Bür­gen­stock, Switzer­land

Prestige Hong Kong - - CONTENTS -

Perched on the edge of the Bür­gen­stock moun­tain and pierc­ing the clouds above Lake Lucerne at an al­ti­tude of 1,132 me­tres, the open-air Ham­metschwand Lift was a marvel of in­ge­nu­ity and en­gi­neer­ing when it opened in 1905. More than a cen­tury later, it still is. I’m with a small group of tourists that has ar­rived at the base of the lift af­ter a 30-minute stroll along a wooded path skirt­ing – and, at times, pass­ing through – the rocky hill­side. Gaz­ing up at an el­e­va­tor on the side of a moun­tain with noth­ing else for miles around nat­u­rally begs the ques­tion: “Why? Why put an el­e­va­tor here, of all places?” Our guide, who grew up on the other side of the Bür­gen­stock, just laughs and says, “To con­vince peo­ple to come here, to visit our lit­tle part of Switzer­land.” Turns out the brains be­hind Europe’s tallest out­door el­e­va­tor were on to some­thing. Over the years the tourist spot has at­tracted ev­ery­one from Char­lie Chap­lin and Kofi An­nan to Indira Gandhi and Sophia Loren, as well as the cast and crew of the 1964 James Bond thriller Goldfin­ger. The Ham­metschwand Lift was con­ceived by Franz Josef Bucher and Josef Dur­rer, who ac­quired prop­erty on the Bür­gen­berg ridge in 1871 and went on to trans­form the area into one of the world’s lead­ing re­sort des­ti­na­tions. The pi­o­neer­ing en­trepreneurs – who ini­tially en­tered the ho­tel in­dus­try to pro­vide work for car­pen­ters as­so­ci­ated with their sawmill busi­ness – opened the Grand Ho­tel in 1873, fol­lowed by Switzer­land’s first elec­tric ca­ble car, the Bür­gen­stock Fu­nic­u­lar, and the Park and Palace ho­tels around the turn of the cen­tury.

Friedrich Frey-Fürst bought the ho­tels in 1925 and handed them over in 1954 to son Fritz Frey, who brought a taste of Hol­ly­wood to the hills by invit­ing artists and en­ter­tain­ers such as Yul Bryn­ner, Mar­cel Marceau, Shirley Ma­cLaine and Olivia de Hav­il­land. Au­drey Hep­burn and Mel Fer­rer were mar­ried at the Bür­gen­stock Chapel in 1959 and Loren lived with Carlo Ponti in a chalet on the grounds for sev­eral years in the 1960s. Now, af­ter nine years and an in­vest­ment of US$1 bil­lion, Katara Hos­pi­tal­ity is un­veil­ing the re­branded Bür­gen­stock Ho­tels & Re­sort. The sprawl­ing com­plex com­prises four ho­tels, in­clud­ing a med­i­cal and well­ness cen­tre, nine restau­rants, a cinema, shop­ping cen­tre, nine-hole alpine golf course, tennis courts and an ice-skat­ing rink. A thou­sand guests have made their way to Lucerne to cel­e­brate the grand open­ing with the Qatari ho­tel owner and de­vel­oper, our group fly­ing into Zurich and then catch­ing a train to Lucerne, a ferry to the base of the Bür­gen­stock moun­tain and the charm­ing fire-engine red fu­nic­u­lar to the peak and lobby of the Bür­gen­stock Ho­tel. Walk­ing past the ubiq­ui­tous watch dis­plays – this is Switzer­land, af­ter all – we find our­selves in an invit­ing re­cep­tion area com­plete with roar­ing fire and gleam­ing lime­stone floors. But the real draw, from here and al­most ev­ery cor­ner of the re­sort, is the view over Lake Lucerne, which ex­tends in four di­rec­tions like sin­u­ous fin­gers. At dusk the sky over the dis­tant shore bursts into a rain­bow of blues, pinks and pur­ples, hav­ing shed the layer of clouds that ac­cu­mu­late most morn­ings. One of the best van­tage points to be had is in the gue­strooms of the Bür­gen­stock Ho­tel, while soak­ing in the over­size tub next to a glassen­closed fire. But prob­a­bly the big­gest draw, and cer­tainly the most pop­u­lar among so­cial-me­dia fol­low­ers, is the ad­ja­cent 10,000-squareme­tre Alpine Spa. The three-storey spa has ev­ery­thing I’ve ever wanted in a well­ness re­treat: the usual saunas and steam baths, but also an in­frared sauna, ice room, saline float­ing bath, nap shells and wa­terbeds for loung­ing. Not to be missed is the out­door in­fin­ity pool that ex­tends from the in­door lap pool and ap­pears to float above the lake. It’s easy to spend hours ex­plor­ing the wet and dry ar­eas be­fore curling up near the fire­place to en­joy the view from the floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows of the Seren­ity Room. But we’re here to cel­e­brate and the Bür­gen­stock does not dis­ap­point. Af­ter a rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mony at­tended by Qatari dig­ni­taries and Katara man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Bruno Schöpfer, the doors of the Bür­gen­stock and Palace ho­tels are thrown open to re­veal lav­ish food sta­tions serv­ing up moun­tains of Kaviari caviar, raclette cheese from the cows graz­ing in the pas­tures be­hind the ho­tel, Thai sal­ads from the Asian-themed Spices Kitchen & Ter­race, and spit-roasted lamb from the Sharq Le­banese and Qatari eatery that oc­cu­pies Loren and Ponti’s for­mer villa. The evening is capped off with a stun­ning fire­works dis­play light­ing up the en­tire Bür­gen­berg ridge, and danc­ing that con­tin­ues past mid­night in the ball­room. The next morn­ing, we awake to find the ho­tel nes­tled in the clouds as if it too is not yet ready to get out of bed and back to work. But there is plenty more to take in at Bür­gen­stock, in­clud­ing a visit to the Wald­ho­tel to learn about its in­no­va­tive med­i­cal and ther­a­peu­tic ser­vices. The high-tech ho­tel/hos­pi­tal pro­vides tai­lored pro­grammes cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from mo­bil­ity and weight man­age­ment to cryother­apy and anti-age­ing. Guests can re­lax and re­cu­per­ate in spe­cially de­signed south-fac­ing rooms with pri­vate ter­races, and a ded­i­cated spa with var­i­ous pools, saunas and steam rooms.



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