Executive global travellers sometimes struggle to find hotels with the wow factor – a property that combines a stunning location with genuine heritage yet also able to deliver boutique benefits on a grand scale. The Park Hotel Vitznau Health & Wealth Residence is one such hallowed destination.
Perched on the tranquil banks of Lake Lucerne just half an hour’s drive from Lucerne, overlooking the stunning waters and soaring Swiss mountains, this regal retreat oozes sophistication and individuality. No wonder it is part of The Leading Hotels of the World. That is partly down to the fact that the hotel is privately owned – and that personal touch shines through. In 2009 the hotel was closed for major renovations and now offers 47 stunning, individually styled residences, suites and junior suites rather than the 120 previous rooms. That makes the Park Hotel Vitznau officially boutique (less than 50 rooms) yet the facilities on offer would put many five-star resort chains to shame.
Aside from the renowned Cereneo clinic that makes up part of this property’s fine footprint, you have an excellent spa, acclaimed restaurants, an atmospheric bar and a wine cellar that belies boutique, with around 30,000 carefully curated bottles from the rare to the refined.
On arrival – if you are lucky then you will be collected by the hotel’s new Maybach – the first thing that strikes the weary traveller is the welcoming lobby, with its light, airy views across the lake. First impressions are important, and this sets the tone – you won’t be asked to hang around and deal with formalities either, as you are whisked away for in-suite check-in.
Each floor has its own theme and every suite is different at the Park Hotel Vitznau, and we stayed on the Dine level. Here, accents and signatures that you’ll find in the restaurants and seamlessly blended into the suite experience. Wander the other corridors and you may be able to glimpse inside unoccupied rooms, thanks to an innovative use of sliding glass doors, while also catching incredible outside views. It’s a nice touch, and typical of a hotel that does its best to embrace the surroundings and provide an open feel to the interiors.
Our suite was extensive. A comfortable lounge area and work desk also had a full kitchenette (a welcome addition for long-term guests) and doors leading out onto the balcony. The bedroom was just as capacious, with the most closet space we have encountered in a hotel by a country mile. And then there is the bathroom, with freestanding bath, rainforest shower, Molton Brown amenities and a delightful pebble-effect floor. Needless to say, the bath has a stunning view to the mountains across the lake.
For dining, restaurant focus (lower case is deliberate) is helmed by new Chef de Cuisine Patrick Mahler and delivers exceptional seasonal produce sourced from around the world. Restaurant PRISMA is led by Philipp Heid and specialises in fusion cuisine. The cosy Verlinde Bar, with its impressive array of Armagnac and Cognac is the perfect place for a less formal meal and aperitif. In the summer months, you can also take in the Lake Terrace, with its own outdoor kitchen. Stunning views come as standard in all outlets throughout the year.
Wandering around the property you will be struck by photos from the hotel’s past and a collection of original paintings, many from the same artist who is a particular favourite of the owners. It is touches like this that make Park Hotel Vitznau feel more like a private residence than a cookie-cutter luxury hotel, and one of the many reasons why it is a superb destination.
The Park Hotel Vitznau has an unusual tagline – Health & Wealth Residence. While the wealth side is amply demonstrated by the superb hospitality offering, health goes far beyond merely having a world-class spa facility. Indeed, part of the impressive complex is dedicated to one of the world’s leading clinics for stroke, trauma and brain disease rehabilitation.
The cereneo clinic is directly connected to the Park Hotel, yet also offers a standalone medical facility complete with residential facilities for patients that would not be out of place in a luxury hotel, but it’s important to emphasise that patients do not come here for the stunning location or luxurious accommodation – they come here for the unsurpassed care and personalised rehabilitation provided by their medical experts.
Unique was provided with a tour of the impressive facilities and saw first-hand the life-changing, pioneering work being undertaken at cereneo.
cereneo opened its doors in 2013. Together with August Medical, cereneo also co-founded an outpatient facility in Dubai 7 to reflect the growing number of patients from that region who were taking advantage of cereneo’s burgeoning reputation for rehabilitation excellence.
You can reach the clinic direct from the hotel lobby and in many ways it is an extension of the hotel – and nowhere is this more evident than when exploring the suites available for resident patients. Aside from the high-tech beds and careful placement of furniture to provide easier access, these rooms would not be out of place in the main hotel itself, such is the level of comfort, design and thought. This is important, especially for patients who may be spending a long period of time at the clinic, and for their family and friends.
However, it’s in the rehabilitation that cereneo truly shines. The philosophy here is one of tailored rehabilitation for each and every patient. That starts with fully understanding the needs and goals of the patient, as every case is different. Once that has been established, cereneo has both the staff, the state-of-the-art equipment and the expertise to make a genuine difference to patients’ lives.
Rehabilitation can be a long and sometimes difficult path, and the entire clinical team at Cereneo recognise that and adapt their methods to maximise patient recovery. One way they are able to do this is by having a high staff to patient ration – 3 therapists to every patient. This means more one-to-one therapy, more support, and maximised results.
It is often said that rehabilitation is overlooked in medical circles, but cereneo is dedicated to changing those attitudes with a forward-thinking approach grounded in motivating patients. That can take the form of machine assistance coupled with a gaming element to not only make the therapy fun but also give tangible ‘scores’ on a patient’s progress. When the road to recovery is long and sometimes hard, it is motivation and visible signs of rehabilitation that can make all the difference.
On our visit, patients of all ages, cultures and nationalities were undergoing treatment, and there was a palpable air of positivity running through the clinic. Whether taking tentative steps in the latest exoskeleton device or utilising a high-tech leg press that allows patients to play a skiing game while they work out, cereneo stops at nothing to encourage and support patients in a bespoke programme tailored to their individual needs.
cereneo works closely with the University of Zurich and the cereneo Institute for Interdisciplinary Research (cefir) and a network of select international partners to conduct ongoing research into neurorehabilitation, ensuring that the approach it takes is both scientific and leading edge.
The patients at cereneo all work hard on their rehabilitation path, and seeing patients progress and recovery is a rewarding and often uplifting experience for the therapist and entire medical team.
Being located in such fabulous, tranquil surroundings can only help patients along that path.
The Park Hotel Vitznau is within easy distance of the city of Lucerne, with its many historic, cultural and luxury attractions, but you can also find much to occupy your time within walking distance, or just admire the stunning scenery.
While the views at lake level in the area are breath-taking, a visitor to Vitznau really should scale the heights for the best vantage point. One of the best places to experience this is Rigi Mountain. Luckily, that requires minimal physical effort since the funicular railway was built up Rigi in 1871 – making it the first of its kind in Europe.
The steep and steady ascent from the lakeside train station at Vitznau (just a 10-minute stroll from Park Hotel Vitznau along the side of the lake) to Rigi Staffelhöhe is a journey where the Instagram opportunities just get better and better. Climb aboard one of the vintage wooden coaches (thankfully with powerful heating if visiting in the winter months) and be literally transported to a bygone era in style.
The lake quickly disappears as you climb into and then above the clouds, emerging into a world straight off a chocolate box or from the film The Sound of Music. You pass signature wooden cabins perched precariously on steep slopes, and longhorn cattle complete with traditional bells. And even if it is a cloudy or misty day down by the lake, you are ensured incredible views of the snow-capped mountains from altitude.
Our first stop is Rigi Kaltbad, which is also accessible from the nearby town of Weggis by cable car. There are no other cars here, just fresh air, tranquillity and those jaw-dropping views. There are a handful of gift shops and cafes as well as a hotel and residences, but the best place for a weary traveller is the Rigi Kaltbad Mineral Baths & Spa.
Designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, the contemporary wellness centre is open to the public for rest and relaxation, with an indoor and outdoor pool with panoramic mountain views. Even on a cold day, emerging into the outdoors in the wood-fire heated waters and reclining in the mineral-rich waters is invigorating.
Bathing has been a ritual here since the 16th century, and it’s easy to imagine time standing still while enjoying the pools, steam rooms and sauna, before indulging in an excellent massage or simply reclining with herbal tea in the lounge.
Refreshed and reinvigorated, it’s time to head back onto the train for a two-minute ride to the next station up the mountain – Rigi Staffelhöhe. We are here to visit the family-owned Hotel Eidelweiss, built in 1906, and specifically we have made this trip to be taken on a culinary journey at its gourmet restaurant Regina Montium (queen of the mountains) – the holder of a coveted Michelin star.
After a warm greeting from host Gregor Vörös, the restaurant’s philosophy is explained over an apt aperitif – a gin and tonic made from their own in-house gin, with berries made from a single tree right here on the mountain. It is soon apparent as we delve deeper into the degustation menu, accompanied by excellent Swiss wines and an impressive array of the restaurant’s own incredible beverages (from that gin to sparkling wines and a port), that everything is locally sourced or even grown in their own gardens.
While this is not a new concept in culinary circles, there can be few chefs capable of turning this philosophy into the award-winning experience crafted and curated by Chef Benjamin Just and the team at Regina Montium.
The attention to detail is almost scientific, the presentation pure art, and the flavours punchy yet beautifully combined, like a grand symphony.
The restaurant aims to develop awareness of local flora and fauna and sensitively represent the best in Swiss food production. That it does with aplomb.
The passion and love that goes into each dish, each drink here, is rare to find – making it an essential stop when visiting Switzerland.
Michelin says that one star represents “A good place to stop by while on your journey”. We say, it is worth making a special journey, and will make that journey special.
The House of Gübelin
Back at the Park Hotel Vitznau, inbetween those original artworks hanging in the lobby area, you will also come across art of a very different kind, but equally striking and arresting.
There are display cabinets showcasing one of Lucerne’s finest luxury brands, the House of Gübelin – a legendary name in gems and jewellery. The family-owned company has a rich heritage stretching back over six generations and more than 160 years. Guests really should make time for a visit to the House of Gübelin boutique in the heart of Lucerne to see more of their renowned jewellery.
The House of Gübelin is synonymous with sought-after stones of the very highest quality, and standard setters for the jewellery industry.
It all started right here in Lucerne back in 1854 and quickly grew from a small watchmakers to an international luxury jewellery brand. While watches still form part of its retail portfolio – representing some of the world’s leading watch brands and collaborating with select watch manufacturers – Gübelin is world renowned for its jewellery atelier and gemmological laboratory.
That pedigree dates back to the 1920s, with the gem lab established by Eduard Moritz Gübelin (son of Eduard Jakob Gübelin) in 1923 in order to test and authenticate the precious stones used in its finest creations.
Gübelin opened boutiques in St Moritz and Zurich in 1931 and 1932, before further openings in Geneva, Berne, Lugano and Basel.
Fast forward to today and the Gübelin Jewellery Atelier has become known globally for its exquisite, handcrafted pieces which celebrate the beauty and mystique of magniﬁcent gemstones.
The respected Gübelin Gem Lab has become an authority on gemstones, trusted and by collectors, auction houses and anyone involved in the industry.
Based in Lucerne and now with branches in Hong Kong and New York, the lab was made famous by Eduard Josef Gübelin, who had a passion for stones and minerals from an early age. He studied mineralogy in Zurich and Vienna before heading to the United States where he was certified by the Gemological Institute of America.
Feeling that his own research could provide deeper insight, Gübelin invented his own scientific instruments to fully understand the stones. Acquiring this knowledge took him around the world, securing specimens that would become the most complete and comprehensive reference collection.
But what he really loved to do was to look inside gemstones, analysing them to an unprecedented degree. This enabled Gübelin to identify, recognise and celebrate the ‘inclusions’ that made each stone unique.
These crystals, bubbles, shapes and colours had previously been considered blemishes, but Gübelin embraced them much like reading a fingerprint or taking a person’s DNA – allowing him to provide incredible insight as to a stone’s pedigree. That legacy lives on, with a wordwide recognised Gübelin Gem Report analysing the identity, authenticity and origin of coloured gemstones. Eduard Josef Gübelin’s pioneering spirit and his unique combination of science and art also continues to inspire the House of Gübelin.
Today, as well as those Gemmological Reports that help identify stones and their authenticity, the Gem Lab provides more in-depth appraisals. A Gemmological Profile is more comprehensive and provides greater background information as well as individual images of the gem’s inclusions, as well as microscopic and chemical data. And for exceptional gemstones, the Gemmological Portrait comes in the form of a custom-made book. Only gemstones deemed worthy by Senior Gemmologists at the Gübelin Gem Lab qualify for this.
However, the independent Gem Lab is only one distinguished arm of the business, and it works hand-in-hand with the expert craftsmen of the atelier on Gübelin’s own exquisite creations.
There’s Gübelin Jewellery’s Glowing Fire world inspired by the fascinating inner world of red gemstones such as rubies and including the two jewellery lines Glowing Ember and Sparks of Fire. These designs are inspired by the inner world within rubies, and their inner aesthetics captured and interpreted by Gübelin designers.
Similarly, Drops of Water pieces are inspired by blue gemstones like the sapphire, while Mystical Garden pieces are naturally inspired by green gems such as emeralds.
These inclusions are recognised and interpreted by the designers to elegantly reflect shapes and forms found in nature. For example, zircon crystals, often found in sapphires can be seen to resemble a jellyfish. This influenced the Gübelin designers to create a classic entourage ring with a dynamic quality, as if gently drifting on an ocean current. This is where the science becomes art.
The House of Gübelin has a rich history, yet it does not stand still. Indeed, it continues to pioneer new techniques and technology for the greater good of the gemstones community.
One of those innovations that aims to safeguard the future of the industry and train the next generation of gemstone experts in the Gübelin Academy – which opened in Hong Kong in 2013.
Open to both professionals and enthusiasts, the Academy provides unmatched understanding and appreciation of coloured gems.
Right now, Gübelin is also working on innovative blockchain solutions with technology provider Everledger, due to launch in February. The Provenance Proof Blockchain is an industry-wide solution, free for all to use, and open to anyone in the global gemstone and jewellery sector. This enables the tracking of individual gemstones along the value chain, from mine to end consumer, and offers a level of transparency for all.
“We have decided to make the Provenance Proof Blockchain accessible to everyone, free of charge, and have it managed independently from our existing businesses,” says Raphael Gübelin, President of the House of Gübelin.
“The Gübelin family is proud to make this contribution to foster transparency in our industry.”
Delivering transparency, confidence and appreciation of coloured gems through innovation, while also creating jewellery of timeless elegance – that has always been the way of the House of Gübelin.
Emerge from the House of Gübelin boutique on Schwanenplatz and you find yourself in the beating heart of the stylish and sophisticated city of Lucerne – the epitome of all that is attractive about Switzerland as a destination for the discerning traveller.
With its luxury boutiques, historic sites, calendar of cultural events and fabulous dining, there is much to admire – and that’s before we even mention the stunning lake and mountain backdrop that bring so many visitors to this particularly attractive part of the world.
Whether here for the sights, for your health, for fine food or high-end jewellery – Lucerne has the wow factor for even the most well-travelled. Whether you are flying into Zurich or Geneva, or the nearest private airport at Emmen, ground transportation is reassuringly smooth and efficient – a trait the Swiss have made their own.
Wandering the quiet streets on arrival, all eyes are inevitable drawn to the famous Chapel Bridge, snaking across the Reuss river since the middle of the 14th century, linking the old town with the new. The oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe, it was partly destroyed by fire in 1993, but has been sensitively restored. What makes the bridge unique is its collection of 17th century paintings on the structure itself. Unlike most bridges, Chapel Bridge does not take the shortest, straight route across the water. This is because the Water Tower along its length was actually built before the bridge, and used as a ‘stepping stone’.
The bridge is still Lucerne’s top tourist attraction but there are many other sites worth visiting. For starters, there is the less visited but equally stunning Spreuer Bridge, complete with its own set of paintings – dedicated to the inevitable final journey we all take.
If ancient bridges or macabre art aren’t your thing, the KKL (Culture and Convention Centre Lucerne) is sure to have something to appeal in its ongoing programme of events. This striking, contemporary building sits seductively next to the lake, bounded by the train station and ferry terminals, so is unmissable in more ways than one. As convention centres alone go, this has to be the best looking in the world, thanks to a stunning design by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel. It’s often hard for a new building to compete with and compliment the surrounding architecture, but the KKL achieves this.
Spending time in the atmospheric old town and in bohemian suburbs will give great insight into the city’s past and present.
Bordering the old town are the fortifications of the Musegg Wall, constructed in around 1400 and 800 metres in length. There are nine towers along its length that offer spectacular views across the city and lake. Each tower has its own story to tell, such as the Zyt Tower with a clock dial large enough to be read by fishermen out on the lake, and home to the Leodegar Bell that chimes on the hour, but one minute before the other church clocks in the city.
For the contemporary tourist looking for a slice of chic, head to the Bruch quarter. This hip area was a cattle market as recently as 1971 and when it was closed, independent traders and the cool crowd snapped up the then affordable housing. Now, Bruch is the place to be seen and to hang around in cafes or browsing the quirky boutiques.
Talking of cafes, there are numerous excellent eateries dotted across the city, serving everything from Asian cuisine to local, regional specialities. You must try the Luzerner Chügelipastete – the most famous local dish, consisting of diced veal and mushrooms served in a creamy sauce in a puff pastry shell.
Art aficionados, especially those with a passion for Asian art, should head to the Galerie Urs Meile. Based in Lucerne and Beijing, it was one of the first international galleries to focus on Chinese contemporary art, working closely with established and emerging artists since 1995.
Lucerne offers superb shopping, and naturally is the perfect place to pick up a Swiss made timepiece from the likes of
Wandering along the lakeside promenade you will find many grand hotels hugging the shores, and the best views of the city are to be had from the lake itself. You can hop aboard steam boats in summer, or the latest high-tech vessels year-round and cruise the lake, stopping off at picture perfect towns and villages along the way, including Vitznau.
Unlike many European city destinations that can feel one dimensional, Lucerne really does have so much to offer, all year round. And with so many special places to explore on its doorstep, such as Vitznau and Rigi, as well as the historic city streets to savour and luxurious lifestyle possibilities, it should be high on your to-do list.