Mountainscape of peaks and glacier
Mountainscape of peaks and glacier

Monte Rosa, the second highest mountain in the Alps at 4,634m (left), towers over Zermatt’s Gorner Glacier. Lyskamm (right) is another of the 33 peaks higher than 4,000m surrounding Zermatt. Photograph taken from the Gornergrat observatory station by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

Zermatt, in Switzerland, has mountain views and activities that are the stuff of legend. It also has the highest altitude luxury hotel in Europe. Darius Sanai checks in and is mesmerised

We arrived for our stay in Riffelalp Resort 2222m by taking four trains from Zurich, each one more quaint and tiny than the previous. The first was a double-deck express that arrowed smoothly through luscious lowlands and past lakes; alighting at the bottom of a deep valley at Visp, we changed to a more pared-back, basic train that made its way up a narrow, steeply inclined V-shaped valley, more gorge than valley in places. Shards of rock sat on the valley floor among trees and cows, a fast-flowing river accompanied us upwards. There were glimpses, as we ascended, of glaciers and snowy peaks, even in mid-summer.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

Arriving at the top of the valley in Zermatt, we crossed a tiny station square, gazing up at the citadel of the Matterhorn looming over the village like a rock god. The next train was a cog railway, which headed in a meandering zigzag through the larch forest up the valley sides; we crossed over a high iron bridge above a waterfall, in and out of deep larch groves, the ground disappearing below us.

Alpine hotel nestled into mountainside

The Riffelalp Resort 2222m sits high above Zermatt in the valley below, with views of the surrounding peaks, including the Matterhorn

After 15 minutes, and feeling a lightness in the air, we emerged at Riffelalp station, right on the tree line. On the other side of the open-air ticket barrier was a tiny, open, narrow-gauge train, and a smiling drive/porter in full uniform, with a peaked cap. This little train, more toy than real, with no windows and waist-height doors, had room for around 20 people and a little luggage. It ground along a mountain path through the forest, at little more than jogging pace, for five minutes, as we were enmeshed in the aromas of pine cones and herbs, until it reached a clearing. Here, 600m above the valley floor, at a height of 2,222m (thus the name) we were greeted with a cluster of pretty Alpine chalets and a view, across and above the confluence of three glacial valleys, over to the Matterhorn, and several other peaks, lit only by moonlight and starlight, glaciers staring at us from across the dark night-time green haze.

Luxury drawing room of a suite room

Bedrooms at Riffelalp benefit from sweeping views over the mountain peaks

If the view was mind-bending, stepping inside the hotel was even more so. For this was no high-altitude mountain hut; we were inside a luxury palace hotel, beautifully created with Alpine woods and finishes, with a long and wide corridor leading down from the lobby area, past a jazz bar with a live band, and towards a restaurant, whose large windows perfectly framed the night-time Matterhorn. All the details were done beautifully, from the lighting, to the granite, wood and artisanal tables in the gently curving lobby/corridor area, whose large windows perfectly framed the mountains: at night, you could spot the helmet lights of the climbers on the Matterhorn.

Luxurious hotel bedroom

Alpine terrace

One of the resort’s bedrooms (above), and (here) views of the Matterhorn from the terrace

We stayed in the Matterhorn suite, an L-shaped series of rooms, decorated in blonde woods with contemporary furnishings, each of which had a balcony looking out over the high-altitude drama of a dozen peaks of more than 4,000m. This is the highest luxury hotel in Europe, and from the bedroom balcony, it certainly felt it. The granite and marble master bathroom was a masterpiece of design and sheer size – in contrast to many Alpine mountain hotels’ compact dimensions.

Read more: Back to school with Van Cleef & Arpels

What was particularly compelling about the resort is that it is just that: a place you don’t need to leave. On the roof of one of the buildings is an indoor and outdoor pool and sun terrace – it gets surprisingly warm on a summer afternoon, notwithstanding the altitude. Inside is a spa. There is a bowling alley, table tennis, billiards, trampolines in a play area outside, and perhaps our favourite part was the garden terrace downstairs.

Indoor swimming pool

The indoor swimming pool at the hotel’s spa

The buildings are located just where the trees start to peter out, giving way to high-altitude grass and tundra, meaning you can sit at a table outside the hotel, watching hikers and climbers go past during the day while sipping a glass of wine – and you have the mountain to yourself at night. Kicking back with a drink after a long hike, as the sunset turns ever more blue, watching the other tourists disappear down the valley to Zermatt, or the serious climbers striding on and upwards towards their bivouacs, is an infinitely relaxing feeling.

Grand restaurant dining room

The Alexandre restaurant serves fresh, light Alpine cuisine

There are three restaurants and a bar (the two main restaurants are open in summer). The Alexandre is the one in the main hotel building and any fears that it will be an old-fashioned Swiss grand restaurant serving heavy cream and food are quickly dispelled. The Swiss Alpine salmon fillet with wild spinach and venere rice was light and umami; meanwhile the Simmental beef with mountain vegetables and potato purée really tasted of Alpine meadows.

We had slightly feared that staying at Riffelalp would mean feeling cut off from the village below, a 20-minute train ride down in the valley. In fact, it was quite the opposite: we felt like we were the privileged ones, in a kind of contemporary, tasteful luxury Nirvana high up in the view, and we never felt like going down. Indeed, we never felt like leaving at all.

Book your stay:

Pine forest trekking

Larch and pine forests coat the steep slopes immediately above Zermatt. Image by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

Four unmissable summer activities in Zermatt

Hike the Mark Twain Trail. Named after the American writer, it loops upwards and around the mountain from Riffelalp, revealing more and more vast, glaciated peaks at every turn, past high-altitude lakes and meadows, until you reach Gornergrat, the station and observatory at 3,100m with probably the most spectacular 360-degree view in the Alps. The trail is not particularly steep and can be done in three hours, but it’s not for those who have a fear of heights. There are hundreds of other mountain paths, over mountain top and through forest, valley and meadow.

Take advantage of the mountain gastronomy. Zermatt’s mountain huts may look quaint and weathered, but many of them house restaurants of Michelin-star standard, or rustic cuisine of the highest quality, with fine wines from around the world to match. And you need to walk or trail bike to get to them, making them justified. Some of our current favourites are: the Findlerhof, on a forest trail with a mesmerising view of the Matterhorn, where we had fantastic forest cuisine: a local mushroom salad and herbed chocolate fondant, cooked and served by the delightful owner; Restaurant Zum See, in a tiny
hamlet in a lush glade just above Zermatt, where the platter of local air-dried beef and cheese was sublime and the owners charming; Edelweiss, a characterful hut on a cliff directly above the village, accessed only by a short but very steep walk, which felt cosy and atmospheric; and the Whymper Stübe, in the oldest hotel in the village, where Edward Whymper, the English tragic hero who first climbed the Matterhorn in 1865, stayed, and where the fondues are superb and the atmosphere even better.

Mountain path

A panoramic path down from Zermatt’s Stellisee lake with the peaks of Dent Blanche, Obergabelhorn and Zinalrothorn in the background. Photograph by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

Visit the Forest Fun Park. A high-wire park in a forest on the edge of the village, run by mountaineers, its trails, of varying difficulties, are ingeniously devised and variously involve zip-wiring over the river, down above rapids, and across a football pitch, and clambering from treetop to treetop, all in safety and with a stunning view of the Matterhorn.

Climb the Matterhorn. If you’re fit and fearless, plan ahead and book your guide and accommodation, Europe’s most famous mountain can be climbed by capable non-experts. But take heed of advice and guidance: after a gradual decline in accidents in recent years, in 2018 there were at least 10 deaths on the mountain. If you’re not quite up to climbing, a spectacular second best is a hike up to the Hornli Hut, known as Base Camp Matterhorn, on the leg of the mountain, which anyone can do if they are fit and don’t suffer from fear of heights. It’s two hours up from the Schwarzsee lift station, and pretty dramatic in itself.

Matterhorn mountain with fields of wildflowers

Wildflowers grow in the unique microclimate of Riffelsee, at 2,800m one of the Alps’ highest lakes, protected by ridges from northerly winds. Photograph by Isabella Sheherazade Sanai

Other places to stay

Up in the mountains above the village, there is nowhere that comes close to Riffelalp Resort 2222m. When staying in Zermatt itself, we like to stay in Winkelmatten, a hamlet on its southern edge, at Chalet Banja. Available for private hire, Banja is beautifully built and detailed by a local doctor and his artistic wife, with four floors of exquisite local stone, wood, artefacts and detailing. It sits above a riverbank amid conifer trees, with uninterrupted views up to the Matterhorn; on the lowest floor is Zermatt’s biggest private (indoor) pool, with the same views, and a gym and sauna and steam rooms. The Alpine library in the atmospheric kitchen/living/dining area is engrossing.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

Reading time: 8 min
Exterior of an alpine hotel in winter
Exterior of an alpine hotel in winter

Hôtel de l’Etrier is located in the sunny Alpine resort of Crans-Montana

Why should I go now?

While many Swiss resorts suffer from “deep valley” syndrome in midwinter, with the sun hidden by peaks for most of the day, Crans-Montana is both snowy (it sits at 1450m and its top station is at 3000m) and sunny, as it’s on a south-facing shelf high above the deep Rhône valley. Hôtel de l’Etrier is a Crans-Montana institution: take one of its recently refurbished, Alpine-contemporary pine clad, coolly lit south-facing rooms with a big balcony, and you have one of the best views of any Alpine hotel, and one of the sunniest locations.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

What’s the lowdown?

L’Etrier is a three minute walk from the main Crans lift station (you can leave your skis at the lift station rental store, which incidentally does an excellent line in Swiss Stoeckli skis, among our favourites). Step into the hotel and you have a picture-window view from the bar across the Valais Alps; there are few better places to relax with a long cocktail after (or maybe before) a day on the excellent Crans slopes.

Luxurious indoor swimming pool with loungers

The hotel has a spa and indoor pool, which connects to an outside swimming pool in summer

You also have access to two of this foodie village’s most well-known restaurants without even stepping outside, as a passageway leads to the Michelin-starred Pas de l’Ours restaurant and its more casual counterpart, the Bistrot de l’Ours, serving signature dishes such as candied pig shank with curry, beer cabbage, juniper and apple vitelotte.

Alpine lounge area with armchair and fire

The bar offers a cosy atmosphere for casual dining, whilst le Fer à Cheval restaurant (below) serves traditional Swiss alpine cuisine

Detail image of a table with wine and hams

The bar in the hotel itself is supremely relaxed and serves casual food, and this was our favourite hangout of all, in a deep armchair by a picture window looking out at the dramatic view. Many Alpine hotels nestle deep in valleys and views are limited; not so here. There is also an indoor pool (connecting outside in summer) and spa/wet area.

Getting horizontal

Our “superior” room was just that. It wasn’t the last word in high luxury, and l’Etrier is not priced as such, being a four-star hotel. But we preferred it to rooms we have had in some of Europe’s (and Switzerland’s) grandest institutions. The light pine and modern lighting decor were just right; the furnishings were light and contemporary without being irritatingly over-designed and the emphasis was on comfort.

Read more: Andermatt’s new high-altitude restaurants

Spacious bedroom with pine fittings

One of the hotel’s spacious suites

The balcony had such magnificent views across the resort, below, the woods around it and across the Rhône valley to the giant peaks of the Pennine Alps surrounding the distant resorts of Zermatt and Zinal, that we spent an evening sitting and admiring the rose-coloured sunset, despite the increasing Alpine winter cold. Some rooms are just right in terms of general vibe: this was a room you didn’t want to leave, in the evenings, as the canopy of stars emerged above the mountains and valley.


Crans-Montana is quite a spread-out resort and none of its top hotels can claim to be quite in the centre of things; L’Etrier is no different, and while it’s very near the main lift, it’s an eight minute walk (or two minute shuttle) to the centre of Crans, one of the two villages.

Rates: From 200 CHF  (approx. £150 /€200/ $200)

Book your stay:

Darius Sanai

Reading time: 3 min
Luxury hotel interiors of a drawing room with painted walls and soft furnishings
Facade of a grand mansion house

The Rocco Forte Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland

Since he created it in 1996, Sir Rocco Forte has grown his eponymous luxury hotel group to include multiple properties in key destinations across Europe, with a major expansion this year within his family’s native Italy. And there are plans for the boutique group to move into the US, Middle East and Asia. LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai speaks to the group’s chairman and founder about new openings, changes in the hospitality industry and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur
Colour portrait of a middle aged man in a suit

Sir Rocco Forte, Chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels

LUX: Rocco Forte hotels is currently in a period of planned rapid expansion – why now?
Sir Rocco Forte: We had a period of consolidation after the financial crisis and have gradually come out of that and the business profitability increased. We’ve improved the quality of the management team. Generally taking the company forward, it was the right moment to start expanding again and looking at adding additional properties…

There are a huge number of different luxury brands within Marriott. Having said that, I think there’s an opportunity for the niche player somewhere, a business that is much more personalised in its approach to its customers, where attention to detail is extremely important. I think people are looking for things which are more individual, more related to where they are going. They want the rubber stamp wherever they go. I think it is going to get more and more difficult for these big companies to actually deliver that, and for a smaller organisation like mine, it’s easier because the top management is hands on. The business and the detail of business has some advantages.

Follow LUX on Instagram: the.official.lux.magazine

LUX: How has the landscape and your business philosophy changed since you started?
Sir Rocco Forte: It’s changed significantly on the technological side, the way people buy hotels in particular is much more a business done through the internet than there was than it was before, there are online travel agents who are becoming quite powerful. Customers are now more inclined to book through the web than going to direct to hotel. Then there’s the social media aspect which is also becoming more important, as a means of communication and promotion of properties. There is an interaction between guests who have tried properties and posted comments and so on. This is picked up by other people and used to validate their choice. TripAdvisor type sites didn’t really exist before and now people use it to make up their minds about hotels. Then you have the back of the house side of things; technologies have come in there and give management a greater ability to know their guests. There is increased technology in the rooms, television, wi-fi. Wi-fi became available 20 years ago and now people complain unless they had the fastest band available in the hotel. People used to pay for wi-fi and now they don’t want to pay for it anymore. Telephones, actual landlines have gone out of the hotels; they are hardly used.

In terms of the actual service side, the principles remain the same. The customer wants to be treated as an individual, wants to feel a warm welcome when he goes into a hotel, wants to be recognised. Maybe the relationship between the customer and the staff members has changed to some degree, it’s become slightly less formal, which is something that we did from the beginning.  I wanted to de-formalise the service to some degree. Then you’ve also got to keep up to date in a hotel because there are things that people have in their own houses that they expect to find at a hotel and it is a competitive market place.

Luxury hotel interiors of a drawing room with painted walls and soft furnishings

The front hall at Brown’s, a Rocco Forte hotel in London. Photo by Janos Grapow

LUX: The marketplace is much more crowded nowadays with new players coming in and there’s Airbnb. What is it that has allowed you to keep going and growing with so much more supply?
Sir Rocco Forte: Airbnb doesn’t really effect the luxury end to any great degree. Airbnb has already started to show problems with consistency. There are plenty of niche players coming in and it does eat into the marketplace, but if you have a well-located hotel and you deliver an excellent service and have a regular clientele that like the place, it’s very difficult to prize a luxury customer away from a hotel that he’s used to and where the staff are trained to his needs. There have been a lot of new openings in London and there are more in the pipeline; there’s always a supply and demand equation. I think you’ve got to try and distinguish your hotel group from others and make a potential customer feel that they will get something special, something different if they come to you. The staff are the people who deliver the service and you’ve got to ensure that they’re motivated in the right way. They need to have the right training, the right philosophical background. We put a lot of effort into induction where we tell them about the family, the history of the company, the history of the hotel and something about the city where the hotel is located  so everyone has a sense of heritage and belonging as a family. It is my sister and myself and three children running the hotels, we know a lot of the individual staff members and it creates a sense of warmth in our hotels which you cannot necessarily find anywhere else.

Read more: Chaumet’s latest exhibition reveals the symbolic power of tiaras

LUX: Is it important that your guests can recognise the brand when they’re staying at one of your hotels?
Sir Rocco Forte: Yes, part of having a group is that, you get cross fertilisation and you get customers using more than one hotel, following the brand. So the brand is important because the customer knows that if he comes to Brown’s or goes to Hotel de Russie in Rome, he will get a certain type of service and a certain type of welcome.

LUX: A lot of your properties are significant and historic properties in individual cities, how do you imbue them with the Rocco Forte brand?
Sir Rocco Forte: The induction is consistent throughout the company that creates the blueprint on which the hotel is based. My sister who leads the decor has a strong agenda and sense of place. It is very difficult sometimes to please everybody. The thing is you get a hotel designer to design the hotel and there are the prototype rooms, but it is never quite finished, it is a design hotel, you are always adding little bits and pieces and so on, which gives a more personalised touch. My sister does that very well. She usually buys locally, which give the rooms a more homely feel.

Views from a luxury terrace over a European city

The view from the Popolo Suite at Hotel de Russie in Rome

LUX: You have lots of developments happening in Italy at the moment – is Italy a particularly important destination to you?
Sir Rocco Forte: Italy is not the easiest place to do business, so in a way that is an advantage for us. Italy is a tourist destination, it is the prime tourist destination in the world. The American market loves Italy and that’s a very important market for travel. About 40% of our business comes from the States, you can get high prices for the rooms you sell, which in some destinations it’s impossible to do. So from that point of view, it’s attractive. The bureaucracy and the labour laws make it difficult, but the demand is there if you get the right hotel in the right location and at the price.

LUX: And Italy is underserved by luxury hotels, isn’t it?
Sir Rocco Forte: Yes, there’s no luxury chain across Italy, and we now have the opportunity to create one. We have six hotels and the three new hotels that we’re developing — we are doing a second hotel in Rome, a small 40 bedroom hotel in Puglia, and we have just taken on a place in Palermo, which is a 100 bedroom hotel and used to be a jewel of a place, but is now very run down and it’s been badly run for many years. It is a wonderful destination hotel. The city Palermo is having a revival, a lot of people are buying houses there, and doing them up. It is quite a good time to go in there and I already have a resort in south of Sicily, and Palermo is the airport you use for that so having the two properties working together is beneficial. But obviously, I need to be in Venice and Milan, I’d like to be on the Amalfi coast and some of the other heritage cities with smaller hotels. I am pushing to try and get there.

I also still want to be in the States…New York and LA and Miami maybe, I’d like to be in Paris, I’d like to be in Moscow, and probably another German city. Hamburg or Dusseldorf would complete the German equation. We are doing our first hotel in the Far East, in Shanghai, which will open next year. We don’t have a clear date, things get delayed quite a lot there.  It is moving forward, but slower than it is supposed to. That will be our first step into that part of the world. We will see. If I am going to travel to my hotels and if they are way out, that’s less attractive. I have to think carefully about it, about how far we extend geographically. Within Europe it is fairly straightforward.

Read more: Maryam Eisler’s new photography series reimagines pastoral romance

LUX: With the new portfolio that you are developing, are most of the hotels owned or managed, or both?
Sir Rocco Forte: The Palermo hotel we bought, but we probably won’t keep the ownership. We are talking to a partner about taking it on and leasing it back to us. The other two are leases, I prefer leases to management contracts because we’re in control with a lease. You have complete control of the property and you can do more or less what you want. With a management contract, the owner tends to interfere all the time. He thinks he knows how to run the property better than you do. If the hotel is doing well, he doesn’t need you, if the hotel is doing badly it is your fault. You take on more risk with a lease, but then it is a bigger upside and you have control over your own destiny.

Luxury hotel suite with plush furnishings

A Junior Suite at Hotel de La Ville, one of two Rocco Forte hotels in Rome

LUX: As an entrepreneur, what qualities have you needed to get to this stage with RF Hotels?
Sir Rocco Forte: Very difficult to say. I think you have to have a passion for what you’re doing, what you want to do, and you have to really care, and have people around you who believe in what you’re trying to do, who will help you to do it. You have to have determination. Where there are obstacles you have to overcome them. You have to have the determination to overcome them, not take no for an answer, continuously try to move things forward. It is easy to get dispirited, upset and to give up. A lot of people do, but I am not made that way and I am always looking forward, always looking to see if I can do things better. It is that, and I think the minute I stop having a passion, then I should stop working. But I hope that will never happen.

LUX: Do you have dreams of passing on the business to your children one day?
Sir Rocco Forte: Yes, but my kid are still in the early stages and they might well reach a stage, where they don’t want to take on responsibility so we’ll see. At the moment, that’s the idea. And it’s good having them working the business, it gives a certain continuity to the business and it adds value to the business. In the short term, it makes us different to a lot of other companies and from a personal point of view, it gives me a huge amount of pleasure: my kids have left home, but I see them all the time. We’ve got something in common to talk about and to argue about, and to enjoy. You never know — I could go under the proverbial bus tomorrow. And then what happens? The business is in a position where it can continue to go forward, but then my family would have to decide what they want to do.

LUX: Talking about the younger generation, do you think that, as customers, their demands of the hospitality industry are different?
Sir Rocco Forte: Apart from the technological side that we were talking about it earlier, the way they dress is differently, but in the end of the day they still enjoy service and being looked after. It depends…a lot of them are brought up under very comfortable circumstances and they understand that way of life and I don’t think they are particularly different. All the ones I’ve seen using my hotels, seem to enjoy the facilities like anybody else. I suppose there is more of a consciousness of wellness and well-being and looking after yourself than there was in the previous generations. We meet those demands through the facilities that we have in the hotels already. But I wouldn’t say there is anything dramatic and to build a hotel for a specific sector of a population is narrowing your market quite considerably. I also think people whether they are millennials or older people, like the idea of heritage and like the idea of history, and they enjoy it when they experience it — I don’t think that has changed. Most people want to know what is the next thing? I don’t know what the next thing is, but I think hotels tend to follow trends rather than set them. Mine do anyway. I think in the luxury sector, that is more so than it is anywhere… You have hotels now that have no staff, you put a credit card in a slot, you get a room key and you go up to your room. And there isn’t a restaurant, there are communal rooms for people to use, you help yourself, all these sorts of things, but not at the top end of the market. I don’t see anything dramatic on the horizon.

Read more: Where I would invest £100m in property by Knight Frank’s Andrew Hay

LUX: Your portfolio is predominantly city-based. Have you ever been tempted to start a resort hotel in tropical climates? And if not, why not?
Sir Rocco Forte: Because anything I’ve looked at hasn’t really worked financially. I haven’t managed to find anything. The hotel in Puglia has a beach facility available, but it is not on the sea. And then there is a seasonality thing, which is difficult. When you are building a new hotel from scratch, to finance that on quite a short winter season, for example, is difficult because it closes, then it opens for a very short summer season and then it closes again…

Luxury contemporary style villa with a private pool and wooden terrace

A luxurious villa at Rocco Forte’s Verdura Resort in Sicily

LUX: And what about the residences model that a lot of new hotels seem to have now, is that something you’d ever consider?
Sir Rocco Forte: It depends on the property, the location and the size of the property. But in Rome we’re now doing five luxury apartments, which are situated on the corner of Piazza de Spagna, which is within walking distance to our hotels (one is on top of the Spanish steps and the other one is on Piazza del Popolo). So that’s a new endeavour. Also we’re building some villas now in Verdura, which initially will be let as basically a sort of extended stay or hotel accommodation for families who want to stay together in one unit. We’re starting to get into that market.

LUX: Are there any other new developments in the pipeline that we should know about?
Sir Rocco Forte: My daughter has been working on the spas. The spa in the new hotel in Rome will be her spa design, which she thinks will be the first properly designed spa. She thinks that it has more activity and treatments and so on, which will encourage people to come and see. There are a range of creams that she produced which are properly organic so that is a bit of a new venture. Otherwise, we are continually looking to improve the facilities in our hotels. We are looking at the food side particularly. It is difficult for hotels to do restaurants well. We are always searching. A lot of places that have successful restaurants started out being run by restauranteurs, rather than hoteliers and then they have a few rooms as well. For example, Chiltern Firehouse or Costes originally, they had a few rooms and then they bought the hotel next door extending it. I haven’t found the key to creating really successful restaurants. Our restaurants are doing well by the standards of hotel restaurants. If we are doing 120 covers a day, we are happy, but there are restaurants doing 250 covers a day. Some hotel restaurants you go into, you never see anybody there. That is not the case with ours, but we can do a lot better than we do.

Discover the full Rocco Forte portfolio:

Reading time: 15 min
Mountainside hotel overlooking lake pictured at night with snowy surroundings

Perched on top of a mountain, the Bürgenstock Hotel boasts unparalleled views of Lake Lucerne

Bürgenstock is the most ambitious resort development in European history, a spectacular complex of luxury hotels, spas, contemporary restaurants and a high-end medical clinic perched on top of a mountain overlooking Lake Lucerne in Switzerland, on the site of a historic hotel and developed at a cost of 550 million Swiss francs by the Qataris. LUX Editor in Chief Darius Sanai speaks to Managing Director Bruno Schöpfer about the challenges and delights of creating something on a scale never done before
Portrait of a man wearing a suit with glasses and a purple tie

Bruno Schöpfer

LUX: Bürgenstock is not just about creating something for now, it’s also a vision of the future in many aspects. How did that come about?
Bruno Schöpfer: That’s a big question! First of all, the Bürgenstock Resort has a past, so it’s not something created from scratch. When I took over the whole development, I created a slogan called the ‘future has a past’ and, as an example, we held an exhibition with historic elements and future elements in order to show not only the press, but also internal people working on the project that we will honour the past. We want to protect our heritage because one day these global visitors will want to visit us to see not only our clear mountains, our air, our lakes, but also to see our history.

And then of course we wanted to recreate the stories about all the famous visitors such as Mahatma Gandhi or Audrey Hepburn (who lived here for 12 years). What great stories to have and to build on for the future. We have included all of these elements in the development of the resort.

Follow LUX on Instagram: the.official.lux.magazine

Another important element is food and beverage, especially for Asians, [for whom] food is immensely important. At breakfast they talk about what they want for lunch and at lunch they talk about what they want for dinner. So the food element is key to the resort. We tailored it to our future visitor markets. Not that we wanted to forget our Swiss.We know the Swiss are also well travelled and will enjoy Spices restaurant with its Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Thai cuisine, and they will enjoy Sharq, the oriental restaurant with Lebanese mezze and Persian grills. All of these elements together, I think, are a cocktail for success. The resort, as the largest of the developments in Switzerland, is what we call the beacon – in German we call it the leuchte – to bring visitors to Switzerland.

LUX: How did you choose the brand name for the emerging group?
Bruno Schöpfer:  We have three historic brands: the Schweizerhof, the Royal Savoy – which, in my opinion, has the biggest potential for international development because it is unique – and of course the Bürgenstock brand. Again, it is very much a Swiss brand – it has been in place for 145 years – and we decided this would become the umbrella brand for the properties.

Luxury hotel bedroom with views of a lake through the window

A Deluxe Lakeview Room at the Bürgenstock Hotel

LUX: Is there potential for expanding the brand beyond Switzerland?
Bruno Schöpfer: There is potential, but for the last ten years we have been focusing on conceptualising and renovating these wonderful assets – we’ve spent one billion Swiss francs on them – and I think the next focus should be to market these globally. And then as a next step yes, I can see an expansion, but one step after another. Now we have established, next is to market it globally and then, yes, there could be an expansion.

LUX: In the past F&B was more incidental to the hospitality concept in Europe, whereas here the restaurants are really a destination in themselves, with their own identity. You didn’t bring other brands in to run your restaurants – what was the thinking behind that?
Bruno Schöpfer: My passion is F&B. I started off my career as an F&B manager in famous hotels such as Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and in my spare time, my hobby is to look at amazing hotels and restaurants. Because of that knowledge, I’ve met and worked with some amazing talent. I basically felt that we would be able to manage with our own global talent. We do have one association and that’s with Marc Haeberlin, who has a three Michelin-star restaurant in Alsace and is the consultant chef at RitzCoffier. We very much put a focus on absolutely great talent. I myself have worked in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines; the executive chef/culinary director worked in the Philippines, Thailand, Switzerland and the US.

Read more: New levels of sophistication in Ibiza Town

LUX: You’ve created a new dining concept in each of the locations – was that with an eye to the future market?
Bruno Schöpfer: That’s a very good question. If a Swiss goes on holiday to China, after one week he is looking for his Swiss sausage salad. Today’s international traveller from, let’s say, China or India, is no different. After a couple of days, they want their authentic, national cuisines. We know that in Switzerland there are very few really good oriental restaurants. So the key to our success will be to create many cuisines in the hotels in which we operate. I know very well that these markets will change and develop, and before long – especially the Chinese and Indian markets – they will become a lot more sophisticated, and the need for their cuisine will always be there. We always have the future markets in mind. And we’re not surprised that we’re seeing a Swiss liking for such cuisines; the Swiss are a big travelling nation and you see them in all the markets. For them, it’s very emotional if they can eat a good Thai, Japanese or Indian meal here at home.

Luxury restaurant dining room with large glass windows providing views of a lake

Spices Kitchen & Terrace overhangs Lake Lucerne with an open kitchen

LUX: What’s the difference between creating Bürgenstock as a resort and creating Bürgenstock the brand?
Bruno Schöpfer: One advantage is that the brand goes back 145 years. It was once a great brand, but a lot of people will agree it is much easier to reenergise a brand than to create one. We are not a large company here who can put hundreds of millions of dollars behind the creation of a brand. We made the decision with the Schweizerhof, the Savoy and Bürgenstock to keep the historic branding; they have a following and a history. It’s all about brand protection and brand management. If you start a new brand it can be quite a challenge just to be registered. We have succeeded with ours because they have been in the market for so long, all of them. But now it’s a matter of how we reload and reenergise them, because a brand is only as good as its content.

LUX: Is Bürgenstock a reason to come to Switzerland for your many of your guests who otherwise wouldn’t? Are they coming here instead of going elsewhere?
Bruno Schöpfer: I think Bürgenstock should become a reason for people to come to Switzerland. We compete when it comes to the inter-continental travel market for travellers’ time. We need to give an international traveller enough attractions, or what I call ‘wow’ factors. It’s all about ‘wow’ today. We want people to come to our resort, pull out their phone and send a WhatsApp picture to their friends. They call it mouth-to-mouth advertising. We want that to happen.

We want to create not one USP, but many USPs, and if you look around here in the resort, you see lots of ‘wow’ factors. Is it the spa with the infinity pool 500metres above Lake Lucerne? Is it the Spices restaurant overhanging the lake and with its amazing open kitchen? Is it the health and medical wellness facility? There are lots of ‘wow’ factors. The reason is very simple. We want the people who visit us for a restaurant to be so impressed that next time they will stay here three days. And we can see that happening right now – it’s high season and we have a lot of Middle Eastern traffic. Most of the people who check-in extend their stay. Just yesterday I had someone staying for two nights who extended his trip by another two nights because, he says, ‘I cannot see it all in two days, I need four!’

Stunning outdoor infinity pool overhanging a lake with snowing landscapes in the distance

The infinity pool at the Alpine Spa, 500 metres above Lake Lucerne

LUX: You’ve been in the luxury travel industry for a while now. How has luxury travel and the leisure traveller changed over the last twenty years?
Bruno Schöpfer: The biggest change happened, in my opinion, with 9/11. From then on we’ve been seeing a lot more private air travel. Here we have the great advantage of a private air strip and four helicopter pads, so we’re seeing more people arrive by private planes and helicopters. Another change is that people are having more holidays. The historic holidays of people staying in the resort for two weeks are now less common. When it comes to our Bürgenstock Hotel and the Palace, the average stay is two or three days.

LUX: Are travellers’ demands higher now?
Bruno Schöpfer: As a whole, yes, demands are much higher. I would say that in the luxury sector generally service has improved. We are a lot more customer-oriented than in the past. Social media and online rating systems put everyone on their toes and make it more demanding, because people can read about it for themselves on Google. But I think the key has to be employing talented people who are interested and passionate about what they do. I always say I’ve never worked a day in my life. In other words, you have to have fun. If you’re not having fun then what are you doing? If it’s not fun then it’s really boring. We need more people who really enjoy what they’re doing, and I think here we offer a surrounding that gives you that. But of course it’s a tough job…I don’t want to glamourise it. It’s a tough job with high occupancies, full restaurants and lots of check-ins and check-outs. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it would be difficult.

Read more: Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar in conversation with Jean Cocteau

LUX: You’ve been open a year now – what have been the greatest challenges?
Bruno Schöpfer: How long do we have? First of all it was a challenge to just get everything ready. When you’re building thirty buildings all to a certain standard, with high interior design specifications, you need to have an amazing team and really passionate people around you. You need to communicate well with your builders. There are so many elements that have to come together from all over the world: marble from Italy, case goods from China…it’s a fantastic logistical masterpiece. And of course you have delays. When things are not there you have to be creative and know how to overcome a certain shortcoming.

Another challenge is the defects: when you take a building into operation it looks great, but you flush a toilet or have a shower for the first time and you realise there are a few issues that you need to fix. That’s normal for building projects. These rectifications are very strenuous and time-consuming because they involve not one but sometimes half a dozen parties. That’s challenging.

Luxury spa with relaxation beds

The silent room at the Alpine Spa

Another challenge for us is the weather. When we have wonderful weather we have perhaps three times more visitors than when we have bad weather, and the implications of that can be tremendous in both cases. You might have full fridges, but the weather is less good so you have less day visitors. But then you might suddenly have wonderful weather and you have three times more visitors than expected. We had amazing weather in September, so when people heard the resort was opening we were flooded with thousands of people. That put a lot of strain on the team and the restaurants, all of which were not yet used to the operation.

There’s also training and retaining staff. The fact is, when you hire a team, not everyone will stay. Twenty percent might leave because they don’t like the job, or you don’t like them, and so you need to re-recruit. So that was basically the first year. But the main challenge besides the usual delays of construction and the defects was the tremendous level of business we had. We opened with full hotels, full restaurants and that has been quite a challenge.

Read more: Wendy Yu on building bridges between the East and the West

LUX: The resort must require a big team – how do you find your staff?
Bruno Schöpfer: There is a staff issue in Switzerland. We have a big pharmaceutical industry and a banking industry; in other words, we have many competing industries with tourism. Fifty percent of our graduates from École hôtelière de Lausanne, my alma mater, join banks, the famous food companies. So, how do we bring 700 people to work here? One strategy from day one was to build at least two hundred staff rooms in the resort to provide convenience for staff members. We now have 200 staff members who live in the resort, so we provide them the fantastic convenience of walking five minutes to work. No commuting – that’s one way to bring staff here. People who are interested and passionate about the industry love to work with such an amazing brand because it’s great for their CV. The chefs love to work here because we are not a boring Swiss restaurant. Young people find this a very interesting and enriching resort to work in. They can learn. When it comes to these great restaurants we needed specialists from these countries. In Switzerland we have very strict labour restrictions, so we couldn’t hire someone from Thailand without a labour permit. We had to obtain what are called third-country permits to hire people from Iran, Lebanon, India, Thailand, China and Hong Kong, who bring the authentic know-how of these cuisines to us. We don’t want to create fusion food, we want to create original dishes. To achieve this we need the right employees.

LUX: We have a lot of readers and friends who historically will go for their detox weekends to Lanserhof or Merano; will this be an alternative?
Bruno Schöpfer: We would love to be an alternative, but we are also aware that we cannot create that in twelve months. You’ve actually just touched on a business I’m very passionate about. I have visited – although I don’t look like it – every place under the sun when it comes to the likes of Lanserhof and Merano, and when I created the concept of the resort in 2008, I asked myself what the next big thing in Swiss tourism was. Nowadays every hotel has residences, ballrooms, the traditional spas. We must be able to take advantage of the reputation of Swiss medical treatments. The King of Saudi Arabia comes to Geneva for medical treatments, the ruler of Doha flew in after he broke his leg for treatment in Zurich, we have a lot of Chinese who come to Switzerland for what we call the ‘sheep’ treatment [a treatment involving the injection of stem cells from sheep]. So there is a lot of history and outstanding medical treatment here in Switzerland.

When we developed this concept I had the help of a doctor and I created a medical advisory board. We basically looked at five business segments which we have now developed. One segment is what we call the medical recovery where people recover from musculoskeletal operations and cancer treatment. But we are not a hospital and we don’t want to be one because that is a totally different investment. We don’t want to be in competition with hospitals – there are plenty of operating theatres in Switzerland – we want to work with hospitals. So the rehabilitation section is where people are rehabilitated after they have been operated on in surrounding hospitals.

outdoor pool surrounded by snow with steam rising and plush surrounding sun loungers

The outdoor pool at the Waldhotel Spa

We have a detox and weight-loss segment. There is also a basic need for the medical check-up, not a ‘hocus-pocus’ one but a proper medical check-up which analyses bone, muscle and fat density, hormones, etcetera. Another special element is psychosomatic rehabilitation, which I approached from a business point of view. Together with cancer, burnout is the fastest-growing condition in the population, especially in a place like Switzerland where we are all in the tertiary sector and under immense pressure to deliver. Burnout is prevalent. This is big business for us – sorry if I call the wellbeing of others a business – but we have a facility here which is pristine, where you can have a perfect sleep in the perfect surroundings, with green mountains and fresh air where you can recharge your batteries. We are in a fantastic location to do this. That is one of our other areas of expertise. The last one is all to do with anti-ageing, because people want to look better. I hate the word anti-ageing – we call it ‘better ageing’ – but it’s everything about skin and looks. We have Dr Jalili, a very good dermatologist, and of course botox is a part of it all too; that’s basically what the Waldhotel offers.

At the end of the day, the resort is a one-stop shop in one place and in two days you can do a total medical check-up on the spot. It’s very efficient.

LUX: Where will Bürgenstock the brand be in 10 years?
Bruno Schöpfer: I’d love to see another couple of hotels. I hate to say ten hotels in ten years…I don’t believe in that. I’d much rather see two or three hotels that are just right rather than growing for the sake of growing. Let’s just do it right. A good brand needs to develop in its own time. It’s also very difficult to recreate a place like the Bürgenstock Resort. It’s unique.

LUX: That was my next question – how will you find anywhere else, is there anything else like this?
Bruno Schöpfer: There could be, there could be. But one has to look very carefully. It’s difficult to find a place with this amazing history, this privileged location, these amazing buildings and atmospheric hotel village. But never say never..

For more information on the resort and facilities visit:

Reading time: 16 min
large contemporary lounge area with sofas and armchairs
Auditorium with a BMW sports car parked at the front in preparation for the BMW PGA golf Championship at the Wentworth Club

The Wentworth Club, located on the exclusive Wentworth Estate in Surrey, is the birthplace of the Ryder Cup and the BMW PGA golf Championship

Invitation only, private members club Wentworth is home to one of the UK’s most exclusive and historic golf courses. After a shiny redevelopment, the luxury club house is trés chic and sophisticated – and it offers much more than just golf, as Associate Editor Kitty Harris discovers

Club houses are undeniably appealing (the lure of leisure activities, beautiful lounges, long lazy luncheons), but often their estates are difficult to get to and by the time you’ve factored in the journey and planning, it doesn’t seem so seductive after all, especially if you’ve only got half a day to spare. Fear not: Wentworth Club, on the south west fringes of London, is a short distance by limo from Heathrow, making it an ideal stopover en-route to the capital.

Follow LUX on Instagram: the.official.lux.magazine

Located on the Wentworth Estate, home to many a celeb and royalty (it’s one of the most expensive private estates in a London suburb), the Wentworth clubhouse sits at the end of a picturesque driveway past verdant, manicured lawns and golf courses fringed by leafy trees. We take a golf buggy (what else?) from the main clubhouse up to the Tennis and Health Club where a beautiful 25-metre indoor pool awaits along with a gym, dance studio and jacuzzi. There’s also a charming terrace where members can take their lunch whilst surveying the tennis courts and discussing the power of their serve.

large indoor pool with swimmer mid-front crawl in the middle lane

The indoor pool at Wentworth’s Tennis and Health club

The Wentworth Club was bought by the Reignwood Group back in 2014 and they have since invested over £20 million pounds in its redevelopment. Directed by Dr. Chanchai Ruayrungruang, a Chinese-Thai businessman, the group also own the likes of Ten Trinity Square in London – to which Wentworth Club members are granted immediate access (a serious perk).

The club attracts international, high flying business men and their families who travel to London for long weekends, as well as golfing enthusiasts, tennis patrons and spa denizens with houses in the estate where they visit and live for one week of the year. And of course, there are also the professional golfers. The club was the birthplace of the Ryder Cup and the BMW PGA golf Championship, and played host to the HSBC World Match Play Championship for over forty years.

Luxury lounge area with contemporary furnishings in a neutral colour palette

A cosy corner in the club lounge

One of Reignwood’s most impressive developments (and most popular attractions) at the club is the serene wood-panelled spa, kitted out with Natura Bissé products and a host of Bamford Skincare options for all skin types. We try the signature massage before gliding back to the main clubhouse to explore the nineteenth century castellated features that were maintained during renovation; what is now the club house, was the former home of the Duke of Wellington’s brother-in-law. The new interiors were designed by Thorp Design of Sloane Street London, and the look throughout is plush and decadent with Chinese crafted carpets and Italian marble.

Read more: Why we love Club Dauphin on Cap Ferrat right now

We pause for a moment in admiration of the Wentworth Hall of Fame, which displays some of the club’s golfing memorabilia with a glass showcase of historic golf clubs. Members can have their clubs bespoke made and wardrobes kitted out at the Pro Shop, which more closely resembles a Mayfair boutique than a sports shop. We observe a few well-dressed members taking their coffee in the lounge, perhaps before moving onto a working lunch in one of the new private dining rooms where there are reportedly 25 chefs on hand to prepare super-deluxe menus.

large contemporary lounge area with sofas and armchairs

The club lounge where members can socialise

As it’s a beautiful day, we choose to have lunch on the terrace, which faces one of the club’s three eighteen-hole golf courses. Over duck salad garnished with pomegranates, alongside a tipple of champagne we learn that membership at Wentworth Club is a six-figure debenture. There is also a health and tennis club membership, but no access to the golf courses, so if you’re serious about your swing the full membership is a no brainer.

For more information visit:

Reading time: 3 min
Luxury hotel pool area on the edge of Lake Geneva
Luxury hotel pool area on the edge of Lake Geneva

La Réserve’s outdoor pool area with sweeping views over the lake and the Alps

Why should I go now?

Switzerland’s lowland lake district has cast off its winter shroud of snow and ice, the sun is higher in the sky, and the green, flower-laden meadows by Lake Geneva contrast spectacularly with the still-white mountains lining the distance.

 Follow LUX on Instagram: the.official.lux.magazine

La Réserve has the pleasant distinction of being a city resort hotel in the countryside. Ridiculously close to Geneva airport – a ten minute drive on average – it somehow escapes any aircraft noise, and is located in its own grounds on the edge of the city, with a big outdoor pool and garden area and a beautiful view across Lake Geneva towards Mont Blanc. It’s a 15 minute taxi ride to the centre of the city – or you can take the hotel’s own boat service along the lake, which is even quicker, and much more scenic.

La Réserve is part of a small, uber-chic group of hotels owned by the French entrepreneur Michel Reybier; other properties are outside St Tropez (with an unmatched view across the bay there) and two in Paris. Reybier also owns the legendary Bordeaux wine estate Chateau Cos d’Estournel, as well as numerous other businesses.

What’s the lowdown?

Michel Reybier has given La Réserve a contemporary, sexy opulence which is quite a contrast to Geneva’s traditional grande-dame luxury hotels like the Four Seasons; as you walk in, you are enveloped in oriental colours and a dark, mysterious vibe; it’s a hotel that makes you want to settle down immediately in the sprawling bar area (immediately in front of you as you walk in) with a bottle of Louis Roederer.

Read next: Global businessman Johnny Hon on promoting global exchange

Depending on when you make it to La Réserve, there is an extensive and thoroughly Cote d’Azur-like outdoor pool, bar, terrace and garden area with sweeping views towards the lake and the Alps. Geneva’s weather is not quite as reliable as St Tropez, but not to worry. The jewel in La Reserve’s crown is the huge, opulent spa area, with a significant indoor lap pool, and lots of space to relax – as well as the kind of super-gym you might expect from this kind of hotel, with a glass wall to ensure anyone walking past feels extra guilty.

Indoor spa swimming pool at luxury hotel

The spa indoor pool

Did we say the spa and pool area was the jewel in La Réserve’s crown? Wait – we meant the Chinese restaurant. In keeping with the Oriental vibe, Tsé Fung is a Michelin-starred restaurant with an extensive Cantonese menu and wine list including, as one would expect, an excellent array of Chateau Cos d’Estournel vintages. (The spicy elegance of Cos would be one of the few Bordeaux wines to be able to match a number of dishes on the menu.) The cuisine and ambience could have been lifted out of Hong Kong, together with its moneyed beau-monde clientele whispering sweet nothings to each other. We witnessed a young gentleman and young lady who had plainly been set up by their (presumably significant) Swiss families on their first arranged date; modesty prevents us from revealing any of their conversation, but let’s just say that LUX expects an invitation to their wedding.

Elegant oriental style restaurant interiors

Michelin-starred restaurant, Tsé Fung

Getting horizontal

Rooms continue the super-chic, Oriental vibe; we had a suite (which really was a suite, unlike some: two separate rooms) whose living room and balcony were just begging for some marriage proposal action (see above). The bathroom was huge and lavish, and everything felt like Valentine’s Day.

Luxury hotel room decorated in white and magenta

A Junior Suite with a terrace overlooking the lush gardens


La Réserve succeeds so spectacularly in being a resort hotel, relaxing all the senses and luring you to enjoy it, that if you are here on business (as we were) you might find it had to concentrate. Having said that, we just found it a fabulous tonic and a perfect concept for today’s always on, work/play traveller.

Rates: From CHF 550 (approx. €450/ £400 / $600 )

Darius Sanai

Reading time: 3 min