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Closing a legendary Swiss hotel Icon

Good-bye Bürgenstock Hotels

Good-bye Bürgenstock Hotels
Image via tripadvisor.com

By Elisabeth Lang, eTN | Mar 09, 2012

(eTN) - Former General Managers of Bürgenstock Hotels and a small group of aficionados gathered on a sunny day in December to bid farewell to one of the most historic hotel resorts of Switzerland. Bulldozers were on standby position, and cranes were hanging around for demolishing what has been one of the most historic hotel resorts in Switzerland.

While staff has left the hotel property weeks ago, rooms were still sold for its last overnight guests. For the farewell wishers, a very lean self-service buffet was laid out. For compensation of the high price, people got some wooden hangars to take home as souvenirs.

Looking for new investors for years, and seeing many buyers come and go,
The crown jewel of Swiss hoteliere was bought by Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). The investment for the new Bürgenstock Resorts amounts to a very proud sum of over 300 million Swiss francs, with 33 million francs already spent for projects and visualization.

The project completion is scheduled for the end of 2014, said Swiss CEO Mr. Bruno Schöpfer, in charge of project management for Qatar Investment Authority with its head office in Zug. QIA also owns the five-star Schweizerhof Bern and the Royal Savoy in Lausanne.

With the strong multi-million dollar breeze backing the new Bürgenstock Resort, it is heading towards being an all-year open resort, with a medical center and residence.

The new Bürgenstock Resort project is based on five pillars. The Waldhotel will become a medical wellness hotel with 180 rooms. The former five-star Palace Hotel will be renovated, getting 100 rooms and will have a unique terrace overlooking the Lake of Lucerne, with over 2,000 m² of space for meeting facilities. The Grand Hotel is to be turned into a residence with 60 alpine-styled residences built by Matteo Thun, and the former Bürgenstock Club is enlarging and getting an Alpine spa overlooking Lake of Lucerne, with a gross area of 10,000 m² and one indoor and two outdoors pools.

But before starting the massive changes, a new road has to be built, as the original small road cannot cope with the heavy trucks, bulldozers, etc.

What makes this place so unique?

It is the view that is absolutely breathtaking and so is the entire resort. On one side there is the gigantic panorama overlooking Lake Lucerne from the top, while on the other side there is an entirely different Swiss mountain idyllic scene of happy cows grazing, forming a masterpiece of Swiss hospitality.

It was here that Sophia Loren married Carlo Ponti, in the little chapel next to the Palace Hotel. Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer, Charlie Chaplin, Sean Connery, and world-reknowned celebrities and politicians have been guests during the nearly 150 years of hotel history.

The historic icon of this great Swiss hotelerie is the result of a great visionary and Swiss hotel pioneer - a man called Franz Joseph Bucher. Thanks to great entrepreneurial instinct, Franz Joseph Bucher set up in business in 1870 with Joseph Durrer, a friend who was in the timber trade, and soon the Bucher-Durrer Company became famous for its wood products.

It was in early 1870, when Franz Joseph Bucher decided to invest in the wild panoramic mountain area and bought the whole mountain on Lake Lucerne. He built a road, without even consulting an architect to design the Bürgenstock Hotels, using timber, fixtures, and parquet produced by his own company.

When the hotel first opened, word soon spread of its comfort and luxury. Clients often had to wait in Lucerne for two to three weeks to obtain a room.

Bucher then built the legendary and highly-adventurous Felsenweg and breathtaking Hammerschwandlift - a lift that was completely carved into the rock, which could rise over a meter in a second - a real speed record, which remained unbroken in Europe for many years.

But soon, Switzerland became too small for entrepreneurial Franz Joseph Bucher, who was always perfectly groomed in a dark suit, black tie, and white cuffs. With his word as his bond, Bucher was closing deals for millions of Swiss francs without ever resorting to a written contract.

In 1880, he purchased a Grand Hotel on the Italian Riveria, in Pegli near Genova.
He promptly decided to create a public tramway in Genua and a tunnel to link the tram station to the city center.

He also built a Funicolare railway, which climbs up the Righi (Switzerland). He moved to Milan to build the Place Hotel. In Rome, he built the famous Hotel Quirinale, next to the Italian government building. He then moved on with his international expansions to Cairo, where he built the spectacular Hotel Semiramis.

But despite of his wealth, Franz Joseph Bucher remained a simple man who carefully managed his money. The legacy he left upon his death in Cairo (1906) he had 16 children – was passed on to his 16 children, who, to this day, have a considerable number of them involved in the hotel business.

Today, the heritage of Franz Jospeh Bucher continues, with only a 3-hour drive away from Bürgenstock, across the Swiss border, in Italy. Here, a descendant of this Swiss hotel pioneer - Gianfranco Bucher (5th generation) - is running the five-star Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni with its spectacular, picturesque, panoramic view of Lake Como - an historic landmark, situated on the edge of the gorgeous small town of Bellagio, also known as “The Pearl of Lake Como.”

Mr. Gianfranco Bucher, managing proprietor and engineer before taking over the five-star hotel property from his father, has shaken up the walls of the Grand Hotel by excavating the whole hotel underneath and building a garage and laundry in this historic building, setting trends in green energy.

While closely respecting the tradition of the past Gianfranco Bucher, he designed
an impressive renovation program that highly respects the charm from a long forgotten time and combines both modern times with great tradition, along with splendid hospitality.

The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni is reopening in April 2012 for the season that is the time when thousands of blooming azaleas and rhododendrons turn Lake Como into a colorful must-see place. For more information, visit: www.villaerbelloni.com .

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