A Country of Unsurpassed Beauty
Story and Photos by Beverly Cohn
nce in a while a trip comes along that is the quintessential luxurious
experience and for me the tour of Swiss Deluxe Hotels gets the
prize. Combining the ultimate in luxury with the kindness of strangers
would best describe my most unforgettable adventure.
DAY 1: The kindness portion began at the Zurich
airport where the signage for baggage suddenly disappeared. A lovely
lady guided me to the steps leading downstairs and were it not for her,
I would have been aimlessly wandering in search of my luggage. I was
helped onto the train leaving for Lausanne where I had only six
minutes to make the connecting train to Montreux. Arriving at
the Lausanne train station, I struggled a bit with my luggage
and before I knew it, a Swiss gentleman picked it up, took it down a
flight of stairs and up another flight to the connecting platform. I
asked if he was going to Montreux and he answered that he was
not, but just wanted to help me. I wasn't positive if the train was
the correct one and I must have looked a bit confused, as a young woman
actually got off the train, reassured me that it was going to Montreux,
and picked up my luggage, placing it on the train.
After many hours of traveling, our group enjoyed
a most delicious "welcome to Switzerland" dinner at the Petit
I arrived safely at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace,
the first of the family of Swiss Deluxe Hotels, where I met the
rest of my group. A sumptuous welcoming dinner awaited us at the Le
Petit Palais, directly across the street from the hotel, which was
most appreciated after the almost thirteen hours of traveling.
One of the charming little buildings dotting the
shores of Lake Geneva.
The Chateau de Chillon Castle made famous in Lord
The Prisoner of Chillon.
DAY 2: With a menu of activities from which to choose,
I opted for a boat cruise. With spectacular Alpine peaks serving
as a backdrop, the boat quietly glided through the pristine waters of
Geneva, passing charming homes and historic landmarks, which
dotted the shores. One very famous landmark is the Chateau de Chillon
Castle made famous in Lord Byron's poem "The Prisoner
The sloping terraced vineyards of the Lavaux which
earned a UNESCO World Heritage Award.
Blaise Duboux is the 17th
generation vintner to carry
on his family's wine-growing tradition.
After a brief break, we headed for a fascinating tour
of the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces of the Swiss Riviera wine
country on the slopes of Lake Geneva, which earned the coveted
UNESCO World Heritage Award. The Lavaux is a region in
the canton of Vaud in Switzerland and is known for its
award-winning wines. Swiss wineries produce a limited amount
of wine and because of that, only one percent of their production is
exported the rest is for domestic consumption.
We were hosted by Blaise Duboux, an extremely
knowledgeable vintner whose family have been Lavaux winemakers
for 500 years, with Mr. Duboux being the 17th generation
to carry on the tradition. He explained that the root system currently
being used is American and about one-half of the wineries around
the world also use this root system. Being organically minded, he does
not use herbicides as, "They kill the soul of the grape and have
a negative impact on the water supply." This dedicated winemaker
is trying to get the other wine growers to not use herbicides as well.
Mr. Duboux laid out snacks, which included is tasty
During his informative talk, a tempting array of snacks
were laid out on the table, including a delicious savory treat called
"Surprise Bread." As far as the next generation, this
vintner registered some concern as he has three daughters, none of whom
has expressed interest in joining the family business. He hopes one
of them will change her mind.
Dressed in the traditional Swiss costume, these
gentleman welcomed us by playing the Alphorn, an instrument generally
used for herding animals and on special occasions.
This dandy little device called a Girolle
is used to create charming rosettes made out of Swiss cheese.
Visiting a small, neighboring vineyard, we were royally
greeted by two gentlemen playing the distinctively long horn or Alphorn.
Some of us tried our hand at playing which is not a simple as it may
look, as you need good breath control and strong lungs. As you would
expect in wine country, the tour culminated with a delicious wine and
cheese tasting. Using a gadget called a Girolle, the cheese is
shaved into the shape of a rosette, which is pleasing to the eye and
delicious to eat.
DAY 3: The next day, after our tummies were satisfied
with a typical Swiss breakfast consisting of assorted cold meats,
hot and cold cereals, and a delicious array of tasty breads, jams and
fruits, our next adventure was a scenic train ride from Montreux
to Lucerne aboard the Goldenpass Panorama coach, which
took us from Lake Geneva towards the Alpine summit and
then on down to Lake Lucerne, the birthplace of Switzerland.
Here's a tip: Stay alert as you enjoy the bucolic vistas unfolding before
you as you might spot a whole range of "animals" on the hillsides.
We had a contest to see who spotted the most. As a sidebar, be sure
to purchase a Swiss Pass, which will give you access to the various
forms of transportation, including travel by train, bus, or boat.
Children waiting for the boat to Weggis are entertained
by a feathery friend.
Speaking of boats, our next mode of transportation was
a boat to Weggis, a charming little town located on the shores
of Lake Lucerne in the Canton of Lucerne, lying
at the foot of the famous Mount Rigi, a massif in Central
Switzerland. (Massif: A large mountain mass or compact group of
connected mountains forming an independent portion of a range.) Often
described as the Riviera of Central Switzerland, it is the home
of the beautiful Park Hotel Weggis, another of the 38
independent Swiss Deluxe Hotels located throughout the country,
which has earned the five-star quality endorsement. Framed by the beautiful
lake and mountains, the hotel sits squarely in this picturesque region.
Stunning view from my room at the Park Hotel Weggis.
As with the other hotels, the accommodations were extraordinary,
featuring a sunken living room and a splendid, sprawling bathroom fit
for a king or queen, as well as a full spa and beauty care services.
Perhaps the one and only challenge was to figure out the rather complicated
lighting system, which took all of us quite a bit of time to figure
out. Press one button and one light went out, press another button and
that light came back on, and another one would go out, and at one point
all the lights went dark. I had to open the door to let some light in
so I could figure out what button to press next. I continued this exercise
of pressing different buttons until, at last, I stumbled upon the correct
pattern and this delightful room was ready for sleeping. A little advance
guidance or diagram would help in sorting out this complex, but wonderful
The Park Hotel Weggis is home to Sparks,
a French cuisine restaurant which has earned 15 Gault Millau
points, a rating system which scores from 1-20 and is similar to our
Michelin star rating system. In addition, the hotel has the largest
wine selection in Switzerland. Hosted by General Manager Peter Kämpfer,
who manages two hotels, our perfect, mouth-watering dinner began with
a Sommerly salad of raw vegetables with cresson and croutons, followed
by pike-perch with braised fennel and barley, and topped off with an
unbelievably delicious cheese cake in a glass with apricot.
During the meal, I asked Mr. Kämpfer what
was the key ingredient in sustaining a five-star rating and he replied,
"Besides the high-end amenities and services offered by the family
of the Deluxe Hotels, the staff makes a huge difference in customer
service," adding that, "My hotels have an extremely low employee
turnover which means the employees are happy and in turn offer exemplary
DAY 4: After a rather full day yesterday, some of us
kicked back in the morning and enjoyed the Park Hotel Weggis'
beautiful spa, the beach, or the pool. Later on, we were soon off on
another fun adventure. We boarded the Mount Rigi Railway, followed
by a scenic ride up the mountain on a gondola to Rigi-Kaltbad.
When we reached that destination, we transferred to the first cogwheel
railway of Europe, which took us up to Rigi-Klum, at the
top of the mountain, where we experienced a breathtaking view of rolling
hills and green fields dotted with crystal clear lakes.
Sitting atop the mountain is the Rigi-Kulm Hotel,
where we were treated to a salad with beets and corn, chicken with veggies,
and a mouth-watering chocolate dessert. One amusing moment, and a reminder
of my generation, was when one of the younger members of our group saw
something on the wall and had no idea what it was. It was a pay telephone
and we both had a good laugh.
Hotel Palace Luzern, a member of the family of the
38 independent Swiss
Fortified with a most satisfying lunch, we were once
again on the move and arrived in Vitznau where our luggage awaited
us. We then embarked on a steamboat to Lucerne and on arrival,
it was a short walk to the iconic Palace Luzern, the next fabulous
5-star hotel we were about to experience. The hotel, which reached
the 100-year mark in 2006, is surrounded by a breathtaking
Alpine storybook landscape, so just point your camera in any
direction and shoot.
Palace Luzern is the home of the world's first giant
singing bowl. Courtesy Photo
A unique feature of this hotel is, in addition to featuring
Tibetan spa treatments, it houses the world's first giant singing
bowl based on smaller Tibetan versions. While either lying in
a hammock or actually standing in the bowl, electrical pulses are emitted
that flow through the body. Two members of our group tried it with very
different experiences; one was elated and quite wired, while the other
participant was extremely sleepy and a bit disoriented.
Incidentally, Lucerne is the capital of the canton
of Lucerne and is said to be the most important city in Central
Switzerland and is often referred to as the City of Lights.
After a brief break, we had yet another fabulous dinner
at Restaurant Des Balances located in the Hotel des Balances.
The fare was outstanding, consisting of a U.S. beef filet in an olive
crust, pralines with balsamic juice risotto with artichokes, and petite
vegetables, with the finale a sinful dessert of raspberries, caramelized
puff pastry, and vanilla cream with apricot yogurt ice cream. It's a
lucky thing we did lots of walking.
DAY 5: Today we had a "light lunch" at the
Palace Luzern comprised of pickled salmon with passion fruit
dressing, mint salad and olive focaccia, followed by roasted saddle
filet of lamb with sweet peppers puree and eggplant-goat cheese cannelloni.
This scrumptious meal was crowned with a trilogy of sorbets Granny
Smith apple, strawberry, and mango-passion fruit. To burn off some
of those calories, we had a brief walking city tour where we saw the
famous Chapel Bridge, which was built around 1300 and
is said to be the oldest preserved wooden bridge in Europe. It
also serves as a museum where 17th Century paintings are on display,
surviving what could have been a devastating fire in August 1993.
Bern's bucolic Old Town was honored as an UNESCO
World Heritage Site.
The historic Hotel Schweizerhof is another member
of the family of independent Swiss Deluxe Hotels. Courtesy
Our next train ride was to Bern,
the Swiss capital, whose Old Town is an UNESCO World
Heritage Site since 1983. Its premiere hotel for 150
years, the Hotel Schweizerhof is listed as one of The Leading
Hotels of the World as well as a member of the coveted Swiss
Deluxe Hotels and is the only 5-star superior hotel in Bern
with a state-of-the-art spa.
After check-in, an apéritif awaited us on the
Sky Terrace, which offered a breathtaking 360-degree view
of the city. With the wind stirring up the napkins, our snack consisted
of taboule, baba ghanoush, and hummus, accompanied by the appropriate
wine pairing. We had to save a little room for dinner following this
A little bit of heaven on your plate.
Just when you thought the food couldn't possibly get
any better, here comes a meal truly fit for the gods in Jack's Brasserie
housed in the hotel. The decoration is quite spectacular and the service
impeccable. The bill of fare consisted of mint risotto with crunchy
goat cheese, and green pea puree. The dessert was simply listed
as Dessert Variation "Schweizerhof," but could
have been described as a little bit of heaven on your plate. It must
be said that dining in all these spectacular settings makes one feel
like you've just stepped into a fairy tale and you are the fairy princess.
Day 6: Breakfast served in Jack's Brasserie offered
a full range of food from eggs, hot or cold cereals, a fabulous assortment
of breads, croissants, and brioche, various Swiss cheeses, or
anything else your heart may desire. A walking tour was a perfect way
to follow breakfast and off we went to explore Bern's picturesque
Old Town, framed by the Aare River with spectacular views
of the Alps.
A famous landmark is Bern's 800-year old Zytglogge
(Clock Tower), an astronomical clock, which sounds its bell every
hour on the hour. Available only on a guided tour, you will walk up
around the 130 winding, narrow steps leading up to the observation
platform from which you feast your eyes on a stunning view of Old
Town. Bern, whose name was derived from "bear,"
also has Bern Bear Park, an enclosed sanctuary for bears that
generates mixed reviews depending on your outlook.
The bridegroom (brown apron) has a big smile as
his friends throw him a bachelor party medieval style. The bride-to-be
is Swiss but he's English - hence the Union Jack.
Part of the wonder of travel is the unexpected and one
such moment happened during a walking tour. A group of young men dressed
in medieval costumes were gathered in a square and it turned out to
be their version of a bachelor party. When I spoke to the groom, he
said the festivities would continue all day into the evening. As far
as his bride-to-be, he really didn't want to know what form her "bachelorette"
party would take but hopefully she will be having as much fun as he
and his friends.
The other serendipitous experience was when Switzerland
beat Ecuador 2-1 in the 2014 FIFA World Cup games. Bern
exploded in celebrations, with cars snaking through the streets honking
their horns and waving the Swiss flag, which, by the way, is
the only square-shaped national flag in the world. The joy was contagious
and I felt really lucky to be able to bask in a proud moment for Switzerland.
With so much to experience in Switzerland, you
definitely owe it to yourself to put this trip as Number 1 on
your Bucket List. Your travel agent or Swiss Tourism can
help you plan a trip tailored to your specific needs. I assure you that
once you visit Switzerland, with a population less than Manhattan,
you'll understand why it has earned the distinction of being a country
of unsurpassed beauty and refinement.
Fairmont Le Montreux Palace
Avenue Claude-Nobs 2
+41 21 962 1212
Domaine Blaise Duboux (winery)
Sentier de Creyvavers 3,
Phone: +41 21 799 18 80
Park Hotel Wiggis
Hertensteinstrasse 34, 6353
+41 41 392 05 05
Haldenstrasse 10 6002
+41(0)41 416 16 16
Schweizerhof Hotel Bern
Bahnhofplatz 11, 3001
+41 31 326 80 80
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