The finest selection
With three luxurious, well-located and recently renovated hotels, Bürgenstock Hotels and Resorts is hoping to attract a sizeable chunk of tourists from the Middle East with their famed Swiss hospitality.
The portfolio includes Hotel Schweizerhof, which is less than a minute’s walk from Bern railway station; Hotel Royal Savoy at the banks of Lake Geneva in Lausanne and the flagship, Bürgenstock Resort. Situated on top of Bürgenstock Mountain about half an hour’s boat ride from Lucerne, the resort overlooks the city and its mighty lake.
All three hotels have a long history of indulging royalties and celebrities, and all three have been tastefully refurbished recently. The properties are now owned by the Qatar-based Katara Hospitality, who have poured in nearly one billion Swiss francs into the project. More than half that amount has gone into Bürgenstock Resort, which aims to open a wellness hotel in its sprawling 148-acre property – the fourth hotel in the complex – by the end of the year
Unlike a chain hotel, all three properties are very distinct, but there is a common theme that binds them. They have retained various elements from the past – Royal Savoy even delaying its opening by several months in order to restore murals found on the building façade – and yet, the interiors are very modern and efficient.
Schweizerhof dates back to 1859, then named Hotel Fetzer, and established even before the railway station was built. Some locals think the location of the station was chosen so that it could be next to Fetzer. While the truth of that story cannot be established, what just cannot be denied is that Schweizerhof, in its modern avatar, is an institution in the Swiss capital.
With 99 very well-appointed rooms, it is one of only two five-star superior hotels in the city. The imposing Swiss Parliament building – with its stunning light and sound show every evening – is just a block away, while the charming Old Town – a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site – with its four miles of covered shopping, literally starts from the back entrance of the hotel.
The 500 sqm spa at Schweizerhof is the smallest of the three Bürgenstock properties we visited, but well equipped. However, the three facilities you need to experience are the Cigar Lounge, the Sky Terrace and their well-known restaurant, Jack’s Brasserie.
The Sky Terrace, where you can get a panoramic view of the city, is also a matter of luck. Our planned Raclette and sheisha evening was cancelled because of rain. The Cigar Lounge was almost packed to capacity throughout the day during our stay, while Jack’s Brasserie is one of the most famous and critically-acclaimed restaurants in Bern. Their Wiener Schnitzel is a speciality worth ordering again and again, but the portion is too large for one person.
Each of the 99 rooms in the hotel are spacious and luxuriously fitted. The taupe coloured walls, the restored chandeliers and the herringbone oak flooring lends an understated charm, while the bathrooms feature rain showers and Japanese bathtubs.
Iris Fluckiger, general manager at Schweizerhof, said: “It’s just that Bern, despite being the capital and with all its attractions, is still a bit under-rated by the tourists. Most people would rather travel to places like Geneva, Zurich or Interlaken. So, at various trade shows, we find ourselves selling the city more than the hotel itself.
“But the number of tourists, especially from the Middle East, is increasing every year, and with our understanding of the clientele, we are very well placed to make them feel welcome in our hotel. We can easily arrange for interconnecting rooms (or adjoining rooms with common main door) for larger families and provide private spa timings.”
From Bern, we travelled to Lausanne, the sporting capital of Switzerland, and the magnificent Royal Savoy Hotel & Spa, which, believe it or not, used to be one of the official hotels during the glory days of Orient Express. Sadly not featured in the recently released ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, but one does not need the analytical acumen of Hercule Poirot to see why the hotel remains so popular with residents and visitors of Lausanne.
With the International Olympic Committee headquartered in the city, and Royal Savoy being one of their preferred hotels, expect to bump into the movers and shakers of the Olympic movement. Ukrainian pole vault great Sergey Bubka just walked out of the hotel as we walked in.
Modelled on early Swiss palaces and built in the Art Nouveau style, opened its door to public in 1909. In its present form, it was reopened in 2015 after a five-year long period of renovation.
The façade of the building is impressive. The stringent Swiss regulations wanted Bürgenstock Selection to maintain the early 20th century iron work on the balconies, frescos and the artworks inside the hotel.
While the work was going on, a mural covering the fifth floor of the building was discovered concealed behind the outer wall. The hotel decided to restore the mural as well, which pushed the opening date by several months.
With the renovation, the hotel has added a modern Garden Wing, which has 95 rooms, including the stunning 370 sqm penthouse, and the 1,500 sqm Le Spa du Royal, which has connecting indoor and outdoor swimming pools, women-only area, private spas, gym and therapy rooms. The historic building has 101 keys.
General manager Alain Kropf, who spent several years in the Middle East before taking up his present responsibility, said: “Before the renovation, Royal Savoy was a very important part of the Lausanne lifestyle. There was some anxiety among the locals and other regular guests as to what would happen when the hotel reopens.
“Thankfully, I think we have satisfied everybody. Those who stayed with us before, feel that the rooms are much more comfortable now. Our Cigar Lounge, the restaurant, the spa and the Sky Lounge (with stunning views of Lake Geneva) are all open to the public and they don’t think the new property is imposing. And with a starting rate of 350 Swiss francs for our deluxe rooms, this really is affordable luxury.”
Our next stop after a two-hour journey on the ever-efficient Swiss Rail was the city of Lucerne. The ‘Bürgenstock Express’, the boat that is a faster way to travel to the resort, leaves from the pier that is a few hundred meters away from the station.
The boat drops us at the base of the Bürgenstock mountain, from where we take the funicular to the resort, built 500m above Lake Lucerne.
The Lakeview Lobby is common to both five-star Bürgenstock Hotel and the four-star Palace Hotel. The breath-taking view of the lake, and the city beyond, on one side, and the snow-capped Alps on the other, it is easy to understand why someone like Audrey Hepburn decided to marry at the property and Sophia Lauren spent seven years of her life here.
When fully opened, the resort will have four hotels. The five-star Waldhotel is a health and wellness focused hotel expected to be complete next month, while there is also the smaller 12-room Taverne 1879, the number indicating the year when it was opened.
Apart from the hotels, the resort has 68 residence suites and 10 villas – all available only on long-term rentals – 12 restaurants, a 66-seater cinema theatre, a nine-hole golf course (not a single bunker on the course!) an indoor tennis court and two outdoor courts, a skating rink and over 43 miles of hiking trails.
And then there is the 10,000 sqm Alpine spa, among one of the biggest in Europe. It features three pools – one indoor, a large outdoor heated infinity pool, as well as a historic outdoor pool in the private garden – saunas and a Hammam steam room, whirlpool baths, 15 treatment rooms and three private spas. A note of caution though – most spa facilities are mixed-use, so if you seek privacy, you have got to ask for it.
The Bürgenstock Hotel has 102 rooms and suites – starting from the 46 sqm deluxe rooms to the 678 sqm Royal Suite encompassing the top floor, which also comes with 241 sqm of rooftop terraces. But whatever be the size of your room – you can be assured that each and every room, and the restaurants and gym, has stunning views of either the lake or the mountains.
Bruno H Schöpfer, managing director of Bürgenstock Selection, says: “The hotel is perfect for travellers from the Middle East, with luxury at the very heart of everything we offer.
“Overall, planning and construction have taken nine years. For this, 147 building permits were required. Not to mention the landmark and environmental protection guidelines. Nevertheless, the effort was worth it. The result is a ‘hotel-village’ with an extraordinary mix of historic and modern buildings.
“Its size, diverse offer, and breathtaking location high above Lake Lucerne, make the Bürgenstock Resort truly unique.”