Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – "The original idea was to design a hotel that would draw on what we’re all about, as a family: this is our first creation. It’s a question of bringing your vecu to the party," says Anne-Marie Morrongiello, owner of the new 41-room East-West Hotel on the rue des Paquis in Geneva. She and her family have indeed brought much of their own rich travel experience to Geneva’s first hotel to become a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Morrongiello could serve as a prototype for the Lake Geneva region international business woman: one parent is from the Philippines, the other is French from Savoie and she grew up with English as a main language, first in France then in the United States. She has spent her adulthood living in various parts of the world. Her husband is Italian.
Geneva, after years abroad, is once again home, the place where the family has settled and where her children are growing up. She has a strong marketing background and has worked closely with her parents to develop a relatively young family business that includes the Tiffany Hotel in Geneva, bought in 2005, and three small hotels in Paris. East-West has grown out of the old Rivoli Hotel which had been closed for some time. It was stripped down and renovated completely by Studio Marc Hertrich, under the watchful eye of Morrongiello.
A happy marriage of Asia and Europe/North America is what lies behind the hotel’s name. It comes from Morrongiello’s own experience, absorbing the best of two sides of the globe that she often saw during her itinerant years. "I wanted the atmosphere of a private house. The hotel is a place for the sophisticated traveller," she admits, "but I wanted to go beyond a place that just has all these amenities. You should have the feeling you’re walking into a home."
Her own serious travels began at the age of 10, when her father, who was working in Cincinnati, Ohio in the US, bought a station wagon and took his wife and four children off to "see America": motels, highways, the Midwest, the West. "We ate at Pizza Hut and diners," she laughs warmly. "I’ve always associated travel with family travelling. Her parents later took her and her sister on a safari in Africa and in the early 1980s she spent three weeks in China, shortly after meeting her future husband. "I have always loved the beauty of discovering something that is so different from what one knows."
Her more recent travels have included Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Biarritz in France and traveling in Iceland with the children, who are teenagers. Absorbing as much of the culture and history of a place are part of what fuels her love of travel, and East-West reflects this ethic.
Home it may feel like, but it’s a luxurious home, from the
warm-toned blend of silks, satins, glass, mahogany and bamboo to the
elegance of the Montpellier Pourcel brothers’ recipes
in the oriental red kitchen, a flash of which diners can catch when
the doors open. The Pourcels are equally travel-minded and their food
reflects this. Jacques Pourcel told GenevaLunch recently, over mango
raviolis with coriander (price: CHF25-35, depending on portion size),
that "The term ‘fusion cuisine’ doesn’t really bother me because it is
helping our approach to food develop today in France, although it is
still based on our traditions. For me, the first thing is our Pourcel
signature and then we’re very open to other influences from around the
world, but starting from our Mediterranean roots."
To the chefs’ travels and its impact on the hotel’s cuisine,
Morrongiello adds touches from her own ongoing travels. "I try to put
myself in the customer’s shoes, so I will continue to travel and to
bring back my ideas." The library holds her handpicked collection of
books, for example, many of them unusual armchair travel reading.
Morrongiello says her role in the family business is "to define the
product and the strategy for our hotels. At the moment this isn’t
entirely coherent." Geneva’s 19th century Tiffany Hotel was
a going concern, mainly a business hotel near the banking district,
known in financial circles for its restaurant. Some renovation and
redecorating began in early February because the rooms were "looking
tired," says Morrongiello. The Tiffany and East-West are managed by
The Paris hotels are the Lenox,
a comfortable Montparnasse hotel and two others, under renovation,
which are across the street from each other in the 17th arrondissement,
on the Avenue du Ternes. These are being upgraded from three- to
Morrongiello says she is free to manage the global vision for the
company, as well as keep her fine eye for detail, because "I have
excellent managers here – and in Paris, I have the same kind of setup."