I present to you a sketch of Richard Wagner at the Hotel Baur Au Lac. Interesting, is it not? And I say that as one who is not Richard Wagner’s greatest fan. After a performance of Lohengrin at Covent Garden, a friend remarked approvingly of my obvious enthusiasm for the music. He had noticed that, from my seat in the front row of the Dress Circle, I had – during the last Act – leaned forward repeatedly in appreciation of the performance. In fact, I had been straining to look down at the scores on the music stands of the players in the orchestra pit, to see how many more pages of the torment I had still to endure… Still, one thing about Mr. Wagner I have always admired: he loved grand hotels. And the grander they were, the more he loved them. Certainly, he must have liked the Baur Au Lac in Zurich very much indeed, for it was here that he performed the première of the first Act of Die Walküre – singing himself, and accompanied on the piano by his father-in-law, Franz Liszt. And that is the occasion depicted in the drawing. For Wagnerians, then, the Baur Au Lac must be a place of pilgrimage. But for me, it was a place of pure pleasure.
I will not bore you with an exhaustive list of the great and the good who have stayed at the Baur Au Lac since it was opened in 1844 by the Johannes Baur. (It is still owned by his descendants, the Kracht family, today.) Suffice it to say that, if you were the Empress of Austria, or the Tsarina of Russia, or the Kaiser of Germany, you would have known this hostelry very well indeed. The location is what you want in Zurich – right next to the River Schanzengraben and overlooking the Lake. Its 124 rooms have recently been decorated in a restful modern style (which I hope the pictures convey), and its public rooms have a pleasing lightness and assured elegance. I had the sense, throughout my stay, of an establishment which was at ease with its history and with its importance.
Because of the shape of the building, there are some long corridors, so – if you do not like a healthy walk to your billet – you might wish to request a room close to the lifts. My own, number 401, was a Deluxe Double on the 4th floor. (You will need to check on the hotel website for the rates for specific dates, but you should think of something around 870CHF.) In the small hallway were two coat pegs, a small sign of the attention to detail which is evident throughout the hotel. The size of the bedroom I estimated at about 14 feet by 13 feet. Its colours were brown, grey and white. I liked the sense of elegance conveyed by the writing desk in the Classical style. Within the fitted wardrobes with mirrored doors was that essential requirement of modern travel, the private safe. Two fauteuils upholstered in blue silk provided the comfortable seating, and spotlights and five lamps provided the lighting. The walls were decorated with black and white photographs of landscapes. The window looked out onto a side street.
The most pleasing aspect of this accommodation was the bathroom, which – with its pristine black and white tiling and its sparkling chromium – had a delightful sensation of Art Déco. It boasted a separate loo, a separate shower, two wash basins and a roomy tub.
Every member of staff I encountered – whether it was the young waiter who served me a pot of Earl Grey tea in the delightful hall, or the waitresses (as smart as fashion models) in the restaurant, or the gentlemen at the concierge desk who arranged for my access to the Business Centre on the first floor (so that I could keep on top of my emails) – was courteous, friendly and efficient. This perhaps should not surprise us, as the former General Manager, Michel Rey (pictured), is a relative of the great César Ritz himself. And his successor, Wilhelm Luxem (pictured, at his desk) has clearly taken up the reins with gusto and enthusiasm.
I was able to breakfast but not dine in the restaurant, Le Pavillon, on this visit – although my previous experience of the cuisine of Chef Laurent Eperon (pictured) leads me to suppose that it is still one of the finest dining rooms in Zurich. In the mornings the colour of the trees and the lawns through the plate glass windows – for the hotel has an extensive garden – was reflected in the green tablecloths. From the buffet I brought orange juice, corn flakes, slices of rare beef fillet, chunks of fresh pineapple, slices of orange and melon, lovely strawberries, slices of crusty bread and croissants. And from the kitchen came pots of coffee, bowls of ice cubes and my concluding cappuccini. All these comestibles were of the highest quality.
Truly, the Baur Au Lac is a wonderful place. Its remarkable tradition, its fine location and its exceptional standards of service place it in the ranks of Europe’s most famous hotels. I like it. Now all I need to do is to try to like the music of Richard Wagner.
Talstrasse 1, 8022 Zurich, Switzerland.
Telephone +41 (0)44 220 50 20
Fax +41 (0)44 220 50 44
Double rooms from around 800 Swiss francs, breakfast extra
Check the hotel website for the rates for specific dates