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Historic hotels awake from slumber

Hotel Waldhaus has been run by the same family since it was built in 1908. Swiss Historic Hotels

A new association has been founded to promote Switzerland’s hotel heritage, considered the richest of all alpine countries.

So far, seven restored hotels and inns have met the stringent criteria to become the first members of the “Swiss Historic Hotels” group.

The oldest, the Hotel Albrici in the remote village of Poschiavo in southeastern Switzerland, dates back to the 17th century.

Housed in a traditional building, it was turned into a hotel in the middle of the 19th century at the beginning of the first tourism boom in the Alps.

The youngest member is the grandiose Hotel Waldhaus built in 1908.

“These beautiful old buildings had started to fade but recently people have realised the need to resurrect them and return them to their former glory,” explains Peter Kühler, head of the new association.

Future in the past

“You could say that the future lies in the past, so to put these wonderful old buildings in the spotlight again, we formed the association,” he told swissinfo.

To be eligible, the buildings must predate 1960 and a majority of their rooms and furnishings need to be authentic.

A leading example is the Palazzo Salis in the village of Soglio because of its harmonious mix of furnishings and fittings from three centuries.

Each potential member of the association has to undergo an inspection by a conservator who ensures it meets the criteria of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos).

Award winners

Not surprisingly, many are past winners of the Swiss historic hotel of the year award, also chosen by Icomos.

“It’s an exclusive association in the historical sense but not as far as price goes,” Kühler adds.

“We’ve got five-star hotels but also simple country inns that ooze historical charm. Members also have to ensure friendly and excellent service,” he says.

Such is the case with the 250-year-old country inn, Ruedihus, in the Bernese Oberland resort of Kandersteg.

The blackened wooden chalet sits proudly at the edge of the alpine village, and it is the number one address in the area for connoisseurs of traditional Swiss cuisine.

By the end of next year, Kühler wants to have up to 25 members, including small inns and restaurants, where travellers interested in Switzerland’s heritage can break up their journey in between hotels.

Bygone era

Kühler would also like to add paddle steamers and steam trains to the list to broaden the experience of rediscovering alpine travel from a bygone era.

The association’s tastefully designed and user-friendly website (see related sites) has already taken a first step by offering tips for historical and cultural outings.

The Hotel Paxmontana in central Switzerland suggests following in the footsteps of a famous 15th century saint, Brother Klaus.

High above the Rhone Valley in St Luc, the Grand Hotel Bella Tola recommends walks taken from the 1928 edition of Baedeker’s travel guide.

The Giessbach, a fairytale hotel built above the turquoise waters of Lake Brienz, offers packages including trips on the lake’s recently restored paddle steamer and a visit to Ballenberg, Switzerland’s open-air museum for rural culture.

“Visiting an historic hotels should be an experience for all of our senses,” Kühler says.

“Just stepping inside should be enough to take your breath away.”

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel

The newly founded Swiss Historic Hotels association counts seven members.
The association plans to have up to 25 members by the end of 2005.
Switzerland has an estimated 80 well-preserved heritage hotels.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR