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That will be 150,000 francs for your stay, Madam

The stunning view has its price Keystone

A midnight mini-bar binge, reckless transatlantic phone calls, a splurge at the hotel restaurant ... and next thing Juliet Linley knows, she's dreading checking out and being shown the hotel bill.

But, there are hotels at which the guests see no reason to even wince when the receptionist hands them a bill of SFr150,000. In fact, the hotel staff have been handing out such bills for the past 40 years.

Welcome to the five-star Bürgenstock hotel complex overlooking Lake Lucerne.

The three hotels, the Park, the Grand and the Palace, that make up the 70 hectare resort above Stansstadt in canton Nidwalden, have long hosted the wealthiest of Swiss and foreign patrons who – wanting to escape the summer heat – install themselves here for the entire three month summer season.

Room prices range from a modest-enough SFr260 to a decadent SFr1,000, but this is a place to which no less than half of the guests return every year. Not only that. Many of them have been doing so for the last 40 to 50 years!

Clearly, those who frequent the Bürgenstock are not the kind who balk at high hotel bills. “They’re usually past retirement age, or are owners of businesses which no longer need their full attention,” says managing director Patrice Glogg. “Sometimes we have three generations of one family staying here, usually with the younger ones coming up to visit their elderly relatives for shorter periods.”

Opened in 1873, the grand complex has seen more than its fair share of VIPs. Henry Kissinger and Konrad Adenauer have patronised it, along with members of European royalty and scores of show-business names. With the rich and famous the order of the day here, it’s no surprise that the management can be rather blasé about its guests.

Sometimes excessively so. “I remember once, not too long ago,” recounts Glogg discreetly, “we were expecting the king of one of the Scandinavian countries, and had been told by the embassy that his bodyguards would we coming by to check out security at the hotel. Well, soon after, a spanking new Ferrari appeared on our doorstep and two casually dressed gentlemen stepped out, asking to check in.

“Unfortunately we were completely booked up, and had to tell them gently that we simply had no room for them. One looked particularly perplexed, and said his embassy was supposed to have called and reserved rooms for him. Well, you know, we then realised that this was the king himself, and that we had been on the verge of turning His Majesty away because we didn’t expect him to come without his usual entourage… and driving a newly-bought Ferrari from Monte Carlo!”

Screen queens Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn were also regulars at the Bürgenstock. They famously got married at the resort’s own chapel, and used the complex as their residence for a number of years (canton Nidwalden has the lowest taxes in Switzerland after Zug). Today, its main marriage customers are the Japanese. For SFr1,500 the resort will arrange the ceremony, a lunch and an overnight stay in one of their romantic rooms with a view.

The lookout from the Bürgenstock is the main selling point. Even if you aren’t quite up to lodging there, or taking advantage of the nine-hole golf course, luxury spa and overflowing glass encased pool, you can take a half-hour ferry ride to Stansstad from Lucerne, and then a cable car up to the hotel complex.

On a clear day, you’ll have a phenomenal 360-degree view of the lakes making up the Vierwaldstädtersee and the city of Lucerne nestled across the expanse of water speckled with steamers and sailing boats. The peaks of the Pilatus, the Stanserhorn, and the Rigiare can also be admired from the terrace. For a bite to eat, there are three restaurants, Taverne, Le Club and Da Tintoretto – the latter sporting originals by the Grand Masters on its walls.

A main drawback with the Bürgenstock complex is that it’s closed from November to Easter, mainly because of the huge cost of having to heat such a large number of buildings. Now, however, Glogg says it’s virtually certain that the 2001/02 season will see it open year round, thanks to a new injection of capital from a group of foreign investors who are in the process of buying it from the UBS bank.

While the news that such a bastion of Swiss hotelerie is passing into foreign hands has ruffled a number of nationalist feathers, according to Glogg “what is important is not who owns it, but how it is operated. As long as the Bürgenstock continues to be run in a first-class manner, and is even improved, to whom it is sold is irrelevant.”

A fair point, just as long as those guests who run up the six figure bills feel the same way.

by Juliet Linley

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR