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A strange encounter with Michelle Pfeiffer

The Hotel is the stage (picture: The Hotel)

If you're going to lie awake in bed, staring miserably at the ceiling of a hotel room because of the unfamiliar surroundings, do it at 'The Hotel'. At least there, you´ll get Michelle Pfeiffer staring languidly back at you.

It isn´t cosy; hardly warm and welcoming; and the stairwells leading up to the rooms are cold, grey concrete. But that´s the whole point. Lucerne´s über-trendy 'The Hotel' is for the non-traditional guest, who´s looking for a non-traditional but top-class Swiss hotel.

The reason the stairwells have been deliberately left in their raw state, is to allow the guest greater appreciation of his or her room. "The idea is for you to empty your mind as you walk towards your room. In this way, you open the door, and are instantly inspired," marketing manager Marianna Vitaliano tells me.

I can't say whether the anonymity of the stairwell was responsible for the effect the room had on me, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw upon entering room 5101. There, on the ceiling, was a looming blow-up of Michelle Pfeiffer, in a scene from Dangerous Liaisons, in a fresco-like image which dominates the entire room.

The walls, bed covers and the furniture pick up the colour of the backdrop, providing the picture with a frame, and making it appear as if the movie star has carefully and ever so tastefully been cut out and placed there to taunt the helpless visitor through a sleepless night.

Every one of the 25 rooms, whose streamlined interior design focuses on stainless steel, wood and leather, has a different movie moment gracing its ceiling. In room 5301, Marco Ferreri´s "La Carne" is featured, with the Italian beauty Francesca Dellera pouting down from the canvas.

Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando keep the occupant of room 5402 company, as they jostle for attention in "Last Tango in Paris". Every image is sensuous. Some are slightly provocative, others more romantic. None - contrary to some reports - are erotic.

'The Hotel' is the brainchild of France´s internationally-acclaimed architect, Jean Nouvel, whose imposing new Culture and Convention Centre on the shores of Lake Lucerne opens on June 19. When Lucerne hotelier, Urs Karli, commissioned him in 1999 to transform an old building in the heart of the lakeside town into a futuristic hotel, Karli gave him carte blanche.

The result is a highly original eight million franc hotel intended "to give people passing by the impression of being inside - and to make the guests feel as though they´re on the outside," according to Karli.

The idea of the guests being actors on a stage for the outside world to see is prevalent throughout "The Hotel". Its bar, like the rooms, is discreetly lit, minimalist, and has large windows, in order to open up refreshing views of the adjacent park.

Hardly surprisingly, it´s called 'The Lounge', and as the management puts it: "if the rooms are the heart of 'The Hotel', then the bar is its soul". In the evenings it´s teaming with 20 to 40 year old local glitterati.

'Bam Bou', the establishment's restaurant, is another labour of uniqueness. Built just below street-level, mirrors have been cleverly placed to maximise what little daylight manages to filter through. Here again, pure luxury abounds in terms of the furnishings and attention to detail - like the ultra-high tech 150-bottle, multi-temperature wine rack, that covers one entire wall, from floor to ceiling.

Then there´s head chef Andrew Clayton. He rustles up a fusion of out-of-the-ordinary flavours and aromas, combining lessons learnt during years in the Far East with his San Francisco origins.

The speciality of the house is a seared rare tuna, encrusted in Chinese black beans, rosemary and coriander seeds, served on a bed of celery root puree with a Goan curry sauce and pakchoi. Enhancing Clayton's East-meets-West cuisine are a multi-ethnic team comprising an Indian, a Portuguese and a Thai chef, working side by side with three Swiss.

While 'The Hotel' is perhaps not quite the place to take the family - the children might have awkward questions about those ceiling pictures - it's ideal if you´re looking for a 21st Century, jamais-vue experience. But it's ideal for business travellers, as all rooms are outfitted with the latest in basic office technology.

The top-quality restaurant means there´s no need to look elsewhere for a pleasant dining experience. And the trendy designer bar, hugely popular with everyone who´s anyone in Lucerne, allows the opportunity to socialise without having to step out of the building.

Plus, of course, there´s the unique alternative to staring at a blank ceiling, if you just happen to have one of those sleepless nights...and are willing to pay up to Sfr480 for the pleasure.

by Juliet Linley


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