Mourby of Switzerland
In August 2017 the Bürgenstock reopened to the public. Mr Mourby visited the heart of the continent. Mrs Mourby was kind enough to bring her camera.
In 1871 two Swiss men bought a mountain in order to put a hotel on it. Their names were Franz Josef Bucher and Joseph Durrer.
In 1868 the partners had opened a parquet factory and mechanical joinery in Krems. In order to provide enough work for their carpenters, Bucher and Durrer had built the Hotel Sonnenberg in Engelberg, selling it at a profit. Then in 1871 Franz Josef Bucher discovered the “Trittalp” above Lake Lucerne and bought this alpine peak from Korporation Luzern. Building a hotel on a mountain top was something of an innovation in the 1870s but when the Grand Hotel opened in 1873 its views of Lake Lucerne and healthy climate proved very popular. So much so in fact that in 1888 Bucher and Durrer built a second hotel nearby called the Park. And in 1904 after Bucher had become the sole owner of the new venture a third hotel called the Palace was created.
All three hotels sat on a ridge that looked across upland pasture to the south and down a 500-metre drop to Lake Lucern to the north. Bucher renamed the mountain Bürgenstock and the three Bürgenstock hotels became very famous hotel indeed in the twentieth century. Audrey Hepburn married Mel Ferrer in a little chapel next to the Palace Hotel and Sophia Loren built a modern house close to it which she called Villa Daniel.
Bürgenstock excelled at glamour. It had its own valuable art collection. There was a private funicular up from the lake right into a shared reception area for all three hotels and there was a members only Bürgenstock Club based on Frank Lloyd Wright design ideas. Built in the 1970s the club used the natural geology of the landscape but its underground bar had three glass portholes cut into the back wall so drinkers could watch swimmers in the pool above.
But the Bürgenstock project also overextended itself. The Frey family who had taken over the running of all three hotels in the 1920s soon discovered that while it may have been expensive to build Bürgenstock but it was just as costly to maintain such buildings.
When the Palace Hotel was refurbished during World War II, its Belle Epoque splendour was lost in favour of a cheaper less ornamental facade.
Eventually the Bürgenstock was sold off and its valuable art collection was auctioned.
A saviour arrived in the twenty-first century however in the person of the Sultan of Brunei who bought the mountain and its hotels. (The Sultan is a greater collector of famous hotel. His Katara Hospitality organisation also owns the Savoy in London and Raffles in Singapore.) Under Katara a newly created group, the “Bürgenstock Selection” administers three Swiss properties: Bürgenstock, the Royal Savoy Hotel in Lausanne, and Hotel Schweizerhof in Bern. Katara has poured in them the kind of money that grand hotels need in the 21st century. Reviving Bürgenstock cost in excess of 550 million Swiss francs.
In August 2017 the investment paid off with Bürgenstock reopening to the public. Much remains as it was – particularly the views that entranced guests from Indira Gandhi to Igor Stravinsky, Kofi Annan to Sean Connery.
Sadly the Park Hotel is no more. It was apparently too derelict to be restored, but its demolition has created the space for a new luxury hotel called between the Grand and the Palace simply called The Bürgenstock. Here modern bedrooms offer an eclectic mix: Swiss iconography represented by cowbell light fittings, flame-effect fireplaces with American walnut wood, walls of Greek quartz and Italian marble bathroom fittings.
The Grand Hotel is still there but turned into private residences that overlook the lake. The real delight for lovers of grand hotels is the Palace – always the finest of the three hotels - whose public rooms have been restored to their early twentieth century glory-days. The original fireplace in the Salon has been polished up and its pink marbled columns are shining again. As much original art that had not been sold off at Sothebys is back on the walls Ironically the builders weren’t allowed to take the exterior back to its 1904 original because it became a listed building after its toned-down restoration during World War II. This means that the building we see today is without its ornate stone balconies or impressive rooftop parapet. Where in 1904 obelisks rose to the sky, today there is just a mansard roof.
The Palace Hotel also has an underground “memory corridor” which links it invisibly to the new Bürgenstock. This corridor contains pieces of salvaged memorabilia like menus, photos and even one of the original creaking wooden lifts. Nearby Sophia Loren’s villa has been restored is now a restaurant called the Sharq Oriental & Shisha Lounge, and a new funicular lifts visitors up from the lake in a graceful four minute arc.
The reopening of Bürgenstock is a tribute to the Sultan of Brunei who has done something that even the Swiss could not afford, but it is also a tribute to the vision of Herr Bucher and Herr Durrer who were proved right. This mountaintop was, and is, a great site for a grand hotel.
Resort to the opposite shores of Lake Luzern (Vierwaldstätter See). Here, from your lakeside terrace of the elegant famous Park Hotel Vitznau, you enjoy a magnificent view over the lake and the mountain of Bürgenstock. The elaborate Palace Edition PARK HOTEL VITZNAU of our library tells you all about it.