Switzerland does many things well: chocolate, tennis players and watches to name but three. (Plus neutrality in global conflicts and a very attractive banking system but we needn’t go into all that.)
Experience Switzerland like a baller with these luxury hotels
Switzerland is the perfect destination for a luxurious long weekend (or week). Travel the country in style while staying in some of the finest hotels in the world
There are few prefixes more reassuring than ‘a Swiss…’, two words that all-but guarantee the relevant product will be created from quality and expertise. Luxury, too, if the product in question happens to be a Swiss hotel.
At Square Mile, we love a good hotel. We also love a good road trip – or rail trip should the train be a more attractive mode of transport than the car. (Often the case in Europe; never in America.) So a trip to experience three of Switzerland’s finest hotels, each located in three of Switzerland’s most delightful cities, would very much be up our street. (Or railway line.)
Whether by train or car, the destinations are separated by roughly an hour’s travel from one another and the journeys are smooth and scenic. Fly into Geneva, back from Zurich and float through the intervening days. Pour yourself a nice Pinot Noir and relax as we talk you through your next long weekend.
Lausanne – Hotel Royal Savoy
The Royal Savoy looks like a castle out of a Disney film – when sitting down for breakfast, I half expected the teapot to serenade me with the voice of Angela Lansbury. The place is aptly named: you don’t need a crown to stay here but plenty of previous visitors have owned one. The exiled Spanish royal family called the hotel home for several years – imagine an Iberian Alan Partridge and his clan – while the king of Thailand was a frequent visitor when young.
The hotel dates back to 1909, welcoming the great and good to the shores of Lake Geneva. A hundred years later, the Royal Savoy underwent a five-year renovation before reopening in 2015. Five years might seem a while but if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly, a mantra likely repeated with increasing hysteria by whomever was footing the bill.
You can certainly see where the money went. We’re talking 196 rooms and suites, including the Penthouse Suite which occupies the entire top floor of the hotel and comes equipped with a private spa. Yours for a touch under £10,000. If you fancy the views without the price tag, the Skylounge offers a panoramic spectacle of Lake Geneva and the French Alps, all accompanied by some delicious fondue, should you desire. (And you definitely should.)
Down on the ground floor, you will find the 1,500 square-metre spa, complete with swimming pool, sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and an ice bath for the hardy. Pro-tip: shiver in the ice bath for as long as you can manage, ideally submerging your head underwater, and then swiftly relocate to the adjacent jacuzzi. Once you stop feeling like Leo DiCaprio at the end of Titanic, the buzz is quite something.
Lausanne itself is worth exploring. At the risk of sounding like my grandpa (RIP), the cathedral has some stonking stained glass windows that will surely stir you on an aesthetic level, perhaps even a religious one. Simply wandering the streets is a pleasure in itself: this is a very, very pretty city with several enticing bars for your perusal. (There’s one by the aforementioned cathedral that looks like it’s been there since the Middle Ages.)
Fancy a proper drop? Arrange a spot of wine tasting via the hotel. A 15-minute drive brings you to the winery of a very nice woman named Patricia Longet who will share some of her delicious produce, all grown in the surrounding vineyards. Purchase a bottle or two for consumption on your future travels.
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Av. d'Ouchy 40, 1006 Lausanne, Switzerland; Hotel Royal Savoy Lausanne
Bern – The Hotel Schweizerhof & Spa
Bern is third only to Canberra and Brasilia in the list of capital cities that will ruin your pub quiz score. It’s only the fifth-most populous city in Switzerland after Zurich, Geneva, Basel and, believe it or not, Lausanne. Bern isn’t the biggest of towns, but it’s a beautiful one – listed as a UNESCO world heritage site – and the Hotel Schweizerhof & Spa is right in the centre of it.
The hotel dates back to the 19th century, although the current incarnation was opened in 1913. And if you think that seems an inauspicious date, businessman Jack Gauer bought the Schweizerhof in 1939, ushering in a golden age for the hotel if not for its European neighbours. Fortunately none of the subsequent changes of ownership brought about World War III – although the hotel’s 2011 reopening after six years’ closure must have been a fraught experience for those who knew their history.
Unlike his American near–namesake, Jack Gauer didn’t go around thwarting daily terror attacks, at least not publicly. However he was a damn good hotelier who established the Schweizerhof as one of the most desirable on the continent – the fact the surrounding city wasn’t a bomb site can’t have hurt – and even gave his name to its celebrated restaurant, Jack’s Brasserie.
Jack’s Brasserie is something of an institution in its own right. The restaurant, which boasts 14 Gault-Millau points, had stayed open every day for more than a century until Covid came along. Still, now it’s back along with its famous Wienerschnitzel – celebrated by Gault-Millau as the best in Switzerland. While I haven’t tried all of them, I can vouch for Jack’s – it’s roughly the size of a satellite dish, edges quite literally hanging over the plate. Apparently being bigger than the plate is very important: for a brief period, the plate outsized Wienerschnitzel and people were upset. Now the Wienerschnitzel is back on top and all is right with the world.
As well as nationally famous schnitzel, the Schweizerhof also offers a gym and spa – albeit both are quite compact due to the hotel’s central location. It’s a good tradeoff, allowing you to explore the delights of Bern with minimum fuss. A short walk will yield the Zytglogge clock tower, the city’s most recognisable landmark. Observe the mechanical figures that appear on the hour and then cross the Kirchenfeld Bridge for some spectacular views over the Old Town.
Amuse yourselves with a game of spot the bear: the animal is the Bern’s sigil and appears all over the city, with two bear statues guarding the gates of the Bern Historical Museum. (This splendid building also houses the Einstein Museum – Albert developed his Theory of Relativity while living in the city.) There’s even a bear pit located near the Nydegg Bridge, although the bears are only in residence in the summer months. Don't try to take one home with you.
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Bahnhofpl. 11, 3001 Bern, Switzerland; Hotel Schweizerhof & Spa
Lucerne – The Burgenstock Resort
Now here is something very special. Simply reaching the Burgenstock Resort is a memorable experience: you arrive at the picture-perfect city of Lucerne, hop on a catamaran across the lake and then take a funicular train up a mountain. Be warned, it gets pretty steep.
The scenery is almost overwhelming, a breathtaking panorama of Alpine peaks and green rolling hills and blue skies arcing all the way to heaven. It’s like a chocolate box come to life. Plus standing on the deck of the catamaran as the mountain loomed ever larger, eyeballing the distant cluster of buildings on its ridge, is likely the closest you’ll ever feel to James Bond.
The Burgenstock somehow lives up to this introduction. This is quite frankly a ridiculous hotel: ridiculous in its magnificence, ridiculous in its amenities (indoor tennis courts are, like, the third-coolest thing), ridiculous in the views that are shown off at every opportunity. You can’t move without encountering a floor-to-ceiling window displaying some variety of lake, mountain or both. After a few hours, I stopped feeling like James Bond and started feeling like an eagle instead.
The resort dates back to 1873, when Swiss businessmen Franz Josef Bucher and Josef Durrer opened The Grand Hotel on the Bürgenberg mountain overlooking Lake Lucerne. Further hotels followed, along with an influx of celebrities in the 20th-century. Audrey Hepburn got married in the Burgenstock chapel; Sophia Loren quite literally lived in one of the chalets for seven years. The modern Burgenstock Resort opened in 2017, the newest and shiniest addition to a complex steeped in history and glamour.
It’s hard to know where to start – I suppose the spa is as good a place as any. Spread over two floors, the spa is 10,000 square metres – one of the saunas might genuinely be larger than a London studio flat. What does it offer? What doesn’t it offer? An outdoor infinity pool with built-in jacuzzis. An indoor floatation pool created from salt water, a soothing soundtrack and calm. Saunas, obviously, including an infra-red sauna complete with a wooden chair that resembles a medieval torture device but is really quite comfortable to sit on. So many hammans that your body will turn 90% steam. This is far, far, far from an exhaustive list.
Don’t fancy mingling with the Muggles? Hire one of Shirley, Audrey and Sophia, the three private spa rooms for people who fancy a mini-sauna of their very own. (There’s also a mini-steam room and an eminently not-mini jacuzzi.) Feeling a little tight? Choose from an endless array of massage treatments. Stressed? There are relaxation pods that play dreamy music and light up in different colours, albeit very slowly and soothingly, like a stoned traffic light. A couple of hours navigating the spa will leave you feeling quite spaced out yourself, your body all warm and tingly, your mind a big fluffy marshmallow.
You’ll also be hungry: which is fortunate because Burgenstock doesn’t let the small matter of being halfway up a mountain affect the quality of its food. There are several restaurants: while we didn’t try them all (alas), I can heartily vouch for two of them. The Oak Grill serves up more traditional fare, the seafood being particularly excellent: a Canadian lobster smothered in butter is exactly the kind of decadent luxury your surroundings call for.
Don’t sleep on Spices and its truly fantastic Asian food: grilled tandoori chicken with miniature naan bread and the best beef massaman that I’ve ever tasted, a creamy, dreamy delight. Absolutely worth the extra lengths in the swimming pool you’ll be doing the following day.
Burn off lunch at one of the two indoor tennis courts – complete with scoreboards and even an umpire’s chair, assuming you can find someone willing to umpire. It might be easier to book a lesson with a former pro and tighten up that second serve.
Pull a muscle? The adjacent Waldhotel has its own private health clinic, covering everything from cardiology to dental hygiene. I didn’t see a sign for cloning or genetic modification but maybe I didn’t look hard enough.
You’re wondering about the Royal Suite, aren’t you? I certainly wondered – that’s why I asked to be shown it. Fortunately, I’m not the jealous type, otherwise I’d have set fire to my flat upon returning to London. You remember those private spa rooms that can be rented out? Yeah, the Royal Suite has one of its very own – as well as an office, an outdoor veranda, and a living room so large you could play a game of volleyball across its sofa. I’m delighted to report that the ‘regular’ hotel rooms still come with stunning views, hulking beds and baths doing their best impression of a swimming pool.
God, and I’ve still not even mentioned the cinema – an actual cinema that shows films on certain nights and can be booked for private viewings. It looks just like an Everyman cinema, if you’ve ever visited one of them – very comfortable chairs so even if the film’s a bust, your nap won’t be. Retire to the cigar room afterwards to compare notes on plot inconsistencies while inhaling an old fashioned and one of Cuba’s finest. As I said, this place is ridiculous – in the best possible way.
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6363 Obbürgen, Switzerland; Burgenstock Resort