Swiss Escapes

Discover relaxation at Switzerland’s exclusive getaways

By: Reed Glenn

Mark Twain slept here when he toured Europe, Al Gore stayed here after his ill-fated presidential campaign, and I’m sitting here on my private patio in the perfect late-afternoon sunlight in the shadow of the Jungfrau, sipping champagne and eating chocolates. Not a bad way to recover from jet lag along with two mountain hikes and a spa treatment, in little more than two days in Switzerland.

Outrageous mountain scenery, chocolate-box villages, elegant castles, idyllic farms and a mild climate have for centuries lured the well-heeled and well-informed to Interlaken, situated between two lakes in the heart of Switzerland. Superb new Swiss spas are luring today’s travelers who seek health and rejuvenation along with great scenery. Body wraps, massages, facials, fitness testing and all manner of treatments help relieve jet lag, chronic health problems or aching muscles from Interlaken’s huge array of year-round outdoor pursuits, which include hiking, biking, watersports, skiing and paragliding.

“Swiss hospitality is something special,” said native German, Carsten Hundertmark. “The Swiss have a slower pace, are friendlier, more hospitable and more earthy than the Germans, which is why a lot of Germans along with everyone else come to Switzerland.”

Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa

Hundertmark is the new spa manager at Interlaken’s Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa, which has been hosting celebrities since 1865. Hundertmark is proud to be heading one of Europe’s largest and newest spas, where guests can take the haute route to health, beauty and fitness. Along with haute cuisine at four different dining venues plus a spa cafe and two bars, the hotel offers elegant updated rooms in the historic section or sleek, new Euro-contemporary Belair suites attached to the spa.

In 1992, the hotel opened a 60,000-square-foot Clarins spa complex, and in December 2003 expanded it with a $13 million luxury E’Spa, one of the world’s top spa brands. Guests arrive at the hotel’s sprawling spa complex through an airy, two-story glass atrium filled with plants. Warm colors and textures of terra cotta and natural wood welcome guests to the two different spas.

Jet-lagged on arrival day, it wasn’t easy staying awake during my soothing one-hour facial at the Clarins spa, in the softly lit, ivory treatment room. But “scentsational” cleansing, moisturizing, soothing and toning treatments were too good to miss.

Guests can choose among age-defying, hydrating, radiance and purifying treatments. Body treatments include redefining, pro-polish exfoliation with fruit enzymes and renewing with Clarin’s special plant-based formulations and aromatic oils applied with specialized massage movements, known as “The Clarins Touch.” Before long, my stressed, aging and travel-weary face felt brand-new.

After my treatment, I chose a dip in the indoor Roman-style pool and frothing, open-air, saltwater Jacuzzi with mountain views.

After two days of hiking and sightseeing, “Time The Ultimate Treatment” sounded appealing at E’Spa. This two-hour signature treatment is customized and different for everyone. I felt like I was transported to Japan with the Zen-like simplicity and tranquility of the E’Spa. Done in ecru and natural wood, the treatment room walls resembled rice-paper screens. Big, white-shaded windows and doorways opened onto bamboo and river-rock gardens. While the therapist conducted a relaxing and welcoming foot ritual by massaging reflex zones on my feet, I relayed my personal preferences and problem areas of strain or stress. She then selected and blended the appropriate Ayurvedic-inspired oils and herbs. A full-body salt and oil scrub, followed by a rinsing shower and massage, was definitely the ultimate preparation for further travel.

The Palace Lucerne

Lucerne is a beautiful medieval city of swans, chestnut trees and graceful spires about 90 minutes by train from Interlaken. Stately turn-of-the-century hotels line Lake Lucerne, and among them is the Palace Lucerne, a sister hotel of the Victoria-Jungfrau, with its new spa that required the removal of 40 hotel rooms.

Quite different in atmosphere from the Victoria-Jungfrau spas, the new $10 million E’Spa at the Palace Lucerne opened in 2005 with treatment rooms overlooking this fairy-tale city. A private 800-square-foot spa suite located in one of the hotel’s turrets houses a circular petal pool for two with a twinkling planetarium-type ceiling and commanding views of the lake and city truly a spa in a palace.

After a chilly day of sightseeing, I chose a 55-minute energizing treatment to warm up and prepare for a gourmet dinner at one of Switzerland’s top restaurants, Jasper, also located in the hotel. After the massage, I treated myself to a stop in the shimmering, aquamarine mosaic steam room with tiny ceiling lights winking through a range of colors. A tropical-toned recovery room offered chaise lounges, soft music, teas and fruit. This was the perfect elixir for travel, rich meals, late nights and mountain excursions still to come.


Spa, Interlaken
$216-$411 per night

Palace Lucerne, Lucerne
$218-$369 per night

Both the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and the Lucerne Palace are members of The Leading Hotels of the World. Both offer travel agent commission of 5 percent for room booking and a 10 percent for a room/spa package.

Spa use (pool, exercise room, steam room, Jacuzzi, sauna) is included in the room price. Treatments are extra with varying charges. The Victoria-Jungfrau offers guests the use of a Jaguar automobile for a day.

The Leading Hotels of the World

Villa Maria B&B, Lucerne
Sends guests to the Palace Lucerne spa.
$67-$90 per night.

Hotel Hirschen, Interlaken
$46-$130 per night

Swiss Hiking Tips

Despite daunting glaciers and dizzying vertical peaks beyond a mountain goat’s ability, hikers can have it easy in Switzerland if they wish. Ubiquitous trains, funiculars and gondolas do the uphill climbing, depositing hikers in spectacular alpine settings where they can simply stroll downhill to the next village, rustic cafe or train station.

One train burrows inside a mountain to the Jungfraujoch, a 11,333-foot-high saddle known as the “Top of Europe.” Nestled among three 13,000-foot peaks the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau this is one of Switzerland’s top attractions. A huge complex on top offers five restaurants, souvenir shops, an Alpine museum and Ice Palace. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike the glacier, ski, sled, visit a mountain hut and ride dog sleds and zip lines.

The train back down can drop hikers at numerous stops with well-marked hiking trails. We chose the Eiger Station for an hour’s walk down to Kleine Scheidegg, a small settlement and train stop. The nearby Eiger Glacier is a spectacular tumble of petrified ice and snow.

At Kleine Scheidegg hikers can reboard the train and return to Interlaken or go on to the beautiful village of Grindelwald, where many hiking trails also begin.

Forested lakeside trails around Interlaken offer a different and less vertical experience. Tour boats ply the two lakes stopping at various hamlets and attractions. We chose a ride on Lake Brienz from Interlaken to Geissbach, site of a stunning chalet-type hotel and tumbling waterfalls. From there, a two-hour amble led to the ancient, flower-festooned village of Iseltwalt and a gleaming white castle. A bus took us back to Interlaken.

Hiking opportunities also abound in the mountains around Lucerne. A popular and easily accessible day trip is a visit to Stanserhorn Mountain via vintage cable car.

Information on these and other popular hikes and tours is available from the concierge at the Victoria Jungfrau, Palace Lucerne, most hotels and Switzerland Tourism (

TRAINS: On the Jungfrau Railways, an all-day roundtrip ticket from Interlaken to the Jungfraujoch plus return via Grindelwald costs $99 and includes stops at various villages. Tickets are available at the Interlaken train stations.


For Stanserhorn excursions: