Stately Pleasures at the
Hotel Bellevue Palace Bern
Neo-Classical Building on the Aare
The Hotel Bellevue Palace in Bern, a majestic neo-classical building that stands in a commanding position on the banks of the Aare River and steps from the Swiss Parliament, was never an actual royals-housing residence. But walking into the spacious lobby-cum-ballroom, whose arching art nouveau stained glass ceiling allows light to flood the room, you instantly feel you’re in the presence of grandeur and tend to straighten your tie or tiara, whichever you happen to be wearing.
Built by financier Friedrich Osswald in 1865, the five-star hotel is well known for its opulent décor and for playing a part in several chapters of Swiss history, due to its powerful guests.
Location for Smiley’s People
During World War I, it served as Swiss military headquarters for Ulrich Wille, and during World War II, its restaurant served both Allied and Axis patrons, albeit in separate areas, and the bar was frequented by OSS station chief Allen Dulles. John Le Carré also set scenes of his spy novel, Smiley’s People, here.
Since 1994, the hotel has been owned by the Swiss confederation and hosts a wide range of dignitaries, visiting artists and celebrities. In addition to being one of The Leading Hotels of the World and a member of the Swiss Deluxe Hotels, it has garnered numerous accolades, including the “Travelers Choice Award 2017″ in the category “Top 25 Luxury Hotels – Switzerland” by Tripadvisor.
Hub of Activity
This Spring, NewinZurich paid a visit and, thanks in large part to General Manager Urs Bührer, the hotel impressed us as a luxe and lavish buzzy seat of power.
When we were there, Parliament was in session, and the lobby was hopping: groups of briefcase-toting delegates bustled excitedly through at all hours while business travelers grabbed a quiet moment in the Le Lobby lounge and tourists and bar-goers pilgrimaged to the famous Bellevue Bar. “We get everyone here”, says Buhler, who mans the ship and gives the whole scene his personal touch.
Behind the scenes, we met head chef Gregor Zimmerman, whose pedigree, charm and inventive cuisine draws scores of visiting and local fine diners to the hotel’s 16-Gualt Milau restaurant, VUE.
Chef Gregor Zimmerman
At 21, Zimmerman was the youngest member of the Swiss Culinary National Team and during his 13 years on the team achieved three world championship titles. Zimmerman is also the official chef of the Swiss Bundespräsident, and, as such, is adept at making powerful as well as not-so-powerful people happy.
“People don’t want a 5, 7 or 8-course menu anymore. If they’re here on business, they don’t have the time and they want healthy food,” says Zimmerman who focuses as much energy as possible on securing high-quality local products.
His cuisine stays true to Swiss staples with modern and wildly imaginative interpretations. His tortellini, for example, includes gruyere caramel, cannellini beans and nut oil from Sévery. He has also served the Swiss classic Bernerplatte, but in his interpretation, the traditional meat-based dish is an inventive vegan version.
Gin Bar with 99 Brands of Gin
Other features show the hotel attracts a diverse crowd. In Le Lobby, a cool new gin bar boasts 99 brands on its shelves and a master mixer, Henry Ngugi, at the helm. He showed us how to make a gin martini “smoke” (hint: just squeeze an orange rind and light the spray on fire!) and served us sushi from the nearby cart. On the weekends, said gin-station hosts late-night DJs, giving the hotel a fresh and edgy vibe. In the summer, diners can also enjoy the wide and gracious outdoor terrace.
Guest rooms are large, high-ceilinged respites, especially those with a view. With the glacial water of the Aare flowing below and the alps sitting majestically in the distance, the feeling is more alpen retreat than big-city hotel.
Lavishly and graciously decorated in bright layers of rich silk around the windows and shiny velvet on the furniture, even some junior suites have two bathrooms.
Efficient Discreet Service
Service is noticeably top-notch, from the attentive and patient front-desk operators who held luggage and replaced keys, maps and wi-fi codes without flinching, to the dining room waiters who anticipated every wish.
Despite its many attractions Bern, for many, is a stopover point on the way to the Jungfrau and other locations. However, a night at the Bellevue Palace may make visitors want to stay just that little bit longer.
An updated NewInZurich guide to what to do in Bern, is following soon.
Bellevue Palace Bern
Address: Kochergasse 3-5, 3011 Bern
Tel: +41 31 320 45 45
For more information please visit the Bellevue Palace Hotel Website here
Article written by Jennifer Lisle
Jennifer is a Zurich-based freelance journalist who has written for The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and Elle, among many others.
Photos courtesy of Hotel Bellevue Palace Bern and Christina Fryer
We stayed as guests of the Hotel Bellevue Palace Bern but all opinions are our own