Vintage cars and a day at the lake
Rolls-royce, Bugatti, Isotta-fraschini, Vermorel and Hispano Suiza are amongst the 50-odd legendary marques, including the crème of Swiss motoring history, to be found in the village of Martigny, Switzerland, a 138 km scenic drive from Geneva. Marcus Brewster visited the Gianadda museum.
For the start of our road trip around the shores of Lake Geneva, we departed from the Hotel d’angleterre. In fact, if d’angleterre had an engine, it would park very comfortably amidst the vintage car collection which was our destination: polished, refined, and pedigreed – a landmark of history and tradition.
Dating from 1872 and acknowledged as one of the heritage sites of the city, the property showcases the decorative touch of the celebrated architect Anthony Krafft. The five storied façade of the d’angleterre, extended in 1910, has all the circumstance if not the pomp of a nineteenth century mayoral **hotel de ville** with wrought iron balcony detailing and mansard roof.
A well-reasoned decision was made to move the foyer from the front promenade on the Quai de Mont Blanc to a tasteful side-street. Relocating the entrance to the Rue de Monthoux has meant that what would have been the lobby is now the beautiful Windows Restaurant overlooking the lake and its iconic 127-year-old fountain, the Jet d’eau. This artificial geyser shoots a cannon of water 140 meters into the air at a rate of 500 litres per second. Over breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, or dinner, there is simply no better place to appreciate the most famous landmark of the city.
Leaving Geneva in the rear-view mirror, the drive around the lake passes neatly manicured hamlets that are so unruffled, they appear two-dimensional. Although it is possible to do the 138 km journey in 90 minutes without stopping, you would miss some of the most famous towns of the region, including Montreux (whose casino conflagration inspired the rock classic ‘Smoke on the Water’) and Lausanne.
Another picturesque spot to break the journey is Morges. This tranquil village holds a fortress-like castle along the banks of Lake Geneva and is also the place where Audrey Hepburn chose to marry her second husband, the Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti.
By the time you get to Martigny, the road has curved inland away from the lake and towards the Alps. Although Martigny has been a transit point for many generations of ski enthusiasts, it is now a destination in itself for the Pierre Gianadda Foundation.
It was built by Leonard Gianadda on the remains of an ancient Celtic temple, the oldest of its kind in Switzerland, and named after his brother Pierre who died in the aftermath of a plane crash while seeking help for his fellow survivors. The foundation was inaugurated in November 1978, forty years ago.
Oddly reminiscent of a Mayan temple, the Gianadda museum complex also houses a magnificent Vintage Car pavilion. Some 50-plus vehicles dating from 1897 to 1939 comprise the bulk of the permanent collection, all in working order. The oldest is a Benz of German origin and the French Jeanperrin, both dating back to 1897. Other cars of the early 20th century include a Berliet, an Oldsmobile Curved Dash, a Stanley from 1902, several Martinis built in Saint-blaie, the oldest of which dates to 1903, a De Dion-bouton from 1906, a Ford Model T of 1912, a Bugatti and a Vermorel of 1914.
Back in Geneva, amidst the financiers, watch collectors, and diplomats in convivial conversation at the Leopard Room Bar & Lounge of d’angleterre, we toasted our good fortune. Ahead of us lay France. But we would never forget our day at the lake or our nights at the Hotel d’angleterre.