135 Years of Welcoming Guests
By Don Heimburger
Photos by the author and the Park Hotel Weggis
On the shores of beautiful, serene Lake Lucerne stands a tall, stately structure amid a lush garden of flowers and trees. I have passed it several times on a Lake Lucerne Navigation Company steam-powered paddlewheel boat, each time saying I would like to visit.
It is an intriguing complex of buildings, some hidden by the finely-appointed, trimmed mature greenery. At night, lights in the castle-like buildings, and outside on the grounds, twinkle a welcoming “hello.” The hotel is slightly elevated on the grounds, and thus it takes on an even more eloquent appearance.
This year, my time had come to finally “meet” this jewel on the lake. I made an appointment to visit the Park Hotel Weggis, located a 15-minute walk from downtown Weggis, Switzerland. A total of 50% of the clientele is from Switzerland, but I came all the way from the USA to visit, the hotel being that intriguing.
Weggis, home of the popular Rosenfest, a lavish July event in this town of 4,000, sits quietly and calmly on the shores of what author Mark Twain once said was the most beautiful spot on earth. While it may be bested by a few other spectacular sights around the globe, I have no doubt that most people would call Weggis a shining star when it comes to serenity and aesthetics.
The hotel looks out onto the lake and the Alps of central Switzerland, and thus this wish from Twain: “This is the charmingest place we have ever lived in for repose and restfulness, superb scenery whose beauty undergoes a perpetual change from one miracle to another, yet never runs short of fresh surprises and new inventions. We shall always come here for the summers if we can.” Twain lived for several summers in Weggis, traveling up to the nearby Rigi-Kulm, which is 6,000 feet above and to one side of the village. Three of the hotel’s rooms are called the Mark Twain suites.
With a warm breeze blowing across the lake, this area creates its own weather patterns which usually means warmer weather in the winter, and softer, gentler breezes during the summer. As a testament to this climate, palm trees and cactus grow alongside the beautiful roses the city is noted for.
BEACON ACROSS THE LAKE
It’s in this peaceful setting that the 5 1/2-acre, five-star Park Hotel Weggis shines a beacon across the lake to everyone, that this is a place to rest and relax, to have some fun, to dine or just get away from it all for a while.
In fact, the hotel has been doing this for 135 years, as in 2010 it celebrates more than a century and a third of being hospitable in this unique place.
Historic photo of the Weggis grounds
The annex portion of the hotel was built in 1899. The hotel, with just 53 rooms and suites in the main building and two adjacent structures, pampers its guests, offers several dining choices and is big on wellness. The hotel has seven categories of rooms, and underground tunnels allow guests to reach various parts of the complex without going outside. The hotel is 30 minutes by car from Lucerne, and 35 miles from Zurich.
The list of awards the hotel has garnered through the years includes its selection as one of the 10 best vacation hotels in Switzerland for the past eight years, and the Hotel of the Year Award by GaultMillau in 2001. Its spa and wine selections have also won awards.
A total of 43 rooms in the main building were renovated between 2007 and 2010, and 10 more new “Adara” suites with generously-sized rooms were also added with large balconies, electric curtains, large Treca de Paris beds, Christian Fischbacher satin bed linens and bathrobes, Bose sounds systems and Panasonic flat televisions.
Adara Junior Suite
The rooms also incorporate B&B Italia and Promemoria Italian furniture, accessories from the Thony Collection, and fabrics from JAB and Carlucci di Chivasso. Each suite features its own wine cabinet with rarities such as Premier Grand Cru Classe from Bordeaux and Chateau d’Yquem.
The showers, in Foster, KOS Italia and Form-Laufen designs, match the green-clad marble walls with marble from the Greek island of Tinos in the Aegean Sea.
In the last 13 years, the Park Hotel has poured $100 million (Swiss francs) into refurbishing the property.The Denz family of Switzerland are the owners.
WELLNESS AREA OF HOTEL
The hotel prides itself with its extensive Wellness area for those who like to be especially pampered. With many upscale hotels and resorts paying more attention to this part of a guest’s visit, this is becoming a more prominent feature of hotel services. Under the leadership of Brigitte Bunder, body, soul and spirit are soothed as her team immerses guests in a peaceful, stress-free world for a few hours. The Park Hotel offers a 49 foot x 20 foot open-air heated pool which overlooks Lake Lucerne, and also traditional Tibetan massages (four employees of the hotel are from Tibet). A wide range of other treatments are available, such as body scrubs, hair and beauty sessions, and hot herb applications.
A low-light spa therapy room
In addition, there are six Spa cottages which offer guests seclusion and privacy. These cottages are available for beauty treatments, fitness exercises, massages and a range of different therapies. The cottages, equipped with whirlpools, sauna or steam baths, solariums, showers and waterbeds, can be rented individually. Designer furniture from Colombostile and Moroso are featured in these rooms. In the Wellness area there is also a library with a matchless view of the surrounding mountains.
One aspect of the hotel is its welcoming Japanese gardens located at the entrance of the grounds, which was the first public-opened Bonsai garden in Europe. Large Burgenstock limestone pieces, some weighing seven tons, make up the garden, along with a 100-year-old juniper tree and other plants. The trees in the garden were imported from Japan, and some have been shaped and cared for four generations.
A HIGH POINT: FOOD
Food is always an attention-getter at a luxury hotel, and the Park offers three inviting venues for dining, including the Annex with Chef Renee Rischmeyer. Being ushered into the Annex sets the mood for the evening, with windows that look out onto the lake and the Alps, or you can also sit outside on the terrace. In this restaurant, traditional French culinary delights with Mediterranean and Asian influences are prepared using fresh local market seasonal products. The wine steward is Christian Bock, who was awarded the Best Swiss Sommelier in 2005/2006 and Master Sommelier in 2009. His job is to offer selections from 2,600 in-house wines, a daunting task. (The hotel’s vinothek offers wine for purchase for guests.) The Annex has been awarded 16 GaultMillau points and one Michelin star.
I found dining in the Annex was “an experience” as much as having a meal. The lake, the low lights, the glow from the room, and the wait staff service, made the evening memorable. Later did I realize there was soft music playing in the background, loud enough just for me to recognize it was there. It set just the right mood. My “parting shot” for the evening were the three delicious Swiss chocolates that were set before me; they did not last long.
Restaurant Sparks, with a capacity for 60 guests, is unique for its venue as much as its food. This high-ceiling room with a large chandelier, large windows and comfortable chairs, lifts your mood just walking in. Large scale Luciano Castelli paintings depicting the four seasons adorn the walls. In the Sparks, Chef Florian Gilges presents modern and light cuisine, combining art and design in his natural dishes, which has been awarded 14 GaultMillau-points. The Sparks is where breakfast is served every morning for hotel guests; there are 25 seats also available on the fresh-air veranda.
One evening in the Sparks I started off with baked goat cheese with Mediterranean vegetables, beef paillard with Carnaroli risotto and glazed Trevisano, a skewer of fillet of beef on potato salad with clear gazpacho, apple strudel and vanilla custard, and nectarine and honey cream mille feuille on tonka bean ice cream. With the meal I enjoyed a Valais, Switzerland white wine from 2008 and a Figuero tinto (2004) from Spain, both delicious.
For even more hotel food delights, guests can stroll over to The Grape a short distance away, where the speciality is California cuisine. There guests–many of them locals–are offered a wide selection of California wines from the Napa Valley, and food selections from California include juicy grilled steaks. For kids, a space has been set aside in the restaurant to play Nintendo games.
For a nightcap, the Lalique Caviar Bar is perfectly located in the hotel for a great view of the lake. Caviar–of course–malt whiskies and cigars are on the menu, along with the great view. If you want a drink outdoors, you can go down to the water’s edge where the cozy Beach Bar Lounge stays open until late hours. Last, for special dining occasions where you want to make an impression, you can book dinner in the smart vaulted wine cellar. For large gatherings such as weddings, receptions or banquets, the hotel features the Aquarius Hall with frosted glass panels, dark parquet floors and special lighting effects.
At this hotel you can arrive by boat, as the hotel has its own boat moorings, as well as a private lakefront area, bathing beach and sunbathing lawn. Sitting outside next to the lake with a good book and a cool drink could very well be the thing to top off an afternoon.
For kids, there’s a billiard room, and the suites have their own kid’s rooms, as well as a play station area with television and Nintendo games. The hotel also hosts occasional entertainment for kids.
Lakeside at the Park Hotel Weggis
With its own boat moorings (the hotel owns three boats itself), a number of cruise scenarios come to mind including renting a boat for yourself and guests and have it pick you up from from the hotel dock, or you can bring your own boat and dock it at the hotel. Canoes, mountain bikes, fitness and exercise equipment is available, as is a 1959 Chevrolet Impala convertible, sometimes parked out in front of the entrance. Nearby is the Rigi Railway (access is via a cable car in Weggis), and the Mt. Pilatus Railway is also close by. Lucerne is just a short car ride or boat ride away.
According to deputy director Marc Eichenberger, who is new at the property, guests often arrive stressed from their daily routine, but leave relaxed. Eichenberger knows a bit about getting away from it all himself. He has taken professional classes at Cornell University in the States, and likes to vacation in Asia. Sometimes you’ll find him trekking (and sleeping in a tent) in the desert.
He holds meetings with his staff on a daily basis, discussing the “arrivals,” and weekly and monthly “theme” meetings and even twice a year “broad goal” meetings with the staff. A personable man, he has a sharp eye for detail, and walks from one part of the large property to the other with purpose.
He calls the hotel “a hideaway” for guests who can wander from their room, to a hotel restaurant, to the spa area or to the beach within minutes.
With upwards of 65% of the hotel’s business repeat customers, you know the property is doing something right. My trip complete, I hope to return to this jewel on the lake soon, but perhaps I’ll stay longer next time. One visit just isn’t enough.
IF YOU GO…
The Park Hotel Weggis is rated five stars superior. It is located 225 miles from Munich. The hotel’s address is Hertensteinstrasse 34, CH-6353, Weggis. Telephone is +41 (0)41 392 05 05; e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. To see the hotel’s rates, rooms and facilities from their internet site, go to www.phw.ch. The latest award issued the hotel was 1st place in 2010 by the Blilanz news magazine for the best hotel day spa.
The hotel is part of the Swiss Deluxe Hotels and the Relais & Chateaux collections.