Mountaintop grandeur: Bürgenstock Hotel review
Vast and opulent, it’s not hard to feel as though you’ve been catapulted into a James Bond film
Lake Lucerne in November and December is a flawless pane of icy glass, still and calm. Nothing stirs in the crisp, chilly air. As your gaze travels up towards the mountains which frame the lake, the amber leaves of the trees abruptly turn white, touched by the first frosty snowfalls of winter. And above the snowy trees, towering 500 metres above the lake into the clouds, is a hotel like no other. Welcome to Bürgenstock Hotels and Resort, the legendary luxury Swiss retreat.
If you’re after a small, cosy hotel, this isn’t it. The magnificent mountaintop resort is the epitome of grandeur, boasting 383 rooms across four hotels, 67 private residences, 12 restaurants and bars, a labyrinthine 10,000sq m Alpine Spa, championship tennis courts, and a Lakeview Ballroom. There are also shops, three wine cellars, and a 66-seat cinema. Recently reopened, it’s all part of a £440 million revamp, thanks to Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, with the aim of restoring it to its former glory.
A hotel has stood on the site since 1873, yet the hotel had its heyday in the 1950s and 60s, when all manner of celebrities flocked here to escape. Among the hotel’s most prestigious guests are Sophia Loren, who lived here for several years, Jimmy Carter, Indira Gandhi and many more. The enchanting small cream chapel on the site is where Audrey Hepburn married her first husband in 1953.
Ostentatious and opulent, it’s not hard to feel as though you’ve been catapulted into a James Bond film. Even the approach to the hotel is nothing short of spectacularly ice-cool. From Zurich airport, a train takes you to Lucerne, and from Lucerne, a boat from the hotel glides over the placid lake to a waiting vintage funicular (built in 1888) which whisks you up into the bowels of the hotel. A roaring fire greets you as you enter reception. To one side, a well-stocked bar overlooks the lake, and behind that a cigar room, the perfect setting for a martini and a hushed conversation with a suitably evil Bond villain.
Each room in the Bürgenstock comes with its own fire, two-person sunken bathtub and views overlooking the lake and the Rigi and Pilatus Mountains. Unfortunately, when the clouds are low, the view disappears completely. Yet the interior is chic and modern, in subtle walnut, quartz and marble, with beautiful cowbell pendant lamps and a complimentary mini-bar.
If you’re sceptical as to whether a resort can produce 12 high quality restaurants, you needn’t worry. Under the guidance of German culinary director, Mike Wehrle, the food is outstanding. Spices restaurant quite literally hangs off the mountainside, with more spectacular views, and serves authentic Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Thai cuisine. The Oak Grill and Pool Patio, meanwhile, offers more locally-sourced, Swiss fare (the Swiss pike is highly recommended). Breakfast in the Ritzcoffier, is a grand affair, while Sharq restaurant serves Lebanese food in a more relaxed setting.
If you need to get away from the hotel, you can, although this may prove trickier in winter once the snow starts to thickly fall. Across the lake, there is nearby Lucerne to explore, with its 14th century Chapel Bridge, and the hotel can supply you with whatever you need should you wish to hike, ski or golf in the area. There’s also the Hammetschwand Lift which dates from 1905, Europe’s highest open-air lift.
If you’re feeling less adventurous, head to the hotel’s cavernous Alpine Spa, which covers three floors, with saunas, steam rooms and jacuzzis galore. Not forgetting the outdoor infinity pool, which, when the clouds descend, is like swimming in the sky, the steam from the meticulously-heated pool evaporating into the clouds. There’s also an ingenuous and imaginative children’s play area, which would keep any youngster occupied for hours. In December, a huge health and medical centre will open, offering beauty and relaxation treatments, post-operative recovery, physiotherapy, medical check-ups, disease prevention, nutritional consultation and weight regulation, all overseen by a team of qualified doctors.
In November, a thick layer of perfectly white, powdery snow coats the hotel’s outdoor loungers, table and chairs like a dust sheet. The magnificence of the fresh, calm surroundings is undeniable. Yet it’s difficult to know what this splendidly scenic hotel would feel like in summer; whether it would simply seem a little too daunting and frenetic. The resort’s several shops, selling the same items you can find at the airport, and large advertisements, showing off Eddie Redmayne posing with an Omega watch, might put some visitors off. Still, this is both a uniquely relaxing haven to get away from it all, and a super-stylish place to be seen. The makers of the next James Bond epic should take note.
Stay at the Bürgenstock Hotel at Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort from 650 CHF per night (approx. £490), including full breakfast, VAT & service charge, spa entry, use of the funicular & boat, free Wifi and Nespresso & tea in room. For more information and to book, visit buergenstock.ch/en