Dolder and Wiser
Recently, aboard an Orient Express train, I met a lady from Zurich. When I told her I was planning a trip to her hometown she asked where I was going to stay. “The Dolder Grand,” I said and she gasped. “Ah, I’ve never been,” she said, “It’s very smart!”
Incongruous as this was – we were, after all, on the world’s most luxurious train – on arrival at Zurich’s landmark hotel all became clear: The Dolder Grand truly is in a league of its own.
After a 20-minute airport transfer, we pulled up the windy drive and were delivered at Zurich’s “city resort”. Purpose built in the 19th century, the Dolder underwent four years of renovations between 2004 and 2008 under the watchful eye of Norman Foster.
Everything built after 1899 (when the original hotel was completed) was pulled down, and, like Foster’s British Library, a new semi-circular building was constructed around the castle-hotel. Juxtaposing old and new, the modern part frames the old, wrapping round behind it like a glass-plated jacket.
With a total of 173 rooms and suites, you can choose between sleeping in the traditional castle-like building with fairytale turrets or the new, modern wings. All have high-tech Bang & Olufsen remote controls so you can open the curtains, dim the lights and play with the sound system without getting out of bed. The rooms in the old part have palatial furniture and hand-painted wallpaper, whilst in the new wing the decor is contemporary with huge glass doors opening out on to large balconies.
There are also four suites, ranging from the fuchsia and black Suite 100 which was inspired by the Rolling Stones (who stayed at the Dolder in the sixties) to the split-level Maestro Suite which is at the top of the historic building and is so popular that it gets booked up for four months at a time.
The new wing is home to the fantastic 4,000 square meter Japanese-influenced spa. It has high limestone walls, and includes a large swimming pool, outdoor whirlpools with views of the city, Lake and Alps, nudist areas, relaxation pods, Japanese pebble baths and a -15C snow room for cooling off after the steam rooms, sanitariums and saunas. There is even a meditation area inside a mirror mosaic cupola.
The 20 treatment rooms offer European and Swiss therapies. I highly recommend the 90-minute signature treatment, Hydraheaven by Kerstin Florian, which begins with a foot bath, before climbing on to the flotation massage bed for a dry loofah massage, full body moisturise, scalp, foot and meridian massage.
In terms of food, the Garden Restaurant with its panoramic terrace serves breakfast, lunch and dinner; whilst fine dining takes place at Zurich’s only 2-Michelin star restaurant which has a Dali painting at the entrance and tables surrounded by Pissarro landscapes.
With Damien Hirst’s and Andy Warhol’s artworks lining the hotel walls and Henry Moore sculptures around the grounds, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s no point in stepping outside the Dolder. However, it’s well worth taking the tram down to explore a city that exceeds all expectations.
Zurich is an exceptionally charming city, situated along the riverbank and surrounding the shores of Lake Zurich, it is full of restaurants, art galleries and churches (the Fraumunster church has stained glass windows by Marc Chagall). Stop off at the tourist office and book a walking tour of the old city – it’s the best way to find the hidden nooks and crannies and get a snapshot of the city’s history.
This is the ‘year of gastronomy’ for Zurich so there’s added reason to make the most of the city’s 2,200 eateries. Stop off for a hot chocolate at Peclard, go for lunch at Fischerstube on the lake and have a typical dinner of venison and rosti at Zeughauskeller.