“ Address. 57 Rue Des Chalets / 01630 Saint Genis Pouilly / Geneva / Switzerland „
I tend to be a little suspicious of establishments that make certain stating-the-obvious claims about their services. Restaurants that offer 'delicious food', for example. Surely that goes without saying? No restaurant is ever going to advertise 'tasteless cuisine' on their sign, are they? Ditto 'luxury hotels' (if they have to tell you they're 'luxury', they're probably anything but). The Première Classe Hotel Geneva proves this point exactly. It is far from first class. It is not in Geneva (it's in France!) And to call it a hotel is even stretching it a bit.
We arrived en masse about 10.30pm on a Friday night in June. A taxi ride from Geneva airport took us past Cern (we thought it was a planetarium...in our defence it was dark and we were giddy with excitement) and cost 50 Swiss Francs. The taxis knew where they were going, always a good sign. We staggered out with our bags, and headed towards the reception desk. Except there was no reception desk. There was no reception area. And anyway, the door was locked and the lights were off. Not very hotel-like really.
There were automated check-in machines outside which we tried to use. There were 14 of us and we had 6 rooms booked, all on the same credit card but under different names because they wanted a lead person for each room. The machine found our reservations but declined to let us check in. There was 'un problème'. An error. An unexpected item in the baggage are.... like 14 cheerios and their bags. We tried again, both with and without the card, as the rooms had been paid for in advance. We tried different names. Always the same response. Failing to make progress, we scoured the tiny vestibule area for advice. There was a telephone number to ring, but no phone. Yes we had mobiles, but as a hotel that clearly attracts foreigners it seemed wrong that we would have to pay the extortionate overseas rates just to get let in to a hotel that knew we were coming. We had 2 French speakers in the group. One called up and explained our predicament but didn't get very far. A woman answered the phone, came down to reception while still talking, and left the hotel. As she was leaving the hotel we quickly snuck in and propped open the front door before it could lock behind her. Gut instinct told us this was the right thing to do, and it was. It took us a moment to realise she was leaving, and not coming back.
We were in the lobby but it wasn't much. There was a shutter that closed off the breakfast room, and little else. There were vending machines and a room that claimed to house Lingerie. Round the corner there was a shower room - odd for an all ensuite hotel, and made even odder by the inclusion of 2 plastic garden chairs inside it. There was nothing else, nowhere to get keys, no one to speak to. A few guests were coming and going but closer examination suggested they probably weren't the occupants of any rooms, just their 'lady friends' who had come to visit. It gave the impression of the kind of place that charged by the hour.
Having got nowhere on the phone, a convoy set off to a nearby hotel, to see if they could help. They were gone more than half an hour, and it was only across the path. We later discovered the guy there diligently tried to help, ringing several people before eventually locking up his own hotel to come over to ours. In the meantime, we loitered. Another group arrived, 5 Spanish men. They had the same problem as us, that is the computer still said no. We entertained them with stories of our plans for the weekend (a cheerleading competition in France ) and I made use of my español, an unexpected bonus on a weekend during which I'd expected only to parler français comme une vache espagnole, but I'd happily have skipped that part in order to get to sleep.
Eventually the man from the hotel next door managed to rouse the on duty reception type ('on duty' clearly being code for 'asleep') and she came out and gave us our room keys. We had been there an hour and a half by that point. It was gone midnight and we had to be up by 6am, well rested and ready to win. Excellent. There was no apology from her, if anything she seemed miffed that we had woken her from her slumber, inconsiderate hotel guests that we were. I can understand (just) if it had been 3am and the night porter was dozing, but we arrived at 10.30pm. This was France . Surely that's about the time they go out to eat over there? There was no excuse for a hotel expecting 19 or more people that night not to have anyone around.
The hotel appeared to have 3 floors but by this point I was beyond caring and my usual interest in exploring had deserted me. We were on the first floor and there was no evident lift so we hoiked the suitcases up and round the curved staircase (So helpful! So practical!) though mine was swiftly taken from me by a kind Spanish gentleman. I'm going to say it was because we'd had out little Spanglish chat earlier, and not because he looked for the oldest cheerio on tour to lend a helping hand to.
Our room could have slept 3. We were but 2 which was no bad thing since it was basically a shoe box. Coming in, you immediately tripped over the bed though luckily it was a divan style rather than a metal bed frame, so there was nothing to bang yourself on. Our uniforms are small. Bruises aren't a good luck. The bed was a double, with a single bunk above it. We had a surface area under the low, square window that served as a desk but there was nothing else in the way of furniture. If you wanted to hang your clothes there were a few hangers secured to what appeared to be a plumbing pipe, though it may just have been a roof support. Either way, I didn't want to risk it. The bunk bed was ok but the ladder was a bit lethal and had pre-comp-ankle-sprain written all over it.
The en suite wasn't so much attached to the bedroom as it was a part of it, with precious space in the corner carved out to provide a pod-like cubicle with a shower, sink and toilet in. We had two tiny towels which were to be for hands, face, body and for standing on as a bath mat. We decided not to shower, though to be fair this seemed to be the cleanest and most modern part of the room, albeit with a touch of caravan about it. I was tempted to, just to leave nice fake tan streaks on their white towels, but in the end tiredness got the better of me.
We had a wall-mounted flatscreen which didn't get switched on, staying as we were for barely 6 hours. The website boasted of wifi and air con, but our room boasted neither. Even at only 2/3 of the possible occupancy we were roasting over night. The room also stank of stale smoke which took ages to get used to, and the lack of air con didn't help. I had to unpack a few items but was careful to close my suitcase back up in an attempt to keep the stench from creeping into my Lycra as we slept.
The beds had the dubious type of bedspreads you wouldn't really want to sit on without putting a towel down first, and I peeled mine back gingerly, checked the sheets for visible traces of the previous occupants and drifted off to sleep. The boys were less lucky in their room where the cleaner had been less diligent. There was a tissue wedged up next to the bunk bed. Without doubt a 'happy tissue' as the boys so vividly described it. The sheets weren't Egyptian Cotton by any stretch, but they were clean, white and had been ironed. There were no threadbare patches on mine though the pillow was a little lumpy and one wasn't really sufficient. Still, by this point I had been expecting worse - fleas, bedbugs, you get the idea. The next morning I had a respectable one single mosquito bite. That wasn't too bad.
All things considered, we slept well. The room was hot but the beds comfortable enough, and the whole place was quiet. Clearly the other guests were being 'entertained' in their rooms rather than screeching up and down the corridors. The rooms didn't have peep holes or safety chains and while I can usually do without either, this struck me as the sort of establishment where they would be received gratefully. The doors had electronic keys and we were issued with one per room. Happily they worked first time, because had they not we would have been well and truly stuck, with happy reception woman already back in bed.
In the morning as we repacked I thought how glad I was not to be staying any longer as there literally wasn't even space to swing the proverbial cat in our room. It felt a bit like a cabin on a ship, but without the thoughtful design features. Billed as a chain akin to Premier Inns or Travelodges, I couldn't help but think that it didn't come close to either. A seedy motel at best.
Dragging ourselves down to reception at 6.30am we found some of our party already standing around. The night before we'd found a picnic table and chairs on which to while away the time, but the lovely lady from the night before had apparently come along just before we appeared and pushed one of our juniors off a chair, ranting incomprehensibly in French as she did so. Clearly she was still holding it against us that we'd interrupted her on-the-job sleeping the night before.
As we waited for taxis, we got to see the hotel in daylight for the first time. It wasn't a wild improvement. The breakfast area was being set up ready for the 7am buffet. It looked like it would include croissants, baguette, juice and coffee. The baguette were sitting on the counter as we came down, implying they'd just been dropped off rather than baked on site. Outside, it was soon clear the hotel was in the middle of quite an industrial area. There was a supermarket nearby, but it was shut. The petrol station was really just a few petrol pumps. We didn't need fuel (unless we fancied burning the place down), but a few Shell-standard cans of Redbull or hideously overpriced multi-buy chocolate deals and coronary inducing packs of Wotsits wouldn't have gone amiss.
There are lots of words you could use to describe this place, but Première Classe doesn't come close. It was a dive, and a dive in the backwaters at that. It wasn't expensive but it wasn't dirt cheap either (about 50 Euros per room per night, which was about 8 Euros per hour for us by the time we got in) and the added hassle and expense of getting back into civilisation only added to our dissatisfaction. There was no obvious public transport in the airport, and local area information was scant even once inside. We couldn't have called for a taxi the night before even if we'd wanted to as no numbers were displayed, and the attempt at tourist info boiled down to a few leaflets for the Laughing Cow factory. If you wanted maps or other guidance you would have been out of luck, and the hotel rooms themselves were bare with nothing beyond a sign on the wall telling you what time to check out. As if you'd want to linger in this place!
Geneva is not an easy place to find budget accommodation, but when we returned a few days later, we found that our hostel close to the station offered much better rooms and a much better location for a much better price.
In other words, you do have a choice. You don't have to stay here. And you shouldn't. I never will again.