A SLICE OF SWISS
Written by Michael John
When the SwissAir flight pulled away from the jet bridge at exactly its scheduled departure time, it was a subtle yet significant indication of the experience that would unfold over the next seven days in Switzerland—absolute precision.
Soon after the wheels went up, the multilingual SwissAir staff ’s seamless and stealthy service began. In anticipation of a full itinerary, I took advantage of the lay-flat business class arrangements and prioritized rest for the flight, after dinner and a glass or two of Swiss wine, of course.
Upon touching down in this modest and peaceful country, the first stop was the train station in Zürich (Hauptbahnhof ) for a rail trip to the quaint alpine town of Zermatt. Shortly after connections in Bern and Visp, the remarkable efficiency of the Swiss, specifically the train system, became readily apparent. For travelers who appreciate reliable schedules and impeccable timekeeping, it’s difficult to imagine a more dependable mode of transport.
Winding through the picturesque countryside, the panoramic glass windows of the clean and quiet first-class cabin afforded unobstructed views of naturally made wonders and impressive feats of human engineering. Upon disembarking in Zermatt, the mountain air was brisk and the golden sun warm. The scene could easily have been a movie set, but this was simply the center of the historic mountaineering town.
A tuxedoed chauffeur and his beautifully adorned horse and carriage guided a memorable ascension up main street, Bahnhofstrasse, on the way to the iconic Mont Cervin Palace. Shoppers entering and exiting celebrated Swiss boutiques stopped and stared at this special ride. Perhaps it was because of the stylish chariot or because the only other vehicles traveling Zermatt are zero-emission custom-built miniature electric vans assembled nearby.
A few moments later the almost-cinematic experience ended upon arrival at the hotel where the director of sales and unofficial town historian, Petra Ellmeier, staged a grand welcome. As I was ushered passed the enchanting fireplace that warmed the discerningly appointed lobby I arrived to my authentic chalet-style suite. The balcony doors were opened so I could behold the breathtaking Matterhorn. This sun-drenched peak pierced the sky, dwarfing dozens of rooftops between my balcony and the hillside.
Departing this inviting vista, I strolled the tight cobblestone streets, starting in the old village where 16th century structures built from stone and larch wood timbers were tightly packed together. Every turn gave way to a new vantage point of the glorious Matterhorn, and each bend served up a surprise shot of fl oral landscapes bursting with color. The civic pride runs deep (or high) in Zermatt, as does a sense of community and stewardship to the planet—each palpable in the random encounters with the guide’s neighbors and friends. As the sun fell behind the mountainside, the chill induced a quick end to the tour.
The warmth of the fire and the rustic refinement of the Mont Cervin Palace awaited. I was ready for a comforting and well-constructed meal and the Grill was superb - the selection of Swiss wines excellent and the wood-fired meats perfect. Maybe it was the long day of travel or Zermatt’s mile-high elevation (5,310 feet above sea level), but the cozy suite beckoned. I ended this surreal day beside a fire crackling, with the moon illuminating this wondrous gem of the Alps.
At dawn the beauty of the Matterhorn transformed into a glowing pyramidal peak, as two of its faces caught the sun’s rays before any other corner of this picturesque town. With a long train ride down the mountain and no margin for error in Swiss rail schedules, I made haste to the main station for the next stop, Lausanne.
Speeding toward Lake Geneva’s second-largest city provided a visual and unexpected lesson in Swiss winemaking. The train raced along the terraced vineyards of nearby Lavaux, one of only a few UNESCO world heritage vineyards on the planet. For about 20 miles along the lake’s shores, a unique varietal of Chasselas grape grows and is still harvested by hand. This local wine was about to become far more prevalent on the trip.
A short taxi ride from Lausanne Station, the Beau-Rivage Palace in Ouchy is a remarkable example of Art Nouveau and Neo-Baroque architectural styles. The historic landmark rose prominently from the manicured grounds amid rare species of flora and fauna. Pauline Lioté, public relations and partnership coordinator, provided a brief reception in the grand lobby.
Highly sought lunch reservations awaited, but a tastefully styled suite made it nearly impossible to depart. The inspired and newly renovated room had a palette of calming blues and greens, the mirrored walls reflected the lake beyond a private patio and the upholstered headboard topped a cloud of alluring white linens.
The elevator to ground level, one floor below the famed rotundas, led to a veritable hall of fame with images of dignitaries and celebrities who have stayed in this storied place. Café Beau Rivage was another master class in refinement. The floor-to-ceiling windows framed the natural beauty beyond the glass and complemented the enveloping bespoke décor. The coveted corner booth provided a perfect view of the dining room and deftly designed space. Nothing disappointed from that moment on—the baguette, wine, rockfish soup, fresh caught perch. Everything was delectable, down to a signature tart.
In the afternoon, the tranquil lakefront path enticed me and I strolled along the water’s edge past charming cottages, striking estates and the rousing Olympic Museum. After only hours in this town and a short hike across the gorgeous grounds of the Capitale Olympique—I knew why the International Olympic Committee has called Lausanne home for more than 100 years.
I later meandered the halls and common areas of this Grande Dame hotel on the way to dinner at L´Accademia, an Italian-centric offering just a few steps away at a sister hotel. After I enjoyed inventive takes on classic pasta dishes, I finished the evening with a nightcap at the prestigious BAR.
Early-morning coffee on the breathtaking waterfront balcony and pampering at the hotel’s Spa Cinque Monde greeted the new day.
After a relaxing treatment I set off to explore life in the center of town and experience luxury at a different grand hotel, Lausanne Palace, and never lost view of the lake. I made a point to lunch at the bustling Brasserie Grande Chêne, which was reminiscent of a historic Parisian power spot. The green chairs and white tablecloths set against the dark mahogany wood paired perfectly with brass accents. Over Dover sole, pomme frites and more delicious wine from Lavaux, Odile Vogel-Reynaud, director of sales and marketing at Sandoz Foundation Hotels, offered a peek at the famed Coco Chanel suite, overlooking the town with unobstructed views of the water.
With Swiss efficiency, after staring at the next destination across the shores of Lake Geneva, a plush railcar whisked me to Zurich. A cobblestone road brimming with boutiques led to the Widder Hotel. This extraordinary enclave was an unexpected departure from previous accommodations: a collection of nine medieval homes combined, restored and reimagined as a modern refuge of historic luxury. This unique lobby and the inviting library showcased a blending of new materials with salvaged architectural elements.
The suite exuded more of the same contrasts. Original timber beams topped modern amenities, and vintage wall coverings countered plush leather and state-of-the-art technology. Wood inlay trompe l’oeil detailed doors adorned a maze of hallways back to the lobby. Different species of wood or various types of stone transitioned from one structure to another. This was a technique the architect deployed to distinguished each home. I learned later the ambitious project lasted a decade and required more than 1,000 conservation experts to complete.
Surrounding church bells occasionally punctured the silence of the early morning. Next on the agenda was a half-day excursion to a hillside resort on the edge of the Adlisberg forest— the magical Dolder Grand Hotel. The impressive castle-like destination hotel is perched above the waterfront cityscape, and Anna Siroka, director of marketing, awaited at the front entry.
The epitome of hospitality since 1899, the Dolder Grand Hotel’s rich history, beautiful natural surroundings and purposeful past were present in each detail. From the iconic architecture to the impressive modern art collection accentuating it, the hotel is an unrivaled oasis. Every aspect of the building was thoughtful, and each element felt measured. This gorgeous sanctuary was carefully restored in 2008 to achieve today’s highest standards.
The Saltz restaurant’s creative cuisine has been honored with 14 Gault Millau points. The space, designed by Rolf Sachs, emanates a unique atmosphere full of color and clean lines. The bright blue banquettes and the punching red neon light installation directed attention to grand windows with views of a sprawling landscape beyond. Siroka recommended her favorites from the menu and recounted the rich history of this hillside treasure. The cauliflower froth soup and patiently cooked black cod were delightful. Precisely chilled Swiss wines were refreshing.
No trip to the Dolder Grand is complete without a visit to the 43,000-square-foot spa, boasting an aqua zone, with a swimming pool, mixed sauna, steam bath, spa, whirlpool terrace, samarium, library, fitness area and relaxation room. After a 60-minute organic facial and a tote full of Amala products, I began to make my way back down the road to Zurich.
Baur au Lac Hotel, the next and final stop of the trip, is just off the water’s edge, where main street, Baunhofstrasse, meets Lake Geneva. This 175-year-old palace sparkled in the sun and its private gardens dazzled against quiet canals, producing an atmosphere that seemed miles away from Zurich’s busier districts, while sitting merely steps from it all.
Le Hall is the renowned and romantic social epicenter of this building. The glass dome and indoor foliage added to the idyllic space for libations and conversation. Three hours disappeared over canapés and tea, then hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. Afternoon turned to evening, and I prepared for one last slice of Switzerland.
The eponymous Baur’s is the town’s newest hot spot. This scene maker certainly did not disappoint, and the kitchen turned out hit after hit. The only thing as enjoyable as the food was the engaging company, Christiane Lanz, head of corporate office for Swiss Deluxe Hotel and of course two (alright, maybe three) chilled glasses of that crisp Swiss wine.
Satisfied on several levels, I retired to the room for one last night along the shores of Lake Geneva. The morning came sooner than I would have preferred, but with more memories (and meals) than most could possibly imagine, I made my way from Le Terrace for coffee and croissants to Zurich’s main station for one final, impeccably timed train ride. This time it would be to the airport.