‘Even cheese feels virtuous in the Alps’
As the boat slipped away from the jetty, my stresses slipped away, too. For starters, this being Switzerland, every plane, train and water-mobile had run right on time. But better, I was ploughing into a happy place: the sun was sparkling off Lake Lucerne, the shores were frilled with pine and pasture, mountains tantalised in the near distance. A pleasing breeze tickled my grin. There was nothing for it but to relax…
There’s something about the Alps. Not only do they provide a moodboosting combination of green and blue space – which, studies have shown, reduce anxiety and sadness. They also offer pure air, revivifying waters, the aesthetic pleasure of a meadow bright with wild flowers and the put-you-in-your-placeness that comes from being amid formidable peaks. I’m not the first to notice. The Romantics raved about these mountains in the late 18th century, encouraging waves of Grand Tour-ists; Switzerland’s first mountain hotel opened on Lake Lucerne’s Mt Rigi in 1816. Then, from the 1840s, slope-side sanatoria sprang up, touting the therapeutic effects of high-altitude air. But while the mountains remain as naturally cleansing as ever, the health resorts have moved on a bit, as I was soon to discover.
There has been a hotel atop the lakeside Bürgenstock ridge since 1873. It has always been innovative – its founders built the country’s first electric funicular railway (which still runs) and the Hammetschwand Lift, the highest exterior elevator in Europe. After its Fifties heyday as a celeb hang-out – Audrey Hepburn married here – the hotel slowly fell into decline. But in late 2017, following an eight-year renovation, the Bürgenstock Resort reopened. So I wanted to see how healthy both the hotel and its enviable location could be.
The resort comprises four hotels; I was lodging in the Matteo Thundesigned Waldhotel, a hip hillside behemoth of untreated wood and stone that’s both luxury retreat and medical centre. Unlike the other three, the Waldhotel looks away from Lake Lucerne, which is no loss. This sunny south-facing aspect gazes into a secretive little scoop of green, where cowbells thunk, buzzards swirl and the high Alps loiter beyond. As I ate breakfast on the terrace, I could see the farm that supplied the cheese on my plate.
And it’s funny how even cheese feels more virtuous in the mountains; there’s something about being able to taste its provenance. Plenty of other local ingredients – from summer berries to Swiss lamb and veal – turn up in dishes across the resort’s eight restaurants, which range in theme from heavy haute French to healthy Mediterranean, such as courgette spaghetti sprinkled with lavender. Those with Rooms at the Waldhotel cost from around CHF410pn (£324), including shuttleboat transfers from Lucerne, the funicular, breakfast and access to the Waldhotel Spa. The Bürgenstock’s Alpine Spa costs from CHF95 (£75) for three hours (0041 (0) 41 612 6000; buergenstock.ch/en). The author flew with Swiss International Airlines from Heathrow to Zurich (0345 601 0956; swiss.com). For more information, see myswitzerland.com. deeper dietary concerns can book tailored weight-management programmes, one of the Waldhotel’s lifestyle packages. Zee Shan Razi, the nutritionist, gave me some pointers in the cooking lab, where we turned lentils and apples into a delicious lunch. The aim, he said, is not a dramatic two-week weight loss, but to initiate sustainable lifestyle changes.
All this eating, wholesome or otherwise, left me eager to exercise. While the gym facilities looked excellent, the great Swiss outdoors looked better: sunny, green, riddled with well-marked trails. I set out along the Felsenweg, the cliff-hacked path completed in 1905 so early wellness-seeking tourists could promenade above Lake Lucerne. It led to the Hammetschwand Lift, which whizzed up to the 3,660ft-high lookout, with views north to Lucerne, east to Rigi, west to Mount Pilatus, south to the high Swiss Alps. I spent the rest of the afternoon threading together other paths, strolling in bird-sung forest (where a pine marten peeked out from its hollow), then walking via neat wood piles, a tiny chapel, pastures crazy with butterflies and a farmhouse honesty shop where I bought a jar of alpine honey. A hot, honest, fresh-air, blue-sky workout.
To soothe my legs, I tried the Waldhotel’s Ice Lab, a cryotherapy experience that exposes you, briefly, to -166F (-110C) in order to speed healing. Note, the top of the Matterhorn doesn’t dip below -22F (30C). And I wouldn’t attempt that wearing only a bikini, gloves and a face mask.
Standing in this human deepfreeze, my nostril hairs crackled, my lungs gasped and three minutes felt like 300. But I emerged alive and, if not cured of all ills, oddly invigorated.
Less challenging was a visit to the Bürgenstock Hotel’s Alpine Spa, 10,000 spectacular square metres of wellness. After being expertly massaged with alpine-inspired products, I got lost in the expanse of saunas, rasul steam rooms, Kneipp baths, infrared cabins and, my favourite, the cavernous flotation pool, where I lay suspended in saltwater as green lights flickered on the ceiling like the aurora.
There was only one place to end though: the heated outdoor infinity pool, which dangles high above, seemingly dripping into, Lake Lucerne. I paddled in, rested my elbows on the edge, adjusted my shades and felt as glamorous as I ever will. Was this healthy? Getting too used to this might be a dangerous thing. But for the moment, I felt very well indeed.
One-week multi-activity holidays cost from £349pp, excluding flights; includes nine points per person. Undiscovered Mountains (0345 009 8501; undiscovered mountains.com) Forsthofalm Timber Hotel, Leogang, Austria This pine-scented eco-hotel, 3,445ft up in the mountains, is built entirely from wood (cut at a positive phase of the moon, no less), which should get you off to a relaxing start – studies have shown wooden rooms can lower stress and aid sleep. Then there’s the food: organic, seasonal and local where possible, with a dedicated vegan chef preparing five-course meals and the chance to join herb walks. All guests get free access to the Mountain Life Programme, too: unlimited yoga and fitness classes, plus guided hikes.
Rooms at Forsthofalm cost from €128pppn (£115) including meals and activities (0043 6583 8545 55; forsthofalm.com/en; telegraph.co. uk/tt-forsthofalm)
Soak up the scenery cycling in Alta Badia, main; the uplifting views from Waldhotel, below left
Testing the waters at Flims Laax Falera
Actress Audrey Hepburn tied the knot in Bürgenstock