hotel we have ever seen.

It is an absolutely top-of-the-line European luxury hotel of the rich, famous and talented, of international diplomats, of dowagers draped in poodle dogs and furs, and of royalty. its guests have included Noel Coward, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Gary Cooper, Mary Pickford, Somerset Maugham, Coco Chanel, Camille Saint-Sans, and the Emperor Hiro-Hito. (The hotel protects the privacy of its current clientèle, speaking only the names of guests who are now dead.) They came no doubt because the Beau Rivage is the quintessence of timeless European elegance, and surely is one of the world's finest.

The hotel's impressive resume includes: lush, manicured grounds spacious enough to accommodate a small, American university; a magnificent view across Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) to the Savoy Alps on the French side; three excellent, completely different restaurants; gasp-provoking public rooms like the recently refurbished grand ballroom whose circular, flying saucer-size, stained-glass cupola was, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars, carefully dismantled, sent to Italy for cleaning and repair, then returned to the hotel and put back in place some 50-feet above the floor; an unflappable, warm, immensely competent staff who discharge their duties without even a flicker of haughtiness; and guestrooms that remind one of home - provided, of course, home is Buckingham Palace.

But several hotels in our three countries have similar attributes. So what is it that raises the Beau Rivage above the rest? Here's one example, at the outstanding Brenner's Park in Baden-Baden we found the same menu in both the hotel's restaurants; the only difference between the two was decor and the levels of formality. The BRP, on the other hand, has three restaurants, all priced differently and all offering completely different menus.

In the end, however, what sets the Beau Rivage apart is not a longer list of amenities but a feeling that can't be quantified. It is a place that oozes the very best of Switzerland, a country which trains future hoteliers. Throughout is a sense of serenity, of authentic elegance and the feeling that all is organized, under control and in perfect working order; and, if by some fluke it stops being that way, someone will fix it...quickly.

For most of us, the Beau Rivage is a once or twice in a lifetime experience. After all, this winter you will be able to fly roundtrip from New York to Europe for less than the cost for one night in one of the Palace's better double rooms. (At the hotel at least you'll be going first-class, even if you choose one of their lowest priced rooms.)

Expensive? A regular room is 395 Sfr. ($284), a lake view room 495 Sfr. ($356), but the memories could be worth it: breakfast on your private terrace overlooking the lake; lunch in La Rotonde with a view of the garden, or in good weather, lunch in the garden at Piscine Beau Rivage; tastes of the world's greatest wines in the hotel's classy little Wine Bar; dinner in the lively, French-style bistro, Beau Rivage Café; a nightcap in the clubby, leather-chaired, dark wood-paneled English Bar, then to a sound sleep while lake breezes slip into your room through tall French doors. Between times you might try to squeeze in a few walks by the lake or a visit to the Olympic Museum, which can be reached on foot via a special path from the hotel.

Of course, the Beau Rivage offers all the five-star amenities: indoor-outdoor pool, tennis courts, hair stylists, fitness facilities, exclusive little shops, the three restaurants and the Bar Anglaise.

The hotel offers a three-night package that includes lake view accommodations, one dinner at Café Beau Rivage and one at La Rotonde, flowers and fruit basket in the room, half-bottle of champagne, buffet breakfast, and entrance to the Olympic Museum for 1725 Sfr. ($1241) for two persons and 1290 ($928) for one person.

Maybe this writer saw too many 50s and 60s movies with European "Grand Hotel" settings starring Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, but every couple of years there needs to be a European luxury hotel fix. The Beau Rivage fills the bill better than anyplace else.

• Daily Rates: Singles 340 to 550 Sfr. ($245-$396), doubles 395 to 650 Sfr. ($284-$467), junior suites from 810 ($583), suites from 1650 Sfr. ($1187). Breakfast is 32 Sfr. ($23). See special subscriber prices on page 7.

Contact: Beau Rivage Palace, CH-1000 Lausanne-Ouchy 6, tel. +41/021/613 3333, fax 613 3334. Book from the U.S. at 800-223-6800.
Rating: Quality 19.5/20

September 1998