Accommodating Ascona tops the hotel league
Surrounded by mountains, the lakeside resort of Ascona enjoys a Mediterranean climate. On top of that, it has the best hotels in the country.
Ascona's establishments repeatedly come out on top in surveys of Swiss hotels, ahead of the luxury competition in better-known resorts like St Moritz and Gstaad.
"I've always said, you have to kiss the princess to turn her into a queen," says Daniel Ziegler, when I ask him about the secret of the success of Ascona's Eden Roc hotel.
Ziegler took over a good five-star hotel two years ago and turned it into the very best, according to the respected German-language magazine "Bilanz". "It's perfect, down to the last sublime detail," says the magazine.
As we sit on the hotel terrace overlooking the calm waters of Lake Maggiore, Ziegler gives his staff most of the credit for doing their utmost to make every guest's stay as enjoyable as possible.
With an average occupancy rate of 90 per cent, they are clearly doing something right.
As I discover, the hotel could get by on location alone perched as it is on the sun-drenched shores of Lake Maggiore, fringed by mountains.
Yet the hotel is still concerned about its looks. The interior oozes ambience as well.
Renovated three years ago, the interior designer chose pastel colours to best reflect the natural light conditions from sun up to sundown. The furniture is, as Ziegler describes it, a cross between Miami chic and classic Italian.
"Either you like it or you don't," he says. "And I think that's the way it should be."
The same has to be said of Ascona's Hotel Giardino ("Gardens") - a pink hotel set amid luxurious gardens - which was only recently pushed off Bilanz's top spot by the Eden Roc.
It developed its sparkling reputation under the legendary Swiss hotelier, Hans Leu, who retired a couple of years ago after a lifetime in the business.
Leu was a manager, a host and an entertainer. Guests were made to feel as if they had checked into a world of make believe.
Leu was theatrical, putting on plays and performances on a stage set amid a lily pond.
He purchased a vintage bus and boat, painted them pink, and played tour guide showing his guests around the region.
No ordinary hotel
His successor, Franz Reichholf, was a protégée - as was Ziegler.
Reichholf has kept the theatre, the bus and boat and added a spa to pamper guests and to keep up with the Zeitgeist. Under Reichholf's stewardship, the Giardino continues to flourish.
"Leu always said it shouldn't be an ordinary hotel," remembers Reichholf.
"It had to be a private villa like in Italy or in France on the Cote d'Azur. It had to have a certain ambience," he adds.
The success of the Giardino under Leu was taken up as a challenge by Ascona's other five-star hotels.
Major investments were made in the Eden Roc, the Park Hotel Delta and at the Castello del Sole.
Claiming a sprawling park on the edge of a nature reserve and Ascona's acclaimed golf course, the Castello - a former manor house - has many more natural attributes than the Giardino.
The original building dates back to the middle of the 18th century, and retains old world charm.
Bilanz ranks the hotel number two behind the Eden Roc, but it goes to the top of the list for guests looking for staid luxury.
The rooms are spacious and impeccably conservative. The cool courtyards are more Tuscan than Ticinese, and not a flower or branch is out of place in the well-manicured gardens.
"Even if the hotel is full, you don't realize it because the grounds are so large," smiles director Simon Jenny. "It never gets crowded."
Back at the Eden Roc for a nightcap, Ziegler confirms what makes Ascona's hotels the very best in Switzerland.
"Each is different, but each wants to be the best," he says.
"Ascona is very small so it's not surprising that we are competitive. The winners are the guests."
swissinfo, Dale Bechtel
Each of Ascona's four five-star hotels is among the top ten Swiss holiday hotels, according to the German-language magazine, Bilanz.
The Eden Roc is the only one which enjoys a lakeside setting, and is only a few hundred metres from the center of the old town with its picturesque lakefront, shops and restaurants.
The Giardino and Castello del Sole are a few minutes by car or bicycle from Ascona's center, on the edge of Ascona's golf course.
The Park Hotel Delta is situated in the middle of Ascona's Maggia Delta amid a subtropical park measuring 80,000 square metres.
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