Re­born to great­ness

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION TRAVEL - KEN­DALL HILL

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

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