Reborn to greatness
The monumental Baur au Lac hotel first opened beside Lake Zurich in 1844 but my guestroom is barely weeks old. In-house designer Frederic d’Haufayt has put the finishing touches to junior suite 314 a month earlier, lavishing the light-filled space with silk curtains, marble window sills and custom-made carpets and furniture to create an elite residential space equally suited to film stars (Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger), royalty (King Carl XVI of Sweden, Queen Sonja of Norway), and me.
Through lake-facing windows I can gaze wistfully across the hotel’s private parklands with their soaring birch, ginkgo and redwood trees to the fashionable Rive Gauche terrace, which is also fresh from a spring renovation, and beyond to the Swiss Alps.
Downstairs in Le Hall lobby, a storeyed Zurich space where Richard Wagner premiered The Valkyrie with Franz Liszt (his father-in-law) on piano, a CHF5 million ($6.7m) makeover has reinstated the original glassdomed ceiling, added a stunning Empire-period chandelier and contemporary art from the collection of Gigi Kracht, Guggenheim Museum director and wife of the hotel’s sixth-generation owner, Andrea Kracht.
This constant reinvention of a hotel with a history spanning three centuries ensures Baur au Lac is as impeccably in vogue today as it was when Empress Elisabeth of Austria summered here in the 1860s. But behind the grand style there is plenty of substance. Service is so switched on it glows. When I arrive in the foyer for a 9am meeting with a hotel executive, the concierge makes a quick call before announcing my guest will arrive in precisely one minute and 14 seconds. “I have told her not to be late!” (She is precisely on time. Very Swiss.)
The 119 guestrooms and suites feature such uncommon comforts as a pillow menu spanning spelt husks (“adapts perfectly to every sleeping position”) to “fine, fresh wood-shavings from Swiss stone pines in the Grisons” and another filled with heated cherry stones. Apparently this is a thing among moguls and monarchs.
Minibars are free, as you’d expect when single tariffs nudge CHF600, but rooms also come with a 174-page list of wines from Baur au Lac’s cellar, also founded in 1844. Baur au Lac Vins is a respected global wine purveyor with a sales team of 53 and about 1.3 million bottles in storage, sourced from Priorat to Piedmont, Burgundy to the Barossa. Prices are surprisingly affordable.
Perhaps the pick of the guestrooms are those tucked away on the semi-secret fifth floor, which opened eight years ago after a CHF45 million renovation to create 22 new mansard suites. Some have private terraces with expansive water views all the way to the mountains. The temptation is to park yourself here for a day in the sunshine with a good book and room service on call.
There are so many highlights to this exceptional inn. The blue-blood history, for one; the 80,000 Carniolan