Τhere’s some bombast to its backers’ claim that the ongoing construction of Switzerland’s Burgenstock resort is “the project of the century”, but its August 2017 reopening will reveal the results of nine years of planning and construction, a CHF550m (£440m) investment and the latest iteration of a much-loved retreat that dates back to the 19th century. So it’s perfectly accurate to say that this is one of the most significant hotel openings worldwide this year. Interest in the project is huge, and with the Qatari investors behind it also responsible for the remodelled Savoy hotel in London and Hotel Royal Savoy Lausanne expectations are high.
Some 500 metres above Lake Lucerne, a hotel first opened on this site in 1873; as recognition of the region’s beauty and tranquility increased, its stature and size grew. Audrey Hepburn was sufficiently enamoured with the setting to marry Mel Ferrer in its chapel in 1954; Sophia Loren subsequently lived on site for years. In its 1950s heyday, the property’s kidney-shaped pool was a summer magnet for Swiss socialites.
Come the August 28 reopening, former Burgenstock guests will have the opportunity to revisit some of their most loved spaces - the 1897 chapel of course remains; that pool has since been listed; ample terraces and platforms provide spectacular lake and mountain views - but can otherwise expect a completely revised experience. A 60-hectare site surrounded by woodland and meadows, when fully complete the resort will incorporate four hotels, 67 residences, a 10,000sq m Alpine spa and 12 restaurants and bars.
Of the hotels, 12-bedroom Taverne 1879 (named for the year it was built) is a traditional and humble pension-style, timber-framed guesthouse. Dating from 1904 but entirely remodelled, the Palace Hotel reopens as a 108-bedroom four-star property; newly built, the modern, 102-bedroom Burgenstock Hotel will be the resort’s most luxurious address; removed from the other properties and facing the mountains rather than the lake below, the Waldhotel incorporates an advanced medical centre with attendant multidisciplinary physicians. Occupying an entire floor of the Waldhotel, that facility will, say the Burgenstock team, offer “treatments for burnout patients” and post-op recovery, alongside a range of weight-loss programmes and beauty treatments.
Different though the disparate properties are, staying at Burgenstock is an egalitarian experience: each of the resort’s restaurants, bars and common areas will be accessible to all. It’s a boon for guests paying the cheapest rates at the three-star tavern but could give those paying top whack at the Burgenstock Hotel reason to consider whether they are being provided with value for money when lead-in rates there nearly double those for the adjacent four-star Palace Hotel. The two properties share even a reception. Burgenstock guests expecting, say, at least a private hotel bar or lounge will be disappointed.
Those residing at the priciest property will, however, enjoy significantly more stylish accommodation than their neighbours. Finished in Swiss oak and fir, the mock-up Palace Hotel room I saw on my recent hard-hat tour was a mush of brown, beige and burgundy - for such a notable new opening, the aesthetic is sadly unimaginative and surprisingly drab.
Much more promising was the Burgenstock Hotel room I visited, attractively finished with Greek quartz and Italian marble and fitted with gas-lit fires. Here, in-room hot tubs will face the lake and decorative elements will include pendant lamps made from cow bells. (Another distinguishing perk will come in the form of complimentary minibars.)
And more likely to please all tastes are the various and varied restaurants. Already operational, Taverne 1879’s restaurant serves typical and traditional Swiss cuisine; the Palace offering will include a handsome French fine-dining restaurant; elsewhere guests can patronise a Middle Eastern restaurant or open-kitchen Asian restaurant serving Thai, Indian and Chinese cuisine. The Waldhotel will focus, unsurprisingly, on healthy cuisine that is low in salt and animal fats but, says the team, “not about deprivation”. The spa will offer a grill restaurant; a cigar lounge will operate; there will be a number of bars to choose from.
And better again is the setting itself. Though cloud cover was so thick during my late-April visit that the surrounding peaks and lake below were completely invisible, there is much to do here for those lucky to enjoy clement weather. Surrounding the resort are 70km of hiking and biking trails; there are also three Davis Cup-standard tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, curling, ice skating rinks and horse stables. In service during the summer season and perhaps best known for its appearance in the James Bond film Goldfinger, the Hammetschwand Lift dates from 1905 and is Europe’s highest open-air lift; it will also be possible to reach the property on a fully restored 1888 funicular railway.
Whether the resort's most loyal return guests will support its owners' claim that this is the project of the century remains to be seen, but there will certainly be plenty to keep them busy…