Finally… it was time to return to Bürgenstock Resort, Europe’s pre-eminent mountain-top resort that I had not visited since its renovation was just beginning. Nine years’ work and considerable investment by owners Katara Hospitality have resulted in this beauty: some 60 hectares of Swiss countryside looking down to Lake Lucerne some 395 metres below. From the start, there had been a funicular to take people up and down, and this, built in 1880 and meticulously maintained, is still working. The most romantic way to arrive remains a 20-minute boat direct from Lucerne rail station, and then the funicular (the alternative arrival is via a modern road with enough hairpin bends for the Guinness Book of World Records).
I arrived by car, and was immediately impressed by the fact that the only prominent advertising is for Longines and Swatch – it turns out that the hotel has a strong partnership with Swatch Group as the late Nicky Hayek used the ‘old’ hotel for global management meetings. Yes, as a whole wall of historical photos and other data shows, there were always buildings on this site. I stayed in the signature Bürgenstock Hotel, a new-build with 110 rooms and suites all facing down to the lake: this replaces the Park Hotel that was here. A few metres away, with interior connection, is The Palace Hotel, the more business-like sibling that is simply a renovation of an existing building. Want to stay in the charming 12-room Swiss chalet Taverne? Here, bedrooms replace the offices that were previously above the home of raclette, rösti and veal Zurichoise. Coming in a few weeks’ time is the Matteo Thun-designed Walhotel, another new-build, with bedrooms and wellness that will attract health-seekers from around the globe.
Even though the first parts of this gigantic complex only opened on 28 August 2017, the Swiss have already been flocking here in droves. At weekends, says Robert Herr, the GM who oversees the whole, his teams can easily be feeding over a 1000 a day. Eventually there will be 13 eating and drinking venues, headlined by RitzCoffier, a traditional fine-dining restaurant named in homage to Ritz and Escoffier, who both at one time worked down in Lucerne, at The National Hotel. Food throughout Bürgenstock Resort is in the hands of F&B Director Lukas Zehnder and Culinary Director Mike Wehrle, both of whom came from Peninsula – Wehrle was there personally to greet me on arrival and I loved the edible gift in my suite, cheese shavings and baby vegetables (he is a great believer in local is best).
Bürgenstock Hotel’s corner suite 1111 was very tactile; every bit of American walnut, be it floor boards or door surrounds, was smooth as silk, and the tweeds covering big sofas and chairs were soft as could be (designer throughout is Maria Vafiadis of MKV, who does most of the work for Katara’s Swiss division). I had a log-look fire, and, of course, stunning views – funnily enough even when it rained it was lovely looking out as raindrops temporarily attached themselves to the big windows that wrap around two walls of the living room. But, I have to admit, this is such an extensive resort that it is possible that guests will not spend as much time in their rooms as they would in a city establishment. Here, they are constantly tempted to go out to see and try the myriad of offerings that this luxury resort has and, of course, there is food and wine.
Yes, eating and drinking are essential components of Bürgenstock Resort, be it a quick snack at the top of the historic funicular or a detailed wine-tasting in a dedicated oenological room at Bürgenstock Hotel (the resort’s Champagne partner, incidentally, is Roederer). Culinary Director Mike Wehrle, whom I had followed around his previous luxury Peninsula hotel postings, is already feeding over a thousand some days – there have been ten weddings here in the last two weeks, says the CEO of the whole caboosh, Bruno Schöpfer, who has personally masterminded the resort’s lengthy renovation and expansion. He has been meticulously involved. Over lunch in the Pan-Asian restaurant Spices, as he toyed with one of the best-ever mixed sashimi platters, he explained how he had to have the chairs here re-done three times: interestingly, their backs and sides are single pieces of maroon leather, slit into trellis formation so they can be pulled up, to produce vertical C-shapes (the result is really comfortable).
I dined at RitzCoffier with Robert Herr, GM of the whole complex, who moved here after a couple of decades with InterContinental, lastly in Beirut. RitzCoffier is a once-off, honouring the fact that both Escoffier and Ritz worked down in Lucerne, at The National Hotel. The restaurant is a high-ceilinged salon in the 1906-original Palace Hotel. Today, its upper walls, and the shelves of its central, 120-year old, now-simply decorative range display copper and silver cloches and platters, some a little bashed, that Escoffier himself used. At dinner, tables are set with white Bergan linens, with napkins, on Bernardaud porcelain, rolled in gold twig-like rings – we shared a magnificent Swiss veal chop, deftly carved tableside, and drank glasses of Riflessi d’Epoca 2014 Merlot.
At breakfast linen cloths were removed for simplicity and the central range, which is labelled C. Keller, Trüb, hosted the continental buffet: I was tempted to order the Bürgenstock egg royale hot special, namely two poached eggs, organic of course, with Scottish smoked salmon and hollandaise (Mike Wehrle says you can trust his local fresh produce to be bio as the farmers he visits regularly are nibbling on, perhaps, carrots, knowing they are pure goodness. His breads, coffee and yoghurts are all made by vendors to his exact specifications, and he takes great pride in one cheese, Five Star, bespoke for the hotel. Mike Wehrle has a hundred cooks, in total, but he still cooks himself, trialling and sampling.
Swiss gourmets are not surprisingly discerning when it comes to quality of products, and cooking, and as well as local and international offerings, the resort has the Pan-Asian of Spices, plus an Arab-Iranian restaurant with shisha lounge, and a Swiss taverna and more. I could have stayed for days, sampling them all, but it was time to head down, by Bentley no less, to Zurich railway station, and I knew my train would be exactly on time.
Yes, the only way to travel around Switzerland is by rail, and I do recommend a Swiss Travel Pass, managed by Swiss Railways SBB. Passes are available for three, four, eight or 15 days. Whichever you get, the process is really simplified. Order it online, print it out, with a QR code included, and you are all set. The pass works on trains, buses and boats and also allows access to over 500 galleries and museums.
Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue, www.girlahead.com