History meets luxury among the mountains of Switzerland.
Century-old luxury hotels are not uncommon in Europe, but few properties do it as well as the Victoria-Jungfrau in Interlaken, Switzerland. Originally built in 1865 as the Hotel Victoria (according to legend, it was named in the hope that Queen Victoria would come for a visit; she never did) and joined to the adjacent Hotel Jungfrau in 1899 by a distinctive dome-topped walkway. It was the most innovative hotel of its time, with a telephone system, a hydraulic lift and electric lights in all rooms.
Now fully renovated and expanded, the 212 rooms provide luxury with impeccable service. The Victoria-Jungfrau is the well-seasoned flagship of the “Victoria-Jungfrau Collection”, a quartet of five-star Swiss hotels, all of which go back at least a century – the Palace Luzern in Lucerne, The Bellevue Palace in Bern and the Eden au Lac in Zurich.
Interlaken, population 5500, is Europe’s original ski resort attracting thousands of skiers and non-skiers alike. Switzerland’s highly efficient and on-time rail system gives the village quick, easy access from anywhere in the country. The hotel is a 15-minute walk from either of the town’s two railway stations. As the name implies, Interlaken is nestled between two delightful Alpine lakes and a swift-moving river splits the town. The village is surrounded by spectacular mountain vistas including the Jungfrau where a cog railway takes visitors through the mountain to the 3454 metre level and the highest railway station in Europe. On a clear day, France and Italy can be seen.
Charm of Contrasts
Here, old world charm meets modern the spa resort. The bright, airy dome joining the two hotels has been enlarged and looks like a mini-Eaton Centre without the commercial hype. The contrasts are startling. Several of the meeting rooms, dining areas and the large, ornate ballroom could easily be mistaken as part of Versailles while, a few steps away, the ultra-modern spa and sports area rival any in Canada’s major cities.
The world economic crisis has slowed the supply of well-heeled guests, but the hotel still attracts North Americans, Europeans and increasingly more Asians who relish the idea of top comfort and service, a world-class spa, fine Swiss cuisine and unparalleled mountain views from every room. Snowboarders and skiers mingle with tourists who just want to splurge for a day or two or boast that they stayed in the same room as Mark Twain, the Emperor of Brazil or the King of Siam.
Height of Design
The Belle Époque architecture on the outside of this grand hotel gives but a hint of the elaborate glass atrium, crystal chandeliers, intricate ironwork and ornate columns within. It’s a dazzling combination of 150-year-old tradition and modern touches.
Each of the rooms, extending over four floors, has distinctive design and décor. Some are classic, some contemporary. All have high ceilings, tasteful colour schemes, comfortable beds with European duvets, cable TV and quality toiletries. Unfortunately the slippers they provide are much too small for anyone with a foot bigger than size 10 and the shower (within the large bathtub) is just a hand-held device with no appropriate shower enclosure. Ten new junior suites with private terraces were built adjacent to the spa in 2003 and a Tower Suite provides penthouse accommodation on a grand scale.
Check-in was smooth and courteous. The clerk was very helpful answering questions. Because we wanted to take the cog railway to the top of the Jungfrau mountain (trains start in Interlaken), we anticipated a late checkout. No problem.
Spa in Swiss Style
The 5,500 square-metre spa is the talk of Switzerland and becoming famous beyond the country’s borders. A large pool with a vaulted glass ceiling, marble pillars and gold-accented fixtures remind one of a Roman bath. In addition to four climate-controlled tennis courts and a golf facility, the spa has whirlpools, hydrotherapy baths, steam rooms and 16 private, well-equipped rooms where 35 different types of treatments are offered.
With German, French and Italian influences, Swiss cuisine has developed an enviable reputation in recent years. The Victoria-Jungfrau’s main restaurant, La Terrasse, has earned an outstanding 16 points from the influential French restaurant guide, Gault Millau, for its fresh, international cuisine. The executive chef, Manfred Roth, earned his culinary stripes in Germany, France and Asia. He also supervises the hotel’s Jungfrau Brasserie, offering superb Swiss dishes and La Pastateca where innovative Italian dishes (e.g., walnut ravioli with lamb strips in balsamic sauce) attract locals as well as tourists.
Things to Do
The lure of the Swiss Alps – mountains in all directions – is irresistible. Skiers by the trainload head for the hills while non-skiers enjoy the adventure of taking cable cars or the cog railway to the highest peaks or just relaxing in the fresh mountain air. Parasailing in the reliable updrafts has become a major tourist business in Interlaken. Dramatic landings take place in the park just across the street from the Victoria-Jungfrau Hotel.
For further information: www.victoria-jungfrau.ch
All photos © John and Sandra Nowlan. All Rights Reserved.