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Fairy tale hotel is more than a myth

Elves, fairies and kids keep the old hotel young at heart swissinfo.ch

Martin Vogel is the owner, manager and master of the fairy tale world within the walls of an old grand hotel he has kissed back to life.

This content was published on March 2, 2007 - 16:07

Once upon a time, Vogel promised to tell a screaming child a story if she would let her parents enjoy their dinner in peace.

That was 31 years ago to be precise, and the idea proved to be so popular that he has been telling stories to the children of his guests every night since.

Like the one about the clock that stops ticking. To be fixed it requires the aid of an odd array of animals proposed by his young listeners.

But before the tale can begin on this night, and long before the arrival of the eager tots, Vogel leans forward in his armchair, and tells me his story.

"Any hotel can play a video for the children, or even hire somebody to tell stories. But I do it myself - and I just don't tell stories, but involve the kids and that's what makes it so much fun. It's something money can't buy."

In the beginning, it was Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Then Vogel started to spin his own yarns about elves and fairies that come to life amid the real mountains and forests surrounding the Bellevue hotel in the alpine resort of Braunwald.

And their presence is felt inside an old building riddled with long corridors crying out to be run through, creaky floorboards asking to be jumped on, and plenty of early 20th century nooks and crannies to hide away in.

Fertile imagination

But that wasn't enough for the seasoned storyteller. Only someone with such a fertile imagination would dare install a children's slide connecting one floor with another or a glass lift that ascends through an aquarium.

Guests entering the hotel for the first time are amazed to see real goats nimbly strolling across a narrow, wobbly plank a few feet above their heads dubbed the "Golden Goat Bridge".

"I think you need a lot of personal commitment," Vogel says, explaining his successful formula, with no hint of modesty. "Repeat guests often say they are homesick for the hotel after they've returned home from their holiday. And they don't tell their friends they stayed in a hotel but with the Vogel family. That's the best compliment."

Another reason for the hotel's success is that it operates on both the child and adult level.

The hotel is not just one giant play area. Parents eat in peace and elegance in the high-ceilinged Belle Époque dining room, safe in the knowledge that their offspring have already been fed in a separate, converted ballroom and occupied with arts and crafts.

Snow-capped peaks

And while the kids climb the rope ladders suspended above the swimming pool on the ground floor, a few parents slip away to the top of the hotel and relax in the wellness area reserved for adults, taking in splendid views of the snow-capped peaks all around.

"We wanted somewhere where we could relax, which is a hotel where our three children can run around freely, and that's why we came the first time," repeat guest, Natalie Suhr explains.

"Mr and Mrs Vogel are constantly present and that also makes you feel secure and understood. One feels understood here. That's maybe the key word."

It's story time and the kids are fighting for the best spot on the floor in front of a large, wicker chair. Vogel makes a grand entrance, sits down, and begins. But it isn't long before he's jumping about, acting out a scene, opening pretend doors, and making much of it up as he goes.

The mouse, giraffe, cock and friends have got the clock working again, and the children – led by the hotel's "Fairy Tale Uncle" – chant in unison, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.

Time does not stand still at the fairy tale hotel, but reality is suspended for a little while.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Braunwald

Key facts

Owner and manager Martin Vogel received the Swiss tourist industry's Milestone prize in 2006 in the "small and creative" category.
Vogel was also one of the initiators of Switzerland's "Kids Hotels" association.
The four-star Bellevue – or Märchen (fairy tale) hotel – is located in the car-free alpine resort of Braunwald in the eastern canton of Glarus.

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In brief

The hotel Bellevue is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

First built for guests from eastern Europe and Russia, the hotel's prospects were cut short with the start of the First World War. Following the end of hostilities, the hotel and its resort, Braunwald, joined forces with Klosters – Prince Charles' favourite alpine destination – to market itself in Britain.

The hotel gradually went into decline. In the 1970s it nearly suffered the same fate as many of Switzerland's grand hotels and was torn down. This was the point when Martin Vogel and his wife, Lydia, took over, making renovations and investing about SFr1.5 million over the years.

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