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Artist dreams of building Alps' highest hotel

The Dream Peak will compete with the Matterhorn for headlines (Heinz Julen)

(heinz julen)

Plans are afoot in Zermatt to build a hotel and observation tower on top of the Matterhorn's sister mountain, the little or "Kleine" Matterhorn.

The "Dream Peak", as the landmark project has been dubbed, will be a steel and glass pyramid topped by a tower rising to 4,000 metres above sea level.

As visionary as it may sound, the project by local artist and designer Heinz Julen has won the backing of Zermatt's ski lift company, which solicited bids to upgrade and expand the existing infrastructure on the Kleine Matterhorn.

Currently, the 3,883-metre-high mountain is reached from Zermatt by cable car and is used by skiers in winter and sightseers in summer, the latter spending a few minutes on top enjoying the views of the Matterhorn and the many other surrounding peaks.

What the lift company originally had in mind was a lofty restaurant and souvenir shops, CEO Christen Baumann told swissinfo.

What they got from Julen was a proposal that topped all others. "His idea is to build a lift to go up to a platform at 4,000m, which is 117m higher than the summit," Baumann said.

Once-in-a-lifetime

"It will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for many people to enjoy the sunrise and sunset from this height."

"A 120-metre tower on top of a summit like this has never been done before," said Julen. "But to make it a dream peak, people need the chance to spend the night up there."

Strong winds closed the cable car to the Kleine Matterhorn during swissinfo's visit, so the artist outlined his heady plans with the aid of a power point presentation in his subterranean bar in the heart of Zermatt.

While the laptop show was no substitute for the real thing, Julen's enthusiasm made up for the missed journey to the summit.

Space station

One moment, he was likening the mountain structure to a space station, with a pressurised interior so hotel guests won't have to worry about suffering from altitude sickness; next it was a spiritual place.

"You have monasteries built on summits. Mountains are spiritual and powerful. To have time to relax up there and enjoy the beauty is very spiritual," he continued.

"When you are up there, you realise the fragility of our planet and I want to open people's eyes to its beauty as well as the problems it faces."

Julen envisages visitors exiting the cable car and following a tunnel to a large window blasted out of the rocky side of the summit.

From there, they will enter a lift that will shuttle them either down to a platform suspended just above a glacier or up to the observation deck at 4,000m.

A steel pyramid-like structure will support the angled, pencil-thin shaft rising above the summit.

The untreated steel surface will rust to become the same colour as the ochre summit, and the entire building will be solar powered. The interior will include not only rooms and restaurants with spectacular views, but a spa as well.

Feasible?

Julen and Baumann are expecting the results of a feasibility study in the next few weeks, but they both believe there will be nothing standing in the way of the project, technically, legally or politically.

There is one catch, however. Julen will have to find the financing himself for the hotel part of the structure, since the lift company has a policy of not investing in such ventures.

He estimates the cost of the hotel at around SFr60 million ($47 million), which, if correct, pales in comparison to the amount currently being spent on restoring some old hotels in the country (for instance, SFr250 million for Zurich's Dolder Grand Hotel).

The Dream Peak will have the potential to attract up to half a million people a year, comparable with the number of visitors who make the classic rail journey to the top of the Jungfraujoch (3,454m) where there are restaurants but no hotel.

While only a fraction of those will be willing to fork out the cost of actually staying the night in a luxury summit suite, the high hotel could eventually rival the Matterhorn as the top drawing card in the popular resort.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Zermatt

In brief

Tourists have been flocking to Zermatt since the 19th century to see one of the world's most recognisable peaks, the Matterhorn (4,470m).

One of the best vantage points is from the Kleine Matterhorn (3,883m), where there is an observation deck and small canteen selling snacks and refreshments.

The ski lift company wants to make the sister peak more attractive and generate more income by building a restaurant or restaurants and souvenir shops on the top.

The proposal favoured by the company includes a hotel and platform rising above the summit to 4,000m.

It is the brainchild of local artist and designer Heinz Julen, who made the headlines a few years ago when an eccentric hotel project of his was abandoned.

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