A new hotel in the Swiss Alps is going it alone, becoming the first in the country to give preference to well-heeled, solo travellers.
Located in the lakeside town of Spiez, the Single Hotel Eden is the brainchild of a woman who wants to do for mature travellers what backpacker lodgings have long done for young people.
After checking in, guests receive more than a single room with a spectacular mountain and lake view. The individual quarters are larger and more exquisitely decorated than many doubles in similarly priced Swiss hotels.
But what really sets the Eden apart is that no one has to dine alone here. The topping on the cake: management can draw on a list of a few dozen local volunteers willing to play tennis or go shopping with guests, or accompany them to the theatre.
It's the kind of hotel the widow and industrialist, Lisbeth Mathys, was always looking for during her many travels but could never find. So she decided to open her own. One year on, she tells swissinfo she is still fighting the misconception that the Eden is for swingers.
"Our female guests have told us that they feel at ease here because they don't have to put up with strange looks simply because they're by themselves. Neither do they have to fend off marriage proposals," Mathys says.
On the night of swissinfo's visit, Mathys held court at the "grande table", reserved for guests who have chosen not to eat alone. Among them is a woman recently separated from her husband and another whose partner is on a hiking trip with his male colleagues.
Write a book
"I could write a book about the people I've met here," Mathys tells them, before launching into one of many stories about her encounters - discreetly avoiding names or too many revealing details.
Guest Ruth Umiker, who is holidaying solo for the first time, listens politely. "It's really unpleasant when you have to eat alone," she admits.
Umiker says she expected there to be more singles in similar situations staying at the hotel, but believes the Eden still needs time to make a name for itself in order to increase bookings.
Umiker says she will definitely become a repeat customer but hesitates when asked if she will recommend it to her friends: "Most of them cannot afford to stay here," she admits.
In fact, it's a luxury few solo travellers can afford, according to tourism expert, Christian Laesser. A professor at St Gallen University's tourism institute, Laesser has recently co-authored a study on solo travel.
The results show that people living alone who also travel alone prefer to go to places where they can stay with family or friends or they seek cheap accommodation. Single dwellers with sufficient disposable income tend to join group tours.
"It's all about being among your peers and people interested in the same topics," Laesser told swissinfo.
He says if the Eden is to be successful, it should not limit itself to the high-end of the market but introduce different standards of rooms so guests can "sleep cheaply" or go for more privacy and luxury if they have the money.
It's a concept successfully tested by backpacker-style accommodation in Australia and New Zealand and has been adapted by some hostels in the nearby tourist town of Interlaken. This kind of lodging already benefits from its reputation for bringing people together.
"Backpacker [hotels] have started to target the affluent traveller," Laesser explains. "When you book a single room there, you are not necessarily spending less than you would at a three or four star hotel."
Mathys discounts the findings of the study, saying her hotel is already covering its costs in the summer months and only needs another year to reach the break-even point.
"There are more and more older people with sufficient disposable income," adds hotel director Gerald Nowak. "The baby boomers are entering retirement age. We're witnessing growth in this segment, and more people want peace and quiet - just to get away from it all."
Mathys says the quiet location of Spiez is a key draw. "There are no through streets. It's so peaceful here. A German guest said to me, 'just imagine, it's probably been ten years since I last woke in the morning to the sound of birdsong'."
swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Spiez
The four-star Single Hotel Eden is located in the small town of Spiez on the shores of Lake Thun.
Rooms start at SFr195 ($162) and go up to SFr340 a night. Couples are also welcome and pay a SFr90 supplement per night.
When booking, guests are asked if they wish to dine alone or together with other guests. The management also ensures they have someone to accompany them during their outings in the region, or finds them partners for games such as tennis or billiards.
Solo travel study
The study broke down travellers into four categories: those from single households travelling alone (single-solo) or in groups, or people from collective households who travel alone (collective-solo) or take off by themselves before joining a group.
The results show a great discrepancy between the two groups who travel alone. People from single dwellings (16% of the Swiss population) generally have lower incomes than those in collective households, and therefore prefer to stay with family and friends when travelling. They spend less than SFr90 ($75) a day.
Collective-solo travellers on the other hand choose city and shopping trips as well as cruises or beach holidays in winter. Not surprisingly, they spend nearly SFr150 a day.