LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND —As the sleek catamaran speeds towards the southern end of lovely Lake Lucerne, I look up from my seat and see what looks like a shining city on a hill — the 30 buildings that make up the fabulous Bürgenstock Hotels and Resort are glittering like diamonds in the morning sunlight.
Aah, I think to myself, maybe this is why people are calling the remarkable Bürgenstock the “crown jewel” of Swiss hotels.
The wow factor at this much-ballyhooed property, which sits 500 metres above Lake Lucerne on the ridge of Bürgenberg Mountain, is immediate. A brightly-painted funicular is waiting to carry me from the dock up a steep, winding slope to the entrance. As the small red train climbs into the heavens, the majesty of this place unfolds — famous Alpine peaks, the turquoise lake and the magical city of Lucerne spread out below. Breathtaking!
More gasps follow when I see diners in the brightly-lit lobby lounge feasting on the same jaw-dropping scene that is now framed in a massive two-storey window like a giant landscape painting. Stunning!
Above: The luxury Bürgenstock Hotels and Resort clings to Bürgenberg Mountain overlooking Lucerne.
The scene at the back of the resort is no less impressive. The ridge drops down into a deep Alpine valley that looks like it jumped off the pages of the Swiss fairytale Heidi. Neatly-kept dairy farms, complete with cows wearing their traditional collared bells, dot the pristine pastures bordered by more Alpine peaks. Awesome!
The paint was barely dry on this massive 383-room hotel and resort complex before industry experts were calling the Bürgenstock “the best new resort in the world.” Others went even further, dubbing Bürgenstock Resort the “project of the century.”
It’s hard to find fault with either of those assessments once you see the remarkable results of a nine-year project that cost over $700 million and includes four main hotels, luxury residences, lots of award-winning gourmet restaurants and a 108,000 sq ft spa that is the talk of the wellness world. There’s even a charming nine-hole golf course on property that challenges a player’s power of concentration thanks to its elevated view of the surrounding brilliance.
However, this is a “new” resort with a legendary past.
Bürgenstock Resort, you see, is actually a remake of the historic property of the same name that was first built on this site in 1873. The landmark resort thrived for decades before falling into disrepair and bankruptcy in the 1990s. Then, in 2007, a Qatari investment group rescued the Bürgenstock Resort and spared no expense restoring the property. Old buildings were demolished to make way for new architectural eye candy and original buildings were totally renovated and updated.
The results must be seen to be believed.
Above: The resort's Asian inspired Spices restaurant, left, and Middle Eastern Sharq are equally good.
The centrepiece of the resort is the 5-star Bürgenstock Hotel and Alpine Spa. The 102-room property is a masterpiece of design and if you look up “luxury” in the dictionary, you’ll probably find a picture of this hotel’s interior next to the word. The Alpine Spa comes complete with an infinity pool where guests hang on the edge soaking up the spine-tingling scenery below. Expert therapists deliver all the latest treatments and some guests never get out of their bath robes.
Part of the original hotel, including its historic kidney-shaped pool and the fashionable Oak Grill restaurant are located in this area. They remind guests of Bürgenstock Resort’s golden era of the 1950s when Hollywood stars like Sophia Loren, Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn were long-stay guests.
“Audrey Hepburn got married (to dashing American actor and director Mel Ferrer) in our chapel,” Lauriane Zosso, the Bürgenstock’s communications specialist, tells me. The lovely white chapel still remains and has become a shrine of sorts to the late Hepburn, who would stay at the Bürgenstock for long periods between her many memorable films.
The Bürgenstock Hotel even comes complete with its own posh cinema featuring plush leather seating where guests enjoy Hollywood blockbusters or film classics starring the likes of Hepburn.
Room rates — starting around $1,200 a night — reflect the exclusiveness of the Bürgenstock Hotel, but mere mortals can also enjoy the resort’s wonders in less expensive accommodation like the Palace Hotel or the Waldhotel; the latter features a spa and state-of-the-art health centre that offers cutting-edge medical treatments.
The 4-star Palace is one of the resort’s original properties and would not look out of place standing alongside the grand hotels of Paris, London or Zurich. However, once inside you feel like you’ve been transported to the hotel of the future. The interior was completely gutted during the remake and its rooms now cater to the fast-paced millennials and conference types. Its lovely terrace looks out on the natural beauty and may be the only place in the world where millennials look up from their smartphones and laptops to admire nature.
Above: Sophia Loren was a long-stay guest and Audrey Hepburn was married in resort's chapel, rifght.
The 160-room Waldhotel is an oasis of calm in a troubled world. Guests check in seeking wellness and a smile instantly comes to their face as soon as they step into the oversized rooms with the Alpine views. The 5-star Waldhotel offers post-operative convalescence, treatments to deal with modern-day stress and even regular medical and dental checkups.
Switzerland’s deep roots in hospitality are not forgotten at Bürgenstock Resort, either. The quaint chalet-style Taverne 1879 hotel offers guests a chance to experience Alpine charm at its best. The 12 comfortable rooms will have you yodeling with excitement.
The resort properties are connected by a series of ingenious tunnels, walkways, piazzas and roads. An army of staff — more than 600 — caters to your every whim. There’s a small shopping arcade selling lots of Swiss watches, of course, and handmade Swiss chocolate, too. Yum!
In all, there are eight places where you can eat and drink at Bürgenstock and the variety of international food choices is astonishing. However, you’ll usually find fine dining aficionados at Spices in the main Bürgenstock Hotel, Verbena in the Waldhotel, RitzCoffier in the Palace, Sharq, a Lebanese dining option next to the Palace, or the Oak Grill, which is famous for its barbecues.
Spices is a one-stop eatery for lovers of Asian cuisine and, like all the resort’s other dining rooms, is governed by the resort’s culinary director Mike Wehrle, who brings a lot of Far East cooking knowledge and flare to Bürgenstock Resort thanks to his past experiences in Bangkok and the Philippines.
Above: The Hammetschwand elevator near the resort gives guests a bird's eye view of the Alps.
Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Thai dishes are expertly prepared in Spices’ open kitchen and the restaurant’s glass-facade juts out from the Bürgenstock Hotel, giving patrons a 180-degree view of the jaw-dropping setting.
Verbena concentrates on vegetarian dishes from areas around the Mediterranean and even a meat lover like me was won over by the freshness and platting of this kitchen’s offerings.
RitzCoffier’s design is pure Paris chic — original copper pots from the earliest days of the Palace Hotel, which first opened in 1903, are used to decorate the walls of this award-winning room, which serves up the best cuisine à la Escoffier (classic French cuisine) this side of the French Alps.
Interestingly, Sharq occupies the building where Italian acting legend Sophia Loren lived with her late husband Carlo Ponti for seven years. Its alabaster interior makes it one of the most eye-catching restaurants in the culinary world and the Middle Eastern dishes surpass all expectations.
Bürgenstock Resort’s wilderness location promotes outdoor activities and there’s plenty of Alpine trails to explore, along with golf, tennis and swimming.
The most popular trail is the one that leads guests and locals — people from Lucerne make regular day trips to the Bürgenstock Resort — along a mountain ridge to the Hammetschwand, a unique elevator built into the granite rock face.
It’s recognized as the tallest of its kind in Europe and opened in 1905 by the Bürgenstock’s original owner Franz Josef Bucher.
The Hammetschwand takes people 153 metres to the summit in under one minute, affording them even more spectacular views of famed Alpine peaks like Rigi, Grosser, Glārnisch and Fronalpstock. It’s also a thrill ride, because its descends in a spine-tingling 3.1 metres per second. Yikes!
The Bürgenstock Hotels and Resort is a gift that just keeps on giving.
JUST THE FACTS
• For more on the Bürgenstock Hotels and Resort: https://www.buergenstock.ch/en
• For information on Switzerland: http://www.MySwitzerland.com
• Air Canada offers direct flights to Zurich from Toronto and Swiss International Air Lines runs daily service from Montreal: http://www.swiss.com