Switzerland is home to gorgeous mountains, charming cities and lovely pastoral scenes. It is also home to an elegant group of hotels that define charm and world-class lodging – the Victoria-Jungfrau Collection, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World.
A good friend invited me to sample the charms of the land of chocolate, timepieces and private banking last fall. Of course, I accepted.
Air France flew us to Paris, where we enjoyed an afternoon on the Champs Elysees before heading to Switzerland the next morning. It had been 25 years since I’d last been there and it was even more lovely and charming a quarter-century later.
Zurich was our first stop. We checked in to the exclusive Eden au Lac Hotel, which first opened in 1909, nestled onto the shores of Lake Zurich right in the heart of the city. Recently renovated, most rooms offer views of the lake, the city and the Alps from a balcony or terrace. Rich colors, expensive furnishings and thick carpets envelope the senses. It was a lovely fall afternoon, filled with sunlight. We headed off to explore this city known as a world-banking center. The beautiful old city is 2,000 years old and I was delighted with the cobblestone streets and hundreds of shops. We had a drink at the Café Odeon, where Lenin used to drink his morning coffee as he plotted the Russian Revolution. We sampled a cookie from one of the world’s oldest bakeries, in operation since 1626. Centuries-old churches dot the skyline and on Saturdays, their bells toll all day long announcing marriages. We walked the narrow streets, pausing to take in the store windows, which featured Swiss clocks, jewelry, flowers, clothing, purses and artwork. We wandered onto the Bahnhofstrasse, home to some of the world’s best boutiques and stores.
That evening, we settled in to seats at the hotel’s The Eden Bar, which offers jazz every Thursday night; locals crowded in to drink wine and socialize. We could hear the music as we enjoyed a scrumptious dinner at the Restaurant Eden where Chef Ludovic Pitrel served a feast. The hotel’s breakfast comes with champagne, silver pots of coffee and fare fit for a king. As we sat in a huge corner table, we watched bright yellow rowboats go by. My image of Zurich as a stiff, cold financial center could not have been more wrong. Zurich is old Europe – quaint, ancient, romantic.
Lucerne: The Palace Luzern Hotel celebrated 100 years of existence in 2006. There have been extensive renovations, including the discovery of gorgeous marble floors hidden under old carpet in the lobby and marble columns, which had been painted over years ago. The 136-room Palace reaches along Lake Lucerne and excels in luxury.
A Porsche is available for guests to borrow first come, first served; the largest bedroom, the Suite of Arts, is filled with copies of art masterpieces. The hotel employs a “leisure designer” who contacts guests before arrival to discover any special needs such as tickets or tee times.
Lucerne, a city of 60,000, is called “the essence of Switzerland” due to its picturesque location at the foothills of the Alps. It is a city of exquisite bridges, churches and squares, many built about 1300. Perhaps the most famous landmark in Lucerne is the Water Tower and Chapel Bridge, Europe’s oldest wooden bridge. You can take in the entire Lake Lucerne view from the top of Mt. Pilatus, accessible after a ride on the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. At the top, it was enchanting to watch paragliders float in the bright blue sky. An hour’s walk down the mountain led us to the Hotel Alpina and its delightful restaurant. A lovely day. Lucerne has a lively art and music scene but my favorite thing was visiting the Rosengart Collection. What was once a private 200-painting collection of Angela Rosengart and her father, Siegfried Rosengart is now a brilliant jewelike museum housing an astounding Picasso grouping. Cezanne, Matisse, Klee and Miro masterpieces are showcased in the former Lucerne branch of the Swiss National Bank. Do not miss it.
Interlaken: Deep in the Lauterbrunnen Valley lies the towering Jungfrau, a majestic mountain near the town of Interlaken. Traditional Swiss farms dot the landscape and, from my hotel window, the mountain was a shimmering bronze in the morning sunlight. Hollywood used these mountains when filming “On Your Majesty’s Secret Service” and “The Eiger Sanction.” The Victoria-Jungfrau Hotel was built in 1864 and has hosted many celebrities and world leaders including Hirohito, Mitterand, Mark Twain, Richard Nixon and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. It is the consummate Swiss luxury stay. Every detail is perfect. Many of the Belle Epoch furnishings are original and the Murano chandelier in the Napoleon Ballroom was astonishing. Fine dining is offered in the Jungfrau Brasserie, covered with Renaissance paintings, ornate mirrors and breathtaking chandeliers. I could go on forever about the food and the spa. You will not be disappointed. Interlaken is the tourist capital of the region and cableways and cog railways make the town the center of the region's villages and sights, including the impressive Jungfrau, a short distance to the south.
This "town between the lakes" (Thun and Brienz) has been a vacation destination for more than 300 years. Guests, often consider a train trip to Jungfraujoch, at 11,333 feet, the highlight of the adventure. For more than 100 years, it's been the highest railway station in Europe. It's also one of the most expensive: a round-trip tour costs $116 in first class, $109 in second class. The train is comfortable and safe but definitely not for those with height aversion. First you'll take the Wengernalp railway, a rack railway that opened in 1893. At 2,612 feet, you'll change to a train heading for the Kleine Scheidegg station, at 6,762 feet, where avalanches are frequent. The view includes the Mönch, the Eiger Wall (hence the movie title) and the Jungfrau, named for the white-clad Augustinian nuns of 12th-century Interlaken (Jungfrau means "virgin").
At Kleine Scheidegg, you'll move to the highest rack railway in Europe, the Jungfraubahn. You have six miles to go; four of which will be spent in a tunnel carved into the mountain. When the train emerges from the tunnel, the sunlight can be blinding. There are restaurants and behind the post office is an elevator that will take you to the Eispalast (Ice Palace). Here you can walk inside "eternal ice” caverns located 65 feet below the glacier's surface. These caverns were begun in 1934 by a Swiss guide and subsequently enlarged over the years with additional sculptures by others. Everything in here is made of ice, including full-sized cars, people, animals and buildings.
The Victoria-Jungfrau Collection of hotels are some of Europe’s best. Each has historical significance and all are protected properties. They are the essence of grand style, filled with marble, sparkling chandeliers, golden trim, rich textures and the finest staff available. These hotels are for destination, luxury travelers. One night for two persons with breakfast, depending on season, begins at $375. A package on the hotel site offers any combination of five overnight stays at the Eden Au Lac in Zurich with views of Lake Zurich, the Palace Luzern in a deluxe double room overlooking Lake Lucerne, at the Bellevue Palace in Berne in a deluxe double room, and the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa in a deluxe double room with views of the snow-capped Jungfrau, daily breakfast and dinner, one Swiss Alpine Herb Compres Massage per person with free use of spa facilities, one picnic basket packed with fine fare for tw , one afternoon Tea for Two and an excursion with the latest Jaguar model for one day free of charge (based on availability), for approximately $2100 per person. Other special prices and packages are available at www.victoria-jungfrau.ch Photo: The Alps from Hotel Alpina's outdoor restaurant. The promenade in front of Eden au Lac Hotel along Lake Zurich. The Mt. Rigi train. The Jungfrau in the morning. Paragliders fill the sky. The Victoria-Jungfrau hotels offer some of the world's finest cuisine. Photos (except Mt. Rigi train) by Cynthia Calvert Photos By Cynthia Calvert
(This article was originally published on 10/17/07)