At first, it seems like an unthinkable oversight. The room has no clock. The tall French doors frame a breathtaking view of the Alps, perfectly dusted with snow and dissolving off into a purplish haze on the horizon. The bathroom, chrome and marble and crisp linen hand towels, is spacious enough for a party of 10 (three in the bathtub alone).
The bed is ample, spread with a fluffy duvet. The minibar is stocked with everything from chocolate to champagne. But here in the country of countless cuckoo clocks and Swatch, there is no device to mark time’s passage.
Perhaps it is the very ferocity of the Alps that has made the people of Switzerland such warm and accommodating hosts. The Victoria-Jungfrau actually began as two stately hotels, built in the nineteenth century when the guest book of the Victoria was filled with royalty and notable people of the day. The Emperor of Brazil was a guest in 1877. Mark Twain made the Hotel Victoria a stop on his 1878 European walk-about, chronicled in A Tramp Abroad.
In 1991, the neighboring Jungfrau Hotel was joined to the Victoria with a gleaming glass atrium, and renovations to both structures began. Virtually every detail of the Belle Epoque style was preserved: stained glass skylights, intricate ironwork, rich murals, gilded statuary, ornate columns.
Even the elevator is intact, a dainty tidbit of glossy black iron now gliding more smoothly than its inventors ever dreamed. Restoring the Brasserie alone in the Jungfrau cost $4 million alone and was only recently completed.
The jewel in the crown is the full-service spa. The gentle sound of trickling water greets spa guests; the tiled pool beckons, its tributaries lapping softly in the spa lobby.
The pool lies beneath a vaulted glass ceiling, with marble pillars and gold-accented tiles calling to mind ancient Roman baths. Whirlpools, sunbathing, steam baths and saunas are all available in the 5500-square-meter facility.
Massage and reflexology are offered in a number of serene settings. Beauty treatments featuring Clarins products include facials for women and men, body treatments, make-up consultations and manicures and pedicures. Classes are held in glass-enclosed, sunny studios and include yoga, aerobics, step aerobics, tai chi and ski gymnastics.
The Swiss are so attuned to their roles as hosts that it seems improbable that Mother Nature would thwart their plans with bad weather. But if it should happen, stormy winter weather is no excuse for inactivity at the Victoria-Jungfrau. The facilities include four indoor tennis courts and indoor golf training. When the weather is clear, the best choice for healthy exercise has not changed in centuries.
The grandeur of the Alps calls everyone to their slopes. An invigorating walk in the fresh mountain air is guaranteed to rejuvenate body and soul. Returning to the Victoria-Jungfrau after a day’s hike, the half-acre bathtub exerts an irresistible pull. A long soak, then a quick change for dinner. The Brasserie, one of six restaurants tucked away in the grand old structure, is a gem all on its own.
For nearly 100 years, wall panels and a false ceiling masked its opulent origins. Ornate stuccowork, rich carvings and exquisite murals by leading artists Hans and Otto Haberer once again grace the walls and ceilings.
The setting gives the cuisine a high standard to match. But the Victoria-Jungfrau executive chef proves more than equal to the challenge. The menu in the Brasserie features Swiss dishes, light and appealing. An emphasis is placed on using the freshest, most natural ingredients, so the fish comes from nearby lakes and cheeses from a local dairy.
All the wines are exquisite, vintages produced in Switzerland in such small quantities that they are not exported. Emmanuel Berger, the general manager of the hotel, will tell you with a smile that they’re too good to share with the rest of the world.
Plates whisked off the table like magic, the omnipresent smiling staff, surrounded overhead by multitudes of plump and happy cherubs, toasted again and again with divine local wines and savoring the best flavors Switzerland has to offer.
The Victoria-Jungfrau fills every day with just such moments of rare beauty. A candlelit tour of the wine cellar is awe-inspiring; special evenings with the chef and other events are featured year-round. Afternoon tea is as much a visual presentation as a gustatory one. Every November, the magnificent ballroom is filled with swirling, elegant couples for the Winter Ball. Packages include dancing lessons the day before the ball and of course, a bottle of champagne. A charming little kindergarten is on the property, filled with toys and games for children and staffed by experienced — and fun — teachers. Of the 212 rooms in the hotel, no two are alike. Seventy outdoor terraces offer guests panoramic views of the ever-changing Alps.
The best of vacations remove you far, far away from the ordinary. Sitting in the spa’s exercise studio, brilliant sunlight streaming in through the windows, I experience a little epiphany. Oh, these Swiss. They knew all along. An alarm clock is the last thing we need, recovering from our daily routines, hidden away deep in the heart of Europe.
IF YOU GO
Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa
CH 3800 Interlaken
phone 041 33 828 28 28
fax 041 33 828 28 80