Lucerne I’m in central Switzerland and probably the most beautiful city in the Alps: in Lucerne. My hotel is the new Mandarin Oriental Palace. It only opened at the end of September 2022 directly on the historic lake promenade. The Mandarin was created in the building of the old Hotel Palace, built in 1906, after a five-year renovation phase. The Chinese investor and billionaire Yunfeng Gao has invested more than 100 million francs in the new grand hotel.
The Mandarin is just a stone’s throw from Lucerne’s old town, directly on the busy thoroughfare. Parking spaces: zero. As soon as you stop, the police come. Without valet parking you would be lost. My car is taken to a parking garage and is ready for departure without any problems.
However, the costs are considerable and I was not informed about them. I brought this up and in all fairness it was taken off my bill. The traffic situation and the costs of the parking service should already be pointed out when making the reservation.
I enter the majestic building and am already impressed in the lobby: fine marble and stylish furniture. General Manager Christian Wildhaber grew up in Montreux, he gives me a warm welcome. We both worked at Kempinski Beijing a long time ago. At different times, but in the same position: we were responsible for gastronomy back then.
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I am impressed by what he shows me. The listed parts, the ceilings, walls and floors on the ground floor and in the stairwell were restored to their original condition with great care. I like the successful symbiosis of modern elegance and the historical charm of the building.
The historic stucco marble columns in the stairwell have been restored. I learn that one person worked on each of the pillars for a whole month. In the corridors to my room, the contemporary pictures on the walls deliberately pick up on regional themes. The art at the Palace Luzern has also been selected with noticeable devotion.
Numerous warm shades of green dominate the design in my room. I like the high-quality furniture in rich walnut tones. The noble wooden mosaic on the floor is striking. And important for me: I sleep very well under duvets of the highest quality. They are filled with Icelandic eiderdown.
The hotel has 136 rooms including 48 of the largest suites in Lucerne. Christian Wildhaber tells me that it is important to him that the new Lucerne hotel also becomes a meeting place for the local population. And he wants to score points with the kitchen as soon as possible – Michelin stars are planned. Four restaurants will soon be competing for the favor of guests.
However, I would have been happy about two gastronomic alternatives. Unfortunately, only the “MOzern Bar & Brasserie” was open during my stay. This is too little. Breakfast, lunch and traditional British Afternoon Tea are served here – arguably the best beyond the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. In the evening there is dinner, after which the large hall becomes a bar.
Over the course of the year, under the direction of the Israeli star chef Gilad Peled, a student of Gordon Ramsay, the Mediterranean “Quai 10” on the lakeside terrace, the “Colonnade” with seasonal French and from April the “Minamo” with Japanese omakase cuisine – and only six (!) seats – come to that.
The next morning, at breakfast, I notice that the bar has not been dismantled. I think it’s not just me: I don’t want to think about alcohol at breakfast. And see none.
Unfortunately, the service can’t keep up either. I order tea from the same waiter as the day before – “the same as yesterday”. He looks at me in amazement. The breakfast buffet is disappointing in its selection. No fresh berries whatsoever. In addition, a minimalist selection of cheeses by Swiss standards: Lucerne mountain cheese, a brie and a petite chevrette.
The Mandarin Oriental is noticeably still in the introductory phase. But General Manager Wildhaber is an experienced hotel professional and I’m sure he will continue to motivate his team and soon bring them to top performance.
Later I discover the Edelweiss ballroom. It has space for up to 230 people and a lakeside terrace in front of it. The perfect setting for a romantic wedding. The Salon Alpine is also remarkable: a historical gem with original Belle Époque decor.
Above the Mandarin: Hotel Montana
I explore a second hotel in Lucerne: the art deco Montana, perched on the hillside just above the Mandarin. With the construction of the Montana, an electric funicular was also built – the shortest in the world. This takes me from the lake promenade directly to the hotel lobby in 60 seconds. A worthwhile experience.
The positives: Excellent location with a brilliant view. And the Art Deco style is consistent throughout. I’m disappointed with the reception: the young lady at the reception keeps looking at her computer instead of at me and mumbles “Welcome”. Only after everything has been formally processed at reception can I finally go to my room.
In the hallways, I noticed noticeable negligence and dirt in various places. Then pointless in my two-story spa suite: two showers, one upstairs, one downstairs – both funny. There is a whirlpool on the terrace, but covered despite the great weather. And: no candles, no wine. Nothing at all. Above all, no attention to detail. Good ideas: different room fragrances and a separate terminal for various lighting moods. I have a feeling the four-star Hotel Montana is primarily a party location. It’s a bit dingy in places, carpets, for example, aren’t vacuumed or are carelessly vacuumed.
Opened in 2014, the Beach Club in the Montana has been the most popular rooftop bar in Switzerland for years. In summer there is a beach feeling with an outdoor whirlpool and rain forest shower. In addition, sand and palm trees, all in white.
My summary as a snapshot: The Art Deco Hotel Montana is currently not a really well-run hotel.
Back at the Mandarin Oriental, I stand on the terrace of my room and look enchanted at the lake: It is a good 12,000 years old and was formed during the last ice age when the glaciers retreated. Switzerland was once founded on its banks. I think of Leo Tolstoy, who was “dazzled and shaken” when he first encountered Lake Lucerne: by the “beauty of the water, the mountains and the sky”. He’s right: Even more than 100 years later, this piece of earth has lost none of its magic. As you can see, Lake Lucerne has fascinated me. I’m at home on the other side of the lake, that’s where I live.
Plus: Spectacular view. Perfect, elaborate restoration of the historic building. Minus: No swimming pool, neither inside nor outside at the lake. Extremely busy road to the city side directly in front of the hotel. Only one of four hotel restaurants is open.
Rath’s Voyage Rating (current rating in bold):
1. Explicit Travel Warning
2. Better than under the bridge
3. So-so, not oh, là, là
4. Complaining at a high level
5. If only it were always like this
6. Great cinema
Jogging: My favorite running route leads directly from the Mandarin Oriental along the lake promenade, either in the direction of Weggis or Lucerne’s old town.
Side trip: The “Uri”, the oldest active paddle steamer in Switzerland, has been chugging along Lake Lucerne since 1901. Book first class and enjoy the unique view in the neo-baroque salon.
Architecture: The Lucerne Culture and Congress Center (KKL), home of the world-famous Lucerne Festival, is modeled on a ship’s hull and is located directly on the lake. The architectural masterpiece by Jean Nouvel, with its world-renowned perfect concert acoustics, is also worthwhile because of the “Lucide” restaurant (terrific summer terrace!).
About the author: As a former grand hotelier and operator of the Travelgrand.ch travel platform, Carsten K. Rath is a professional globetrotter. He travels to all the hotels he writes about for the Handelsblatt on his own account. Rath is the brain behind the ranking “The 101 best hotels in Germany”, whose partners include the Handelsblatt. Rath is also the author of the book on the ranking, co-authored by Michael Raschke (Handelsblatt).
Carsten K. Rath, Michael Raschke: The 101 best hotels in Germany 2022/23.
Institute for Service and Leadership Excellence AG/Handelsblatt
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