PLEASE NOTE: There have been substantial changes to this hotel since the review was written.
Any hotel which provides a seat in its lift receives a gold star from me. Such a provision (which, believe me, is almost as rare as the proverbial hen’s tooth) indicates that those three crucial c’s of the hospitality industry – care, comfort and courtesy – are being followed assiduously. I should really have expected nothing less at the splendid Schweizerhof, for it is Luzern’s gracious dowager duchess of an hotel. Built in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, her classical façade presides over a large part of Luzern’s lakeside promenade. And she presides with an effortless dignity, because she knows that she has every right to her prominence. She has, after all, welcomed through her doors some of the most famous persons in Europe. When you have sheltered Leo Tolstoy, Richard Wagner and Leopold II of Bavaria, I suppose you tend to feel that your position in society is secure. And now the dear lady was to shelter me.
Traditional elegance has always appealed to me, and here it was in abundance. Columns of pink marble rose to support a high ceiling of fine plasterwork. Pieces of period furniture offered seating on plump cushions. A long-case clock ticked gently. Outside was a busy road; inside was the quiet gentility of an earlier age. I felt immediately that my spirits were being restored. Five generations of the Hauser family have owned and run the Schweizerhof, and they have certainly preserved a sense of pleasing continuity throughout their hotel. I present to you a picture of the current owners, Patrick and Michael Hauser, standing on either side of the General Manager, Clemens Hunziker.
My apartment was on the second floor. Not a long journey in the lift, to be sure. But how exquisitely pleasurable it was to sink down onto the brocade upholstery of the bench for the few seconds of each rising or falling.
I have stayed in many hotel suites over the decades. This was one of the most pleasant. As you can see in my photographs, it was traditionally furnished and spacious. I judged the sitting room to be 18 feet by 12 feet and the bedroom to be 16 feet by 12 feet. The pieces of reproduction furniture had ormolu mounts and the walls were covered in silk of light gold. But I think what made apartment number 30 – a Deluxe Suite and therefore 870-950 francs a night, bed and breakfast for two, which is very good value for such accommodation – so pleasing was what we are nowadays taught to call the ‘flow’. It really did work exceptionally well as a place to stay. Not once did I find myself irritated by the necessity of having to wander about aimlessly, trying to find what was not conveniently placed. The walk-in wardrobe was off the bedroom, as was the large bathroom, and the guest cloakroom was off the sitting room, near the door to the hotel corridor. There was enough hanging space. There was a private safe. In the bathroom, a chamber of brown and beige marble, were spotlights, 2 wash basins, a separate shower, a bidet and a tub of the proper size. It all worked so well.
And then there was the view. From the sitting room window and from the bedroom balcony was the panorama in the picture, taking in the lake and its framing mountains. Of course, the road between the lake and the hotel can get busy, but the double glazing was so effective that not once was I disturbed by any traffic noise. And I am highly sensitive to such auditory intrusions.
Two restaurants are offered by the hotel. Needless to say, I chose the more formal, the Galerie (pictured), a lofty chamber of white, reminiscent of an 18th century French chateau. To reach this, I walked through the bar (pictured) – which is the part of the Schweizerhof designed for those of you who like a bit of bright modernity. Each evening, safely installed at my large round table, with its smart white napery and good Schott glasses, I felt very much at home and ready for some good eating. And that is what I enjoyed, with dishes from the kitchen of Chef de Cuisine Thomas Zürcher (pictured) brought to me under silver domes. Here, too, was friendly and proper service.
Allow me to share with you the highlights of my dinners at the Schweizerhof. A salad of seasonal leaves, with pumpkin, blue cheese, grapes, nuts and fried Portobello mushrooms was a perfectly judged combination of fine ingredients and was impressively presented. Cold duck foie gras, stuffed with pigeon was satisfyingly rich and effectively balanced by the addition of a jelly of sour cherries. Artichoke soup with a side salad of cèpes was very well done. And the highlight of my meals was the chateaubriand, lovely pink and tender fillet, carved by the table and so generous it had to be served in two portions. Together with its béarnaise sauce and gratinated potatoes, it made this particular beefeater’s heart glad. (Allow around 110 francs for four courses from the carte.)
The wine list has around 190 offerings. Most are Swiss, but there are also some decent bottles from the New World and from France. Prices run from 49frs for a sauvignon blanc from the Lanquedoc to 3,241frs for the 1982 Lafite. The latter will stir the interest of those who love red bordeaux and, indeed, there is an impressive collection of top-class clarets from good vintages. Here are some of them: 1982 Mouton Rothschild (2,514frs), 1982 Margaux (1,906frs), 1983 Haut Brion (600frs), 1986 Cheval Blanc (780frs) and 1986 Latour (736frs). From my own drinking, I must recommend two Argentinian beauties. A 2009 chardonnay from Mendoza flexed its muscles and yielded plenty of sherbet and buttery overtones (Crios, Susana Balbo – 54frs), and a blend of cabernet and malbec burst forth with damp oak and black cherries (Salta, Amalaya de Colomé, 2006 – 58frs).
It was back to the Galerie for breakfast. From the buffet I secured supplies of sliced melon and pineapple, pears poached in red wine, bacon and exceptionally good grilled tomatoes, thick slices of crusty bread, strawberry and rhubarb jam and – as a special, naughty treat I do not normally allow myself – ringed doughnuts. These comestibles were washed down with coffee in silver pots, copious quantities of ice cubes and my concluding cappuccino. As at dinner, the waitresses were friendly and helpful.
After each of these visits to the ground floor, I was wafted up to my suite in the lift with the seat. I felt, amidst the traditional elegance and comfort of the Schweizerhof, that I was being looked after with the utmost care, comfort and courtesy. And, indeed, I was – for I was enjoying the hospitality of a dowager duchess.
Scweizerhofquai 3, Luzern 6002, Switzerland.
Telephone +41 (0)414 100 410
Fax +41 (0)414 102 971
Double rooms from 360-440 Swiss francs, according to season, breakfast extra (35frs)
Ask about offers