On the invitation of Richard Guyon of Relais & Chateaux Hotels, we rumbled for three days through Romandy on three Harley Davidson choppers to savor the gourmet menus of four of his luxury hotels.
The Relais & Chateaux Routes du Bonheur
Relais & Châteaux calls their tour concept “Route du Bonheur”: Select hoteliers and restaurateurs join together to invite pleasure-loving travelers on a gourmet tour that takes them from one restaurant (relais) or hotel (château) to the next. You can do it in your own car, in a vintage automobile or, thanks to an arrangement with Harley-Davidson, on a choppers that you book along with the hotel accommodations.
Relais & Châteaux have assembled on their website 38 proposals for Routes du Bonheur. These are meant to be suggestions; you are also free to map out your individual trail.
Route du Bonheur “Romandy Quick Selection”
We started our Harley-Davidson gourmet tour at the Grand Hotel du Lac in Vevey, where we Harley rockers met for dinner.
Prior to the elegant five-course repast, we made the death’s head and heavy boots discreetly disappear in our room. Not sure how they would have gone over in the noble five star establishment.
On day two, with road captain Pierre Berclaz in the lead, we powered along bucolic side roads through the Bernese Seeland to lunch in the Vieux Manoir Hotel in the vicinity of Murten.
This event filled day ended with an evening at the Hotel Beau-Rivage in Neuchâtel.
The third day took us into the Wallis via Gruyères and Col des Mosses and then we climbed up to Leukerbad to the Les Source des Alpes thermal spa hotel.
And on the fourth and final leg took us back by way of Vevey to Morges, where we turned our machines in to the local Harley-Davidson dealer.
Relais & Châteaux Grand Hotel du Lac in Vevey
Before hitting the trail, we met for an evening meal at the Grand Hotel du Lac on the shore of Lake Geneva, or Lac Léman as the locals call it.
Hotel manager Christopher Rudolph – “maître de maison” in the Relais & Châteaux dictionary – and Marketing and Sales manager John Orlandi that evening regaled us to the point of dizziness, beginning with aperitifs in the wine cellar, sommelier Clément ringing in the evening “at his place”…
Relais & Châteaux Le Vieux Manoir in Murten
Maître de maison Daniel Ziegler and head of Marketing Ulrike Ruf welcomed us for lunch here in their luxurious, 100-year old Le Vieux Manoir in Murten.
The exclusive location on Lake Murten and the gourmet courses on the sun terrace made for very satisfied faces all round. A superlative experience!
Relais & Châteaux Beau Rivage Hotel in Neuchâtel
Owner and maître de maison of the Hotel Beau-Rivage Thomas Maechler welcomed our Harley convoy at the hotel driveway with a tray of beers at the ready. It was a welcome end to a sunny (!) day on the road ;-)
That evening, Chef Eric Mazéas’ team didn’t “let anything burn” and cooked up a storm that kept the pans bubbling.
But here, too, we started with the “kitchen aperitif,” which let us peek over the shoulders of all the distinguished experts around pastry chef Djamal.
Relais & Châteaux Les Sources des Alpes in Leukerbad
When maître de maison Pierre Berclaz arrives by Harley at his hotel Les Sources des Alpes in Leukerbad, the rocker in black leather gearturns instantly into a smartly-dressed hotel manager in a black suit. Your hat, monsieur le directeur!
Here also, we first descend into the atmospheric wine cellar guided by Sommelier Dario, for a tasting of local white wines. I had known “sort of” for some time that there were good Wallis white wines, but here we were where they actually know them by name. And, above all, where to get them…
And as befits a Relais & Châteaux establishment, Chef Laurent Omphalus permits on the plate only that which looks appetizing and tastes superbly…
Harley-Davidson Softail Slim – also known as Fatboy…
The matte black Slim Tail is a low rider in the style of a dragster or fat boy. The deep sonorous exhaust not only lays down a first-rate sound blanket, but also gives a brawny judder at the slightest tap on the gas. The air-cooled twin cam engine with over 1,600 cc produces a ridiculous amount of power that is stamped on the asphalt by the beefy, upside-down fork and fat tires front and rear.
For real bad boys only…
A Softail Heritage and Softail Custom also took to the trail. Even though the Heritage has the same engine as the Slimtail, it has slightly softer ride and the windshield makes for a quieter ride, especially in town.
The Custom Harley is a modified Softail for aficionados. The tank and front fork are original; everything else has been modified to make it wider, louder and badder. Death’s head included!
Swiss Routes du Bonheur
Relais & Châteaux provides road maps specifically for their Routes du Bonheur. Their recommended Swiss tour is somewhat longer than our abbreviated version.
A word of warning: A superb gourmet menu accompanied by highly attentive service is UNDENIABLY very important to the management of Relais & Châteaux hotels. Ingesting such quality for daily lunch and dinner is bound to get your fitness coach in your face! Especially since the breakfast buffet is not exactly small-bore either…
In this connection, our route had the advantage of the hotels in Vevey, Murten and Neuenburg being situated right by the lake, and so we could do some light jogging before breakfast along the lake or even stroke a few kilometers in the lake. In Leukerbad, too, the calorie burner is provided for: At 7 a.m., it’s into the thermal pool. Indoors or outdoors, at 34 degrees. Before you know it, the pulse rate is up and you’re launched on the day. I tried it!
And while we’re on the subject, here’s word of warning II: The official program advertises other attractions along the way. Time can get a little short because of those gourmet menu stops, and it is regrettable when you arrive late at the next hotel and miss out on enjoying all of its amenities. In that spirit, I recommend rather taking fewer side trips and instead enjoying these magnificent establishments to the hilt!!
But anyone still interested in spite of “missing out” like this can best find out about customized itineraries by calling the toll-free Swiss number 0800 200 000 02, or +49 69 96 75 91 17 from Germany. Both numbers will put you in touch with Central Reservations.
You can choose from 29 Relais & Châteaux hotels in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. There are another 27 in Germany, plus many more worldwide. If that doesn’t start your engine…
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Anyone like us who does not want to pay for the luxury of an accompanying luggage transport car should also check out the SBB’s luggage transport service. They will carry the luggage from staging point to staging point…
Warm thanks to Richard Guyon, manager for the Switzerland and Liechtenstein Relais & Châteaux, for the generous invitation! It was truly an unforgettable experience!
Also effusive thanks to each and every one of the Relais & Châteaux managers:
- Christopher Rudolph of the Grand Hotel du Lac in Vevey
- Daniel Ziegler of the Vieux Manoir in Murten
- Thomas Maechler of the Beau Rivage Hotel in Neuchâtel
- Pierre Berclaz of the Sources des Alpes in Leukerbad
and their teams. They left no wish unfulfilled! We will highly recommend their respective establishments to others ;-)
Also, to Sabine Biedermann of Primus Communications a warm thank you for organizing the tour and shooting video along the way ;-)
And last but not least, I thank an ever- helpful Philip Schärly of the Bixe Harley-Davidson dealer in Hünenberg. That is where I got the motorcycle and my complete leather outfit.