History Grand Hotel National Lucerne Present Grand Hotel National Lucerne

Maximilian Alphons von Pfyffer von Altishofen was man with a vision, but without experience to run a hotel. Reason enough to pick the young and talented Cesar Ritz to turn the hotel into a stunning success.

Grand Hotel National Lucerne

In fact the Grand Hotel national is too small to be a select member of THE MOST FAMOUS HOTELS IN THE WORLD. It has only 40 rooms. That's what is left of 240 rooms once upon a time.

But Switzerland's legendary hotel has been saved and revived on a smaller state-of-the-art scale. And it has such a tradition and history, that the jury decided that it has a place among the other great historic hotels in the world.

After all it was here in the 1870s, that legendary Swiss hotelier Cesar Ritz - for the first time in the position of a manager - staged his ideas of hotel business.

The hotel graces the promenade of Lucerne at the lake Vierwaldstätter See (Lake Lucern), right opposite of the new museum of art. It was but one of many grand hotels. There is a nice comment about them in the Collected Travel Writings: The Continent, by Henry James:

"There is such a luxury of beauty in the prospect – such a redundancy of composition and effect – so many more peaks and pinnacles that are needed to make one heart happy or regal the vision of one quiet observer, that you finally accept the little Babel on the quay and the looming masses in the clouds as equal parts of a perfect system, and feel as if the mountains have been waiting so many ages for the hotels to come and balance the colossal group, that they show a right, after all, to have them big and numerous."

The Grand National in Lucern is one of the eyewitnesses of the birth of luxury hospitality.

Built by Colonel Maximilian-Alphons Pfyffer d'Altishofen it was for long regarded the most luxurious hotel of Switzerland ('if not the world,' writes Marie Ritz). It was here that Cesar Ritz rose from his position as a headwaiter to his first post as general manager (as a result of his friendship with the sons of Colonel Pfyffer, Hans and Alphonse. Alphonse would later become Ritz' manager at the Grand Hotel in Rome and eventually open the Hotel Excelsior Rome). At the National in Lucerne Auguste Escoffier spent his first years as a chef.
THE HISTORY IN DETAIL 1868 “To accommodate kings you must first build a palace”: With a rise in tourism in the mid 19th century, Lucerne realised its potential as an attractive holiday destination. The French nobility, the Russian aristocracy and the Britons all enjoy visits to Switzerland. And so a plan developed to create "the most luxurious hotel in the world": the "Hotel National" was born.

January 1868 Builder Colonel Maximilian Alphons Von Pfyffer Von Altishofen submits the hotel plans to the town council. The hotel construction is quite spectacular for this period: The plan is larger than previous Lucerne architecture, at 84 metres in length, 25 metres in depth and 27 metres in height. 28. May 1868 Planning permission for the "Hotel National" is given – the building firm responsible is “Baugesellschaft Segesser de Brunegg & Cie.” Pfyffer buys shares of the Grand Hotel National when the building company forms a limited liability company. 1870 Opening of the Grand Hotel National on the banks of Lake Lucerne. The luxurious hotel, built in French renaissance style, is larger and more magnificent than all of its predecessors and sounds the bell for a new revolutionary style in hotel construction.

1870 – 1877 Colonel Maximilian Alphons Von Pfyffer Von Althishofen becomes Director of the Grand Hotel National (Segesser & Cie pulled out, Pfyffer was left alon hodling the bag). The first years were difficult. Pfyffer soon realizes that he needs a professional hotelier to run the house and he summoned Cesar Ritz to his aid.

1877 César Ritz takes over management of the hotel. Ritz, already a rising star in the hotel business, lays the foundations for a traditional and stylish hotel culture; his innovative ideas are still in use to this day. His dynamism, his intuitive understanding of guests and his excellent contacts make the "Hotel National" both famous and successful.

1881 The famous “Chef de Cuisine”, Auguste Escoffier, treats the guests of the hotel to a range of fine creations. The Ritz•Escoffier team gives the hotel an international reputation. A number of major personalities including numerous members of the German imperial family, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, maharajahs from India, practically "anybody who is anybody" – visit the National to be indulged.

“A trade's perfection must be coupled with simplicity":

This is the revolutionary motto of the top two restaurateurs. For César Ritz this meant doing away with ostentatious curtains and eccentric welcoming clichés – instead light colours, flowers and attentive, personal service would make the guests "friends of the hotel": Auguste Escoffier conjured up refined but equally simple dishes. Of course, these changes have to be seen within the historical context, for today both Escoffier's creations and Ritz's "simple style" still seem extremely opulent.

And at that time the hotel’s name is changed to “Grand Hotel National”. 

1890 Colonel Maximilian Alphons Von Pfyffer Von Altishofen is struck by an acute influenza infection at the age of just 56. In the years previous to this he had begun once again to devote himself to his military career and been promoted to Chief of the General Staff.

1890 César Ritz leaves Lucerne and heads to London to manage The Savoy. Alphons and Hans Pfyffer, sons of the builder, take over the management – they were followers and great admirers of César Ritz and applied the knowledge that they had gained from him to their future management of the hotel. 1890 – 1950 Hans Pfyffer is responsible for the “Grand Hotel National” for 60 years – either as manager or as a member of the executive board. His name is linked not only to a large piece of hotel history, but also to the history of the town and the region. He worked tirelessly for both the hotel and the whole region until his death. Tourism and its promotion were his passions. Hans Pfyffer is a pioneer in cooperation and regionalism, weaving together both national and international strands to form a dense network of relationships. It is his commitment that ensured that the Grand Hotel National managed to escape relatively unscathed from the years of war and crisis unlike many other grand hotels in Switzerland.

1890 The limited partnership of “Pfyffer & Cie” founded.

1897 – 1900 Expansion & Enlargement

1897 Extension to include a large dining hall.

Between the 1890s and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the number of tourists visiting Lucerne continues to rise – in 1892 there are 77,950 guests, in 1900 140,000 and in 1910 a massive 192,500 guests. The growing number of visitors and increasing demand leads to the “Grand Hotel National” being extended to include an additional dining hall. The “old dining hall” was turned into a ballroom.

1890 “Grand Hotel National AG” founded – César Ritz sits on the executive board. The joint•stock company forms the basis for extensive renovation and modernisation of the hotel. For example, all rooms were fitted with en suite bathrooms and WC, and electricity.

1899/1900 Start of the large “Nationalhof” project extension of the hotel to include today's "east wing" - an ambitious venture that increased the size of the hotel by 50%. The “Nationalhof” was designed as a heated "winter house" to make Lucerne and the hotel attractive right through the winter months. The "apartments” built in the east wing were very modern and forward looking, and the 20th century saw this new form of accommodation (suites) being introduced into luxury hotels worldwide. During the extension work the basic structure building of the building was preserved: Apart from small exterior restructuring and the extension of the connecting wing, the hotel’s architecture and structure have been preserved to this day. Of course, the interiors and the facilities have moved with the times. The “function rooms” of the past are now restaurants, whilst the hotel hall, or the "large restaurant", is now the banqueting and conference rooms. The “ballroom” has been preserved. Emil Vogt is the architect responsible for the extensions, setting new standards in the world of hotel architecture with his innovative ideas. Emil Vogt, also known as “the architect of comfort”, is very closely linked with César Ritz – during the turmoil of World War I he was responsible for the construction of significant hotels like the "Ritz" in Cairo, and the “King David" in Jerusalem, and for the extension of the “Luxor” hotel.

1900 – 1914 The golden years 1901 – 1906 The “Belle Epoque” – a golden age for the Grand Hotel National with up to 46 000 roomnights per year: A volume that was never surpassed in the "Golden 20th century”. International guests, in particular those from Great Britain and North America, hold the hotel and Lucerne in very high esteem. The guest book from this period reads like a “who’s who” of history. Members of many royal families, not just in Europe but also from the whole world, travel to Lucerne and grace the traditional hotel with their presence. 1910 The 3rd extension: An extra storey added to the connecting wing. The Grand Hotel National and the Nationalhof are linked by the connecting wing. 1910 – 1914 “Lucerne takes to the skies” – Lucerne becomes the first city in the world to offer passenger flights and acquires its own airship, the "Ville de Lucerne", built by the French company "Compagnie Générale Transaérienne", for the purpose. Hans Pfyffer was the forerunner. However, the flight ban introduced from 1914 onwards due to World War I brought a sudden end to this innovative business.

1914 – 1945 Hard times for the international hotel business

1914 World War I starts difficult times for the Swiss luxury hotel industry. During the later years of the war, the cellar and ground floor of the “Grand Hotel National” serves as a warehouse. Other luxury hotels fared worse: the “Maloja Palace” was transformed into a barracks, the “Montreux Palace” into a hospital, and the “Palace” in Gstaad was simply closed. 1916 César Ritz dies. 1920 Special meeting between the Italian President Giolitti and the English Prime Minister Lloyd George takes place in the Grand Hotel National. During this meeting the foundations were laid for the Treaty of Versailles. 1922 New marketing strategy developed – Hotel Director Alfred Demicheli goes on business trips, visiting travel agencies and tour operators to negotiate contracts and cooperative deals. 1923 The Lucerne flights company goes into liquidation. Although Lucerne was the first Swiss city to “take to the skies”, to this day it has not rebuilt another civil airport. Citizens continue to vote against it on the grounds of noise pollution. 1929 Installation of a telephone system, with telephones put in for every guest room. 29.10.1929 Black Thursday – stock exchange crash in New York. The Grand Hotel National is affected immediately, although the stock exchange crash does not affect Switzerland until two years later, but many guests continue to travel from North America. 1918 – 1932 Upturn in the economy and more crises in the changing times. At the end of World War I, a massive upturn in the economy begins – guests return and the guest figures rise. By 1923 the number of guests staying has already reached the pre•war figures. However: Times have changed. Food prices have risen massively and the new laws for employees have a real effect. Fair wages, shorter working hours and holidays take their toll on the hotel industry's turnover and bring about a massive drop in profits. In 1931 and 1932 the picture changes dramatically – the world economic crisis caused by “Black Thursday" starts to take its toll. The number of guests staying falls to 5000 in 1931 and again to less than 4000 in 1932. From 1933 Difficult times still lie ahead for tourism and the hotel •the continuing fall of the dollar and World War II increase the strain on the industry.

1970 – 2007 Take over & modification of the hotel 1970 Architect Umberto E. Erculiani buys the majority of the shares in the Grand Hotel National AG. According to his drafts, the 220•room hotel would be changed into a hotel with 78 guest rooms and 41 residence suites. The hotel becomes a member of Steigenberger Hotels and Preferred Hotels and Resorts.

2001 Umberto E. Erculiani decides to further limit the hotel business. The 6th and 7th floors and half of the 5th floor are leased to EF Education and form the global headquarters of their financial holding. EF Education is the world’s largest language school, and since the company has occupied part of the hotel, it has coordinated its global financial activities from Lucerne. Following extensive restoration and renovation, the Grand Hotel National is now located in the east wing and remains as a luxurious 5•star superior hotel with 41 guest rooms and suites. Great value is placed on upholding the traditions of the 19th century and combining these harmoniously with modern facilities.

2001 – 2003 Umberto Erculiani spends a long time searching for a competent management team that can market the historic Grand Hotel on an international level, whilst maintaining its connections with the local region.

June 2003 “THP Touristic & Hotel Projects Ltd.” takes over management of the legendary hotel. The partners are the internationally•renowned hotel expert Pierre Vacher, the famous Lucerne business consultant Bodo Von Düring (of Düring Management AG), hotelier Gabriele Pedrazzetti (Hotel Continental Park) and the Lucerne businessman Ernst Maréchaux, owner of Maréchaux Elektro AG.

2004 The 4 boardrooms are integrated into the same meeting floor

2005 Façade and soft renovations (right•hand wing)

2007 Façade and soft renovations (left-hand wing).

2022 Mandarin Oriental, the luxury hotel group from Hong Kong / Bangkok, takes over the management.

Michael Hoferer
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Our Select Member Hotel

Grand Hotel National Lucerne
Country: Switzerland
City: Lucerne
Opening date: 1870
First owner/Manager: Maximilian-Alphons Pfyffer d'Altishofen

Note from the Host

General Manager

Gabriel P. Stucki

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