A life of luxury
Jean-Francois Garneau

What attracts the über rich? Is it being able to fill their own baths with thermal waters? Helicopter transfers? Kath Hudson talks to the Swiss Development Group’s CEO Jean-Francois Garneau to find out

By Kath Hudson | Published in Leisure Management 2013 issue 3


Returning to Switzerland for the first time since I did a ski season many moons ago, I was reminded why I love it so much. The backdrop of lakes and mountains is almost ethereal in its beauty. The towns are immaculate. The people are super stylish. And they make two of my favourite things – wine and chocolate – incredibly well.

The Swiss attention to detail is what drives up the quality of the tourism offer and while as an 18-year-old hotel waitress this attitude seemed frustratingly pernickety, being on the receiving end of uncompromisingly good service and the finest ingredients is marvellous.

The Swiss Development Group (SDG), which is working on a portfolio of projects aimed at the high end market, is typically Swiss in its drive for quality and understands what this discerning demographic wants.

“We are not prêt-à-porter, we are couture,” explains Jean-Francois Garneau, SDG’s managing director and chief executive. “Each of our sites has a tailored approach. We are site-specific, location-specific, and we design all of our sites around the people who will be using them.

“Our products are about lifestyle as much as they are about bricks and mortar. We aim to connect with the environment, the locals, the community and try to understand the genius and the spirt of the place.”

This philosophy is illustrated by a project which got underway last summer, in the Alpine town of Leukerbad, two hours from Geneva. Although a small skiing destination, this resort is popular all year round, as it also offers great hiking, mountain biking and parasailing. However, despite being renowned for its thermal waters, this potential had never been realised.

“We wanted to fully celebrate the town’s long history with water,” says Garneau. “It has 65 different sources of water, which come out at 51 degrees Celsius; it actually has to be cooled down to be used. We wanted to create a true, novelty spa experience.”

The project, named 51O, is made up of a 90 room Kempinski hotel and 28 residences which will be sold privately. When SDG acquired the land, it secured the rights to use the water in the residences. This means people will be able to bathe in quasi-medicinal waters in their own homes.

For the 1,500sqm spa, SDG has worked with spa consultant Amy McDonald from consulting firm Under A Tree to create a ‘traditional bathhouse meets Russian banya’ experience.

“I had a bit of experience with the Japanese onsen, but also started to research the Russian banya experience,” says Garneau. “The onsen experience is about purifying oneself and then going for a sushi dinner, while the banya experience is a very social experience about enjoying the water and life with friends. We have taken those elements and mixed them with the traditional spa experience of sauna, hammam and hot tub, to create a new spa experience.”

Groups will be able to reserve areas of the banya and enjoy food from caterers, with their own private changing rooms and relaxation areas.

As a further celebration of the waters, SDG has teamed up with Madonna’s set designers, Canadian company Moment Factory, to develop a show in the plaza, telling the story of thermal waters. “It’s not Las Vegas and it’s not Disney; it’s very authentic and down to earth; integrating art into the architecture,” says Garneau.

Another SDG project is underway, half way between Leukerbad and Geneva, in the wine growing region at Chardonne. SDG made the opportunistic acquisition of a faded 1907 hotel, Du Parc Kempinski, and is restoring it to its former glory. Although it’s being converted into 24 apartments, rather than being kept as a hotel, interestingly SDG is bringing hospitality into the private residences.

Residents will be able to order room service from the adjacent five star Le Mirador Kempinski hotel, enjoy discounts on hotel amenities and spa at the Givenchy spa. One of just three in the world, it has 12 treatment rooms, each with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lake. The double treatment suite has a massage area, double bath, relaxation area, hammam and sauna. Detox and stress management programmes are offered, including a seven day liver cleansing week, a five or seven day detox and cell renewal programme and a three or five day stress management programme.

Alternatively, owners will be able to have treatments at the 650sq m satellite spa which is being built at the apartments. Leisure facilities at Du Parc will include a 20-seat cinema, a wine cellar and tasting room, a gym and indoor and outdoor pools.

According to Garneau, the leisure facilities and the partnership with the Le Mirador Kempinski hotel are paramount to the success of the project. In fact, leisure is so important that SDG has created a company, Rockefellar Living, to co-ordinate clients’ leisure time. People don’t just buy a holiday home, they buy a curated lifestyle. “Here it will be important to get to and from the airport quickly, so there will be a helicopter and a Rolls Royce available for transfers,” says Garneau.

“With Rockefellar Living we try to give owners access to the inaccessible. For example, if there’s a restaurant in town that you need to book months in advance we will be able to use our contacts to get you a table at four hours notice.”

Rockefellar Living has numerous partnerships to benefit owners. Owners become members of a local golf club. Trips to the region’s vineyards and wine tasting can be co-ordinated, as well as to events in the area, such as the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Chardonne is also just one hour away from skiing, and a wide range of water sports take place on Lake Geneva in the summer.

SDG’s attention to detail and passion for quality can be seen in the restoration of the Du Parc Kempinski private residences. The marble tiles used in the bathrooms are 19mm thick: three times the minimum. They have worked with Historic Monuments along the way to make sure that finishes and colours are authentic and original, and kept the original lobby, even though rebuilding it along the original lines would have been much easier. Local architects Brönniman & Gottreux, who designed Le Mirador Kempinski, were used for their local knowledge. Everything in the apartment – lights, televisions, taps – can be controlled by an iPad. Thankfully, they can still be used manually too.

More sites are in the pipeline. Igloo, in the Peak of Mont d’Arbois in France, is currently in the pre-development planning stages. An existing hotel, accessible only by cable car, snow crawler or helicopter, is being transformed into a luxury mountain retreat with 32 rooms and amenity spaces.

Away from ski resorts, a beachfront project in Porto Heli in Greece is being undertaken with Dolphin Capital Investors. This will transform a 1970s-style Nikki Beach hotel into something fabulous.

Even with a hefty starting price of £6m Fr (£4.2m, E4.9m, $6.5m), 60 per cent of the apartments have already been sold off-plan. Proof that SDG knows its clientele.

Like the artisan chocolatier and the wine maker I also met on my visit to Switzerland, SDG uses only the best ingredients, has a passion for detail and an awareness of tradition. Plus, it also offers stunning views.

SDG has acquired the Du Parc Kempinski between Geneva and Leukerbad
The thermal waters spa at SDG’s 51o development in Leukerbad
The Leukerbad Valley where 51o is underway
The Leukerbad Valley where 51o is underway
The water display by the Moment Factory in Leukerbad
The planned Igloo hotel
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Leisure Management
2013 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Jean-Francois Garneau

A life of luxury

Jean-Francois Garneau


What attracts the über rich? Is it being able to fill their own baths with thermal waters? Helicopter transfers? Kath Hudson talks to the Swiss Development Group’s CEO Jean-Francois Garneau to find out

Kath Hudson
Jean-Francois Garneau
SDG has acquired the Du Parc Kempinski between Geneva and Leukerbad
The thermal waters spa at SDG’s 51o development in Leukerbad
The Leukerbad Valley where 51o is underway
The Leukerbad Valley where 51o is underway
The water display by the Moment Factory in Leukerbad
The planned Igloo hotel

Returning to Switzerland for the first time since I did a ski season many moons ago, I was reminded why I love it so much. The backdrop of lakes and mountains is almost ethereal in its beauty. The towns are immaculate. The people are super stylish. And they make two of my favourite things – wine and chocolate – incredibly well.

The Swiss attention to detail is what drives up the quality of the tourism offer and while as an 18-year-old hotel waitress this attitude seemed frustratingly pernickety, being on the receiving end of uncompromisingly good service and the finest ingredients is marvellous.

The Swiss Development Group (SDG), which is working on a portfolio of projects aimed at the high end market, is typically Swiss in its drive for quality and understands what this discerning demographic wants.

“We are not prêt-à-porter, we are couture,” explains Jean-Francois Garneau, SDG’s managing director and chief executive. “Each of our sites has a tailored approach. We are site-specific, location-specific, and we design all of our sites around the people who will be using them.

“Our products are about lifestyle as much as they are about bricks and mortar. We aim to connect with the environment, the locals, the community and try to understand the genius and the spirt of the place.”

This philosophy is illustrated by a project which got underway last summer, in the Alpine town of Leukerbad, two hours from Geneva. Although a small skiing destination, this resort is popular all year round, as it also offers great hiking, mountain biking and parasailing. However, despite being renowned for its thermal waters, this potential had never been realised.

“We wanted to fully celebrate the town’s long history with water,” says Garneau. “It has 65 different sources of water, which come out at 51 degrees Celsius; it actually has to be cooled down to be used. We wanted to create a true, novelty spa experience.”

The project, named 51O, is made up of a 90 room Kempinski hotel and 28 residences which will be sold privately. When SDG acquired the land, it secured the rights to use the water in the residences. This means people will be able to bathe in quasi-medicinal waters in their own homes.

For the 1,500sqm spa, SDG has worked with spa consultant Amy McDonald from consulting firm Under A Tree to create a ‘traditional bathhouse meets Russian banya’ experience.

“I had a bit of experience with the Japanese onsen, but also started to research the Russian banya experience,” says Garneau. “The onsen experience is about purifying oneself and then going for a sushi dinner, while the banya experience is a very social experience about enjoying the water and life with friends. We have taken those elements and mixed them with the traditional spa experience of sauna, hammam and hot tub, to create a new spa experience.”

Groups will be able to reserve areas of the banya and enjoy food from caterers, with their own private changing rooms and relaxation areas.

As a further celebration of the waters, SDG has teamed up with Madonna’s set designers, Canadian company Moment Factory, to develop a show in the plaza, telling the story of thermal waters. “It’s not Las Vegas and it’s not Disney; it’s very authentic and down to earth; integrating art into the architecture,” says Garneau.

Another SDG project is underway, half way between Leukerbad and Geneva, in the wine growing region at Chardonne. SDG made the opportunistic acquisition of a faded 1907 hotel, Du Parc Kempinski, and is restoring it to its former glory. Although it’s being converted into 24 apartments, rather than being kept as a hotel, interestingly SDG is bringing hospitality into the private residences.

Residents will be able to order room service from the adjacent five star Le Mirador Kempinski hotel, enjoy discounts on hotel amenities and spa at the Givenchy spa. One of just three in the world, it has 12 treatment rooms, each with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lake. The double treatment suite has a massage area, double bath, relaxation area, hammam and sauna. Detox and stress management programmes are offered, including a seven day liver cleansing week, a five or seven day detox and cell renewal programme and a three or five day stress management programme.

Alternatively, owners will be able to have treatments at the 650sq m satellite spa which is being built at the apartments. Leisure facilities at Du Parc will include a 20-seat cinema, a wine cellar and tasting room, a gym and indoor and outdoor pools.

According to Garneau, the leisure facilities and the partnership with the Le Mirador Kempinski hotel are paramount to the success of the project. In fact, leisure is so important that SDG has created a company, Rockefellar Living, to co-ordinate clients’ leisure time. People don’t just buy a holiday home, they buy a curated lifestyle. “Here it will be important to get to and from the airport quickly, so there will be a helicopter and a Rolls Royce available for transfers,” says Garneau.

“With Rockefellar Living we try to give owners access to the inaccessible. For example, if there’s a restaurant in town that you need to book months in advance we will be able to use our contacts to get you a table at four hours notice.”

Rockefellar Living has numerous partnerships to benefit owners. Owners become members of a local golf club. Trips to the region’s vineyards and wine tasting can be co-ordinated, as well as to events in the area, such as the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Chardonne is also just one hour away from skiing, and a wide range of water sports take place on Lake Geneva in the summer.

SDG’s attention to detail and passion for quality can be seen in the restoration of the Du Parc Kempinski private residences. The marble tiles used in the bathrooms are 19mm thick: three times the minimum. They have worked with Historic Monuments along the way to make sure that finishes and colours are authentic and original, and kept the original lobby, even though rebuilding it along the original lines would have been much easier. Local architects Brönniman & Gottreux, who designed Le Mirador Kempinski, were used for their local knowledge. Everything in the apartment – lights, televisions, taps – can be controlled by an iPad. Thankfully, they can still be used manually too.

More sites are in the pipeline. Igloo, in the Peak of Mont d’Arbois in France, is currently in the pre-development planning stages. An existing hotel, accessible only by cable car, snow crawler or helicopter, is being transformed into a luxury mountain retreat with 32 rooms and amenity spaces.

Away from ski resorts, a beachfront project in Porto Heli in Greece is being undertaken with Dolphin Capital Investors. This will transform a 1970s-style Nikki Beach hotel into something fabulous.

Even with a hefty starting price of £6m Fr (£4.2m, E4.9m, $6.5m), 60 per cent of the apartments have already been sold off-plan. Proof that SDG knows its clientele.

Like the artisan chocolatier and the wine maker I also met on my visit to Switzerland, SDG uses only the best ingredients, has a passion for detail and an awareness of tradition. Plus, it also offers stunning views.


Originally published in Leisure Management 2013 issue 3

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd