Welcome to the Brave New World of Luxury Ski Hotels: How a Zermatt Bolthole Reinvented Itself

Panoramic view of the famous Matterhorn and Zermatt in the Swiss Alps in the evening
Photo by olli0815/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

by Cat Weakley and Deputy ski editor, The Telegraph, March 27, 2019

A red carpet leads from Zermatt’s bustling main street to a discreet curtained entrance. As we leave the designer shops and Matterhorn views of the upmarket Swiss resort behind, we are relieved of our luggage by a polite footman. So far, so traditional multi-starred hotel.

But once inside the near 40-year-old Schweizerhof, it’s all change, the tired 1980s grandeur that former guests might remember ironed out by eight months of top-to-toe renovation by the Michel Reybier group. The hotel reopened just before Christmas last year, with a mission to pamper and cocoon the hip and chic of the ski world.

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Its lobby opens out into a buzzy room that blends bar, restaurant, lounge and reception area, suffused with a welcoming orangey glow from numerous lamps. Zones for eating, relaxing or gathering a group are indicated by chair arrangements, or bookcases loaded with quirky ornaments and a library’s worth of vintage books.

That footman is no capped and frogged retainer, but black clad and suave. The receptionists are clad in elegant Fusalp sweaters, and servers in bars and restaurants wear crisp white and grey.

The contrast with the old Schweizerhof is enormous, a preponderance of pink velour, twee photos, flowered curtains and pine furnishing ripped out. Like Zermatt itself, with its regular ski area and lift updates and gourmet restaurant launches, the hotel is keeping up with the demands of high-end visitors.

Although I am distracted by sweater envy and the sight of a DJ setting up at one end of the lounge, check-in is seamless, bags spirited away, and we ascend to our room in a lift tangled with planty greenery. Then approach along a plush carpet-quietened corridor lined with arresting black and white photos.

In contrast to the intimate clubby vibe downstairs, the bedroom is light and bright, soothingly cream and beige with pops of colour and a gleaming white bathroom. The makeover is by Paris-based designers and architects Kristian Gavoille, and the 95 bedrooms range in size from 17sqm “Cosy” to the three Penthouse Suites at 50sqm.

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The new look, not to mention increased prices, has not stopped at least some regular guests coming back – I watch a family checking in, exclaiming at the changes. But it is perhaps not so surprising, since the Schweizerhof still has its enviably central location close to the Gornergrat lift station and Zermatt’s train station, through which most visitors arrive to this petrol-car-free resort.

The Schweizerhof remains a four-star, and Jürgen Marx, the hotel’s personable general manager, who has been with the hotel since before the transformation, tells me that this is a deliberate choice, so guests expect less and get more. But while it may not be competing directly with Zermatt’s firmament of five-stars, the Schweizerhof’s new look certainly attracts more of the five-star guests that might not have given the old-style hotel a thought.

In the bedrooms, the Alpine setting is reflected by a comforting Matterhorn-embellished wool blanket lying across the crisp white sheets, a cowbell and a carved wooden walking stick hanging from the wall. Not to mention the mountain views from the terrace.

And guests are encouraged to buy into the look – all these pieces along with a snow-globe above the Nespresso machine, the Dyson Supersonic hairdryer, the retro-looking Marshall bluetooth speaker, are included on the mini-bar price list. Since you ask, the blanket is CHF190, the hairdryer a suitably supersonic CHF450 and the snow globe a relatively trifling CHF70.

High-tech doesn’t end with the Supersonic hairdryer. Each room has an iPad for controlling lights and underfloor heating, and an app is in development for booking spa treatments and restaurant tables, reserving ski kit (rental is available in house) and chatting with the hotel team. Screen mirroring links the iPad to large TVs, in both the lounge and bedroom of our family suite – 48sqm including an ample walk-in wardrobe/dressing room.

While we had only one bathroom, with bath and overhead rainforest shower, and eco-friendly, refillable soap and body/hair gel (conditioner available on request), it seems harsh to object to sharing a bathroom with the children (especially when I didn’t bring any) since down a couple of floors is a spa with two saunas, a steam room, two hot tubs and a relaxation room.

The 17m indoor pool was blissfully peaceful before breakfast, and there’s also a well-equipped gym which, unlike spa and pool, has mountain views, and the hotel runs yoga and fitness classes.

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There are four treatment rooms, and 50 minutes of sports recovery, detoxifying or destressing massage, among others on the menu, costs much less than a hairdryer at CHF150, and comes highly recommended – spa manager Martin Szalowski knows his stuff. The only challenge is to fit one in before dinner.

Ah the restaurants – the Schweizerhof has three. For the more traditional Alpine palate, there’s the aptly named Cheese Factory, where fondue made with local vintage cheese is served with added flare in traditionally Swiss cheesy surroundings. The vast and gleaming grill of the Schweizerhof Kitchen is one of the focal points as guests come into the hotel, flames leaping as chefs fulfill orders for meat and burgers cooked to order.

Its air conditioning must be state of the art, as there is no sign of cooking smells permeating the lounge as we settle in for pre-dinner drinks ahead of a booking at Peruvian/Asian inspired La Muña, the hotel’s high-end gourmet offering and – difficult in Zermatt, a food capital of the ski world – something new for the resort.

The bar’s cocktail list is long, and inventive options like the Matterhorn, with chocolate powder and candyfloss along with the vodka and apricot liqueur, joining classics, all at CHF18. They – and the chilled sounds from the DJ – have helped make the bar a focal point for the well-heeled Zermatt après-ski crowd, but since Michel Reybier is a purveyor of wine as well as hotels, I feel it would be churlish not to try his champagne. The 1er Cru Brut is creamy yet crisp with pleasingly tiny bubbles (CHF19 a glass), the Jeeper Grand Assemblage a more fruity, still delicious aperitif (CHF15 a glass).

In La Muña – named for a Peruvian plant said to relieve the effects of altitude sickness among other things – sharing plates are the norm, often with a Japanese twist. There is the tang of yuzu juice curing salmon cerviche, a tempura shrimp dish and sake, miso or teriyaki marinades for meat and fish.

Each dish is beautiful to look at, to be admired before digging in, but dig in we must, and for me the highlights were a seaweed salad with sesame and cucumber, and grilled smoked octopus with a stuffed red pepper. Desserts are indulgent and European, including blast from the past Rum-Baba with special reserve rum. The yuzu meringue pie, and possibly everything with chocolate, are the only nods to Peru and Asia.

Then, all that remains is to visit the Fumoir, a clubby room with pool table, Cuban cigars and conversation-starting furniture like a chair made using antlers. Air conditioning and incense make a good job of refreshing the air here – or there’s always the choice of retreating back to the lounge to order something new from the jewel-like line-up of spirits above the bar.

The essentials

Prices for rooms at  Schweizerhof Zermatt range from CHF310 per night B&B for a Cosy room up to CHF690 for a Penthouse Suite; a double room costs from CHF490. Transfers from the station, ski locker, fitness classes and supervision in the well-equipped kids’ club are also included. Penthouse bathrooms have both shower and bath, others have a choice of shower or bath with overhead shower. Find out more about visiting Zermatt at zermatt.ch, and how to travel at myswitzerland.com.

 

This article was written by Cat Weakley and Deputy ski editor from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

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