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A LITTLE SWISS MAGIC - PAMPERED IN FIVE-STAR LUXURY
 
(2014 - Winter/Spring Issue)

Writer: CARIN AND MARK ROSEN



Most people plan their trips by pinpointing cities and places to visit, developing an itinerary and subsequently booking flights and hotels. Sounds logical, however we design our trip differently.

It’s been more than 20 years since we’ve travelled in Switzerland and, as we check the websites, a memory of Interlaken and its lovely Victoria-Jungfrau hotel prompts us to check further. We discover a group of five-star luxury hotels, now comprising the Victoria-Jungfrau Collection (which includes Interlaken’s original Victoria-Jungfrau). Offering old-world charm, and prime locations in their respective cities, we are intrigued and wonder if this could be our starting point. Switzerland is a small country where everything is close, so we choose the hotels first, three to be exact, to frame our Swiss journey.

Enchanting Lucerne

Our first Swiss encounter begins in Lucerne. Our hotel, the elegant Palace Luzern, which opened in May, 1906, proudly stands out, overlooking the Promenade and Lake Lucerne. We enter a little dishevelled and tired but perk up as we are warmly welcomed; soothing wet towels are offered and we are ushered into our room.

“Look at this light-filled space,” I note, “so beautifully updated.” Our junior suite decorated with creamy gold and taupe tones, modern furnishings, roomy closets, a king-size bed and a compact sitting area create a stylish, inviting oasis. Just beyond, the balcony opens to a heavenly view of the lake surrounded by snow-kissed mountains, and like a magnet, we are drawn outside before unpacking. Later, we step into the sumptuous bathroom replete with granite, double sinks, separate glass-enclosed shower and tub, and fluffy towels perfectly placed on towel warmers! How sublime, we think, delighting also in the packaged Swiss chocolates, fresh fruit, flowers and bottled water awaiting us.  

Returning to the lobby (still the original), the gracious splendour of the hotel wraps around us: soaring high ceilings, marble floors and columns, a grand staircase, and a lavish central crystal chandelier, below which sits an exquisite purple floral arrangement. An ambience of warmth and sophistication permeates the classy but unstuffy interior. Like the city itself, the Palace beautifully blends old traditional charm with the contemporary. Gorgeous, new spa facilities entice and 42 (of 130) of the rooms are renovated. Public spaces such as Les Artistes combine grand elegance, outstanding views and casual as well as more formal meals. The newly updated Jasper restaurant incorporates modern furnishings, warm colours and gourmet light cuisine. In fact Jasper’s outdoor terrace is our favourite dining spot, where the tantalizing culinary delights and superb service are heightened by the spectacular scenery. 

The city has a relaxed, resort feel, yet Lucerne also exudes culture, history, liveliness and a serene elegance. The Promenade by the water, built in the19th century for tourism, is filled today with locals and visitors strolling. As a centre for music and education, museums, theatres and countless festivals abound. And certainly the Carnival at winter’s end is reputed to be a very boisterous outdoor affair.

We love meandering in the Old Town’s maze of small streets, where beautifully frescoed buildings dating back to the 1300s, gold-toned wrought-iron signs, picturesque squares and fountains fascinate and make the past come alive.

Lucerne seamlessly combines the old and modern, with for example the iconic Water Tower built around 1300, the famed wooden Chapel Bridge and the avant-garde, stunning cultural centre known as the KKL Luzern.

Nearby, we see the unique Lion Monument carved out of natural stone to commemorate the deaths of Swiss mercenaries in France in 1792. The lion’s expression fuses sorrow, dignity and bravery and is incredibly powerful and moving. 

Lucerne is blessed to be close to wondrous snow-capped mountains. We take a lovely boat ride along tranquil Lake Lucerne viewing breathtaking alpine villages and mountains, followed by the incredibly steep cogwheel train up to Mount Pilatus, the “Dragon Mountain”; here we hike, taking in the amazing views, crisp mountain air and the unique tones of the alphorn. Later, as we descend by aerial cable car, we are serenaded by the tinkling “music” of cowbells. 

Bern, a Capital Gem

Our next leg of the journey brings us farther west to Switzerland’s capital city, stately Bern; our entry point is the impressive, sandstone beauty, the Bellevue Palace, which opened November 27, 1913. Prominently situated next to the distinguished Swiss Parliament Building and functioning as the government’s official guesthouse, this is the hotel for dignitaries, politicians and royalty—a veritable crème de la crème. We marvel at the lobby’s marble, chandeliers, grand staircase and gorgeous recessed stained-glass ceiling, yet our overwhelming sense is one of welcome and warmth. The lovely central flower arrangement, the many scattered framed photos and letters of previous, renowned guests and the inviting cosy arrangements of chairs and sofas make us feel as if we are in someone’s grand living room. With friendly greetings and helpful tips from reception we proceed to our deluxe room.

Now we fully understand the hotel's name “Bellevue,” as we are struck by the sensational view that overlooks the Aare River and the city below from our semi-circular balcony, with its beautiful wrought-iron balustrade. So romantic!

French doors, grand high ceilings, traditional wood furnishings, a comfy king-size bed and classic drapery all interweave to form a refined, spacious retreat. How lovely to note the four red roses in a square vase, Swiss chocolate bar, fresh fruit and bottled water, considerately placed for us. The washroom is divided into a separate room with a toilet and sink, plus another large room with double vanities, granite and a glassed-in shower/tub combination. Soft towels atop towel warmers are precisely arranged to spell the hotel’s name!

We dine in the Bellevue’s spectacular outdoor section of La Terrasse. The panorama of the river below and snow-topped Bernese Alps in the distance; the impeccable service like fine-tuned choreography, where all main dishes arrive and their silver-domed covers are removed simultaneously; as well as the exquisite meals themselves, provide a treasured memory.

The capital since 1848, Bern is a vibrant, cultured, international city and we see people from all parts of the world here. Founded in 1191, the city was rebuilt in the 15th century in an elegant and unifying, grey-green sandstone. Encircled by the Aare River, the Old Town has a compact well-preserved medieval centre, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Amongst the grand buildings, arcaded walkways and squares we notice the colourfully painted fountains (there are more than 100). The figures depict heroes, historical events and folklore including one particularly eerie one, the Ogre fountain where children seem to be being swallowed alive. Still practical, the fountain water is potable and following Bernese style, we sample the cool water. Old Town’s landmark, Munster Church, a very imposing structure begun in 1421, is the tallest church in Switzerland. The portal above the entrance is mesmerizing in its dramatic portrayal of the Last Judgment.

Perhaps most symbolic of Bern’s Old Town, the central Clock Tower melds beauty, artistry, function and astonishing accuracy. The astronomical clock and the many mechanical figures intricately set in motion hourly are truly a wonder to behold and to appreciate considering the mechanism is operated solely through the use of weights, pulleys and gears as it has been since the 15th century.

Lively Bern fascinates us with its fantastic museums such as the History Museum, Einstein House, and Zentrum Paul Klee, the latter shaped like three waves; its shopping in Old Town or the modern Libeskind’s Westside complex; its unique BearPark home to the bears who were part of the city's founding folklore; and its wonderful restaurants and theatres.

One evening we thoroughly enjoy a German version of the Phantom of the Opera staged in the square next to Munster Church.

Zurich Delights

Of course beyond the infinite charms of Bern, the countryside and glorious Alps exert an irresistible pull. We drive to Interlaken (where three lakes meet) enjoying a ferryboat ride along picturesque Lake Brienz bordered by mountains, with stops at different towns. After we thrill to closer mountain vistas in nearby Grindelwald. Reaching our final stop, Zurich, the largest Swiss city, we enter a third hotel of the Collection, aptly called Eden au Lac.

Built in1909 on the shore of Lake Zurich, serene views of the water and mountains take centre-stage. The classic exterior with blue-striped canopies makes us think a little of the Mediterranean. Smaller than the other hotels in the group (about 50 rooms), the Eden radiates elegance with a warm, cosy charm. The lobby’s staircase, marble floors, twinkling crystal chandelier and pure white flower arrangement form a refined setting while the attentive welcome at reception and the engaging sun-filled room beyond draws us in. We feel compelled to enter the Eden Bar, where the light spills in, the lake view is spellbinding and the many seating areas lure us to stop and relax.

Next, we reach our room. Long-stemmed white roses, orchids and a single flower floating in a vase await us as well as bottled water, and a three-tiered arrangement of delectable Swiss chocolates on top, followed by gooseberries and then more fresh fruit on the bottom. Our suite is airy with light plaid aqua and yellow tones, a lovely separate living room, beautiful wood furnishings, king-size bed, French doors and an inviting wrought-iron balcony overlooking the lake. A divided washroom with a small toilet room and a spacious bathroom of grey and white marble, double sinks, roomy shower and separate bath round out our luxurious haven.    

We dine in the classically furnished Restaurant Eden and are awed by the outstanding service, the mix of memorable dishes such as the hors d’oeuvres chauds, first created for Prince Aga Khan during WW II, as well as the scrumptious local fare, such as the fish we relish. Warm, vibrant colours, huge windows and the refined atmosphere keep us lingering here for hours.

Zurich is such a sophisticated, bustling city filled with museums, galleries, theatres, an opera house, trendy restaurants and shops. The winding streets of the older part fascinate however we are on a mission to find authentic Swiss chocolates to take home. And we discover the fantastic Sprüngli store, a chocoholic’s dream where tempting displays, extensive products, wafting aromas and delightful samples beckon. Laden with our lovely packages, specially wrapped to keep cool, we are sadly about to return home.

Feeling suffused by the gracious service and warm hospitality of these stately hotels, the vibrant cities and serene alpine landscapes, we reluctantly depart for Toronto but with a definite plan to return to heavenly Switzerland very soon!

Travel Planner

For more information check the Victoria-Jungfrau Collection at Victoria-jungfrau-collection.ch.

For more information on Switzerland, visit myswitzerland.com/en-ca/home.html.

 
 
 
 
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