If you're searching for a view with a room, it would be hard to better the new Riffelalp Resort above Zermatt. The highest and one of the most luxurious hotels in the Alps looks directly onto the Matterhorn.
Nearly 40 years after the Riffelalp Grand Hotel was destroyed by fire, a five-star resort has risen from the ashes, perched on a plateau 2,222 metres above sea level.
Building a hotel at this altitude poses all sorts of logistical problems. "Securing the foundations took more than two months," explains architect and project manager, Roman Mooser.
"We're in a nature conservation area and had to keep on the right side of local planning laws - the distance between buildings, shapes, roof design. And all the transportation of materials and workers was by mountain railway or helicopters."
In overall appearance the Riffelalp is designed to resemble an Alpine village from outside and a Swiss chalet inside. The traditional appearance is combined with state of the art technology - internet, ISDN, cable television, computer controlled ventilation and heating.
The project has cost more than SFr50 million ($30 million), a partnership between the local Seiler hotel dynasty and the Sandoz Family Foundation.
When the original hotel opened in 1884, it soon became the playground of European society. Politicians, princes, celebrities and industrialists flocked here and the house orchestra consisted of members of the Vienna Philharmonic. Today, the former English chapel is intended for cultural events.
"We are very much hoping to develop a renewed cultural life because in the 50s, many artists were familiars of the Hotel Riffelalp," says Olivier Verrey, secretary of the Sandoz Family Foundation. "That side of things disappeared when the hotel burnt down and we hope it will start up again."
In the 19th century, before the Gornergrat mountain railway was opened, it took 10 hours by donkey and horse to transport the building materials from Visp to Zermatt and then up to the building site.
Transportation is easier nowadays but even so, it was touch and go whether the hotel would be completed for the scheduled December opening.
"During October, we had terrible difficulties here in the region with the bad weather," says Mooser. "We had no train, no road, no telephone for four days. Some 5,000 working hours were lost that week. One day alone only five of 150 staff could get to work because the roads were blocked. It made transportation much more difficult and without the helicopter, we would never have finished on time."
In the final weeks, some 2,600 train loads of materials were delivered along with 200 flights by the helicopters of Air Zermatt.
Plans to resurrect the Riffelalp Hotel have been on the cards ever since the fire of 1961. The 1980s saw the restoration of the two annexes, one transformed into a small three star hotel, the other into holiday homes. But the new Riffelalp Resort really got underway in 1998.
Thanks to the intervention of the Sandoz Foundation, it was decided to aim for the luxury end of the market with all facilities from bowling to ski rental, steam baths to cinema.
"A hotel on a mountain is like a cruise liner," says Christian Seiler, managing director of Seiler Hotels. "You have to have all the amenities on site."
And he has no doubts at all what makes the Riffelalp unique: "The view of the Matterhorn is exceptional. It's the best view in the region. Then there's the silence, the comfort of the hotel and the fact that you can ski out of the door."
by Vincent Landon