Pamper haven: Swiss wellness escapes

A view of the mighty Matterhorn from the Mountain Ashram Spa in Cervo Mountain Resort. PHOTO: CERVO MOUNTAIN RESORT

Standing on the pier with gloved hands in pockets, we await the 2.07pm vessel that will ferry us to Burgenstock Hotel across placid Lake Lucerne this overcast day.

We board the MS Burgenstock shuttle boat exclusively for resort guests and, soon, Lucerne and its iconic 13th-century Water Tower begin to fade, eventually disappearing into the misty veil dissolving the landscape.

The 25-minute ride is gloriously serene as it is only us on the boat, save for an Indian family on holiday.

We arrive and take the funicular, a charming cable railway system widely used across Switzerland's mountainous regions, up the steep elevation that brings us directly to the luxury resort.

On this little journey, we are already transported to a magical realm as we observe a cascading sea of snow-dusted pine trees meeting the tranquil vastness of the lake below us.

Mother Nature has clearly blessed this corner of central Switzerland, where fairy-tale landscapes dwarfed by sky make for an exquisite alpine retreat long-favoured by the Hollywood set.

Nestled along a mountain ridge 500m above the lake, it is the scenery that steals the show at Burgenstock Resort, which comprises four hotels including Palace Hotel and Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence. You can also reach these dream-like grounds via car, train and air.

There are several landing areas in the vicinity that allow guests to arrive via helicopter, while individuals with Crazy Rich Asians-level wealth can land their private jets in Buochs, a municipality just 15 minutes away.

Wellspring of well-being

Welcomed by the scent of fresh pine, our senses are further uplifted by the sight of beautiful blooms and the sound of a crackling fireplace once we step inside the lobby of the flagship Burgenstock Hotel.

Ah, our restorative retreat has begun.

Burgenstock is where the late actress Audrey Hepburn married her first husband and War And Peace (1956) co-star Mel Ferrer, in a dainty little chapel between the pretty trees and outcrops of mountain rock, in 1954.

Like Hepburn, Italian silver screen legend Sophia Loren also called Burgenstock home for a good number of years during that glamorous Hollywood era of yore.

This was before the 148-year-old property's nine-year, 500 million Swiss francs (S$736.1 million) redevelopment and reopening in 2018, of course.

The panoramic sauna of the Burgenstock Hotel Alpine Spa. PHOTO: BURGENSTOCK HOTEL

Once a celebrity playground and remote hideaway, Burgenstock Resort is now owned by Qatar-based leading global hotel developer Katara Hospitality, and has been transformed into a wellness sanctuary in the mountains.

Classic Hollywood posters of Hepburn and famous friends, meanwhile, still adorn the historic walls of the resort's museum gallery and in-house cinema, keeping the hotel's fascinating past alive for today's guests.

Like most guests here today, though, I cannot wait to trade my weighty winter wear for the softest terry cloth bathrobe and saunter over to the spa.

The wet area of the Burgenstock Hotel Alpine Spa. PHOTO: BURGENSTOCK HOTEL

As I stroll through the hotel's alpine-chic corridors, I cannot also help but wonder if the ghosts of these thespians past still walk these hallowed halls. But I quickly push the thought out of my mind as I am here to relax, not scare myself.

Health spas in Europe, I soon discover, elevate the concept of wellness to a level largely unseen in Asia.

Burgenstock's Alpine Spa, extending more than 10,000 sq m, is said to be the largest hotel spa in all of Western Europe. It is apparent at first sight why it is a destination in and of itself - and why some degree of hyperbole is rather necessary here.

The indoor pool of the Burgenstock Hotel Alpine Spa. PHOTO: BURGENSTOCK HOTEL

The labyrinthine space is paradise. It is bliss. It is almost transcendental.

You can start your day and work out at the fitness centre or take an outdoor yoga class, then spend a languorous afternoon at the spa with a choice of luxurious skin and body treatments. Or simply enjoy the use of all the spa facilities spread across multiple levels, complimentary for hotel guests.

Take a dip in any of the five indoor and outdoor pools proffering 360-degree views over Lake Lucerne (on a clear day), defrost from the cold in the dimly lit hammam or go the other extreme and brave the ice room to reinvigorate the body.

The yoga temple at the Burgenstock Hotel Spa Garden. PHOTO: BURGENSTOCK HOTEL
The infinity pool at the Burgenstock Hotel Alpine Spa. PHOTO: BURGENSTOCK HOTEL

There are adults-only areas where, for instance, you disrobe and submerge the entire body in a healing crystal salt-water bath. But I decide to keep my clothes on and try everything else instead.

You can also simply lounge in one of the many private panorama relaxation nooks while surveying and savouring the vistas through floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

The silent room at the Burgenstock Hotel Alpine Spa. PHOTO: BURGENSTOCK HOTEL

Feeling peckish? There is free-flow bananas, biscuits, nuts and tea for sustenance throughout the day.

In a corner almost completely hidden from the main complex, I stumble upon a room with multi-sensory relaxation pods next to an infrared therapy chamber.

Keen to experience the curative effects of cell regeneration and deeper layers of healing, I try both.

Spending just two days at the resort is the perfect antidote to the tensions from two years of travel restrictions and intermittent lockdowns. Not to mention the anxiety-riddled concerns of travelling during a pandemic and against the backdrop of considerably low Swiss vaccination rates - still hovering below 70 per cent.

These figures are a little surprising, considering the Swiss do wellness so well.

The country is known to be a leading destination for medical tourism for well-heeled travellers due to its top-notch facilities, superlative standards of care and, of course, discretion.

In fact, Switzerland's healthcare and medical tourism market is expected to grow to US$90.3 billion (S$122 billion) by 2028, expanding annually by 6.7 per cent, according to a 2021 report by US-based Grand View Research.

It is a trend echoed by the global wellness economy, which is expected to grow exponentially over the next five years - at an annual rate of 20.9 per cent between now and 2025, as forecasted by the Global Wellness Institute in a December 2021 report.

Having witnessed Swiss-wellness excellence first-hand, Switzerland and its endless alpine experiences are certain to soak up much of the post-pandemic appetite for wellness tourism in the coming rebound.

  • Jamie Nonis is a luxury lifestyle writer who is seduced by the idea of living in Italy, and fantasises of soon relocating to where the wine flows free.
  • The writer was hosted by Switzerland Tourism.

5 magical spa experiences not to be missed

Between the mountains and lakes, these unique Swiss spa experiences await.

1. Mountain Ashram Spa at Cervo Mountain Resort, Zermatt

The Japanese onsen at Cervo Mountain Resort's Mountain Ashram Spa. PHOTO: CERVO MOUNTAIN RESORT

Bask in the magnificent view of the Matterhorn as you soak in a Japanese onsen at Mountain Ashram Spa.

The sustainability-focused, design-forward resort offers arguably the best view of the mountain, one of the highest summits in the Swiss Alps, in the popular ski resort village of Zermatt.

The spa is very much inspired by Eastern philosophies and rituals paired with the Northern European art of sauna, and you will find Bhutanese hot stone baths, Ayurvedic treatments and singing bowl experiences among its holistic healing therapies.

2. Kempinski The Spa at Kempinski Palace Engelberg, Engelberg


The piece de resistance at the 880 sq m spa is, of course, the view.

From the heated infinity pool, you can feast your eyes on sweeping panoramas of the alpine surroundings in this gem of a town sitting at the foot of Mount Titlis.

The mountainscape feels right outside your window as you sit and meditate upon Hahnen mountain - and it almost is, as it is a short walk from the hotel to the world's first revolving cable car that takes you up Mount Titlis and onto Europe's highest suspension bridge, the Titlis Cliff Walk.

When you return, thaw out in the Finnish or bio sauna or treat yourself to a facial, massage or body treatment to wind down after a day of adventure. Luxuriate in one of the cosy chill-out coves thereafter.

A cosy chill out cove at the spa of Kempinski Palace Engelberg. PHOTO: KEMPINSKI PALACE ENGELBERG

There is much quietude and it is no wonder the Kempinski brand decided to open in this locale last summer, giving the town its first Five-Star Superior hotel.

3. Guerlain Spa, The Woodward, Geneva


Elegant and sophisticated yet warm and inviting, Geneva's first all-suite hotel opened last September and set within its haute interior is a Guerlain Spa, in partnership with the French beauty house.

The 1,200 sq m spa offers an exclusive and wholly indoor experience with a state-of-the-art gym, two saunas, two steam rooms, two Swedish baths, a hot tub, six wellness suites and a 21m indoor pool - the longest in Geneva.

Pamper yourself with the soothing yet energising Spirit Of Lake Geneva treatment, a deeply restorative massage with gentle motions reflecting the tranquillity of Lake Geneva - the hotel sits on its banks.

Guerlain cosmetics on display at their spa. PHOTO: THE WOODWARD GENEVA

Or opt for a Tailor-Made Treatment comprising an extra-hydrating facial and mask customised for your skin, using products from Guerlain's Orchidee Imperiale and Abeille Royale collections.

4. Spa Nescens at Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa, Interlaken


Living up to its name, the first thing that strikes you about the hotel is just how grand it is. And its 5,500 sq m spa is likewise a world of wellness in a class of its own.

When you are back from paragliding or from a day trip on the GoldenPass Railway to the Top of Europe at Jungfraujoch, this sanctuary of calm awaits with its 1940s boudoir-style elegance, juxtaposed against the rugged mountain scenery visible from the outdoor brine pool.

Defrost in the sauna or steam bath, decompress in one of the relaxation rooms or book a massage or beauty treatment by Swiss cosmoceutical brand Nescens.

5. Cinq Mondes Spa at Beau-Rivage Palace, Lausanne

The indoor pool at Cinq Mondes Spa. PHOTO: BEAU-RIVAGE PALACE

At the legendary Beau-Rivage Palace, which has hosted celebrities the likes of French fashion designer Coco Chanel and English comic actor Charlie Chaplin in their day, the 1,500 sq m Cinq Mondes Spa is a hidden oasis.

After a day out visiting the terraced vineyards of Lavaux, a Unesco World Heritage Site just outside the French-speaking city of Lausanne, return here for a sumptuous wellness experience that begins (or ends) at the "Tree of Life" relaxation room, with its soft, undulating light imbuing those who pass under its branches with a sense of calm.

The spa is bathed in an elegant and earthy palette and, in addition to the indoor and outdoor heated pools, there is a steam room, saunas, an ice cave and ice fountain, and a yoga and meditation room.

Highlights of its extensive treatment menu are the "musically enhanced" immersive rituals and massages inspired by the best philosophies and therapies from around the world.

Travel tips: Maskless freedom outdoors

The vaccinated travel lane (VTL) to Switzerland had opened just weeks before we were to depart Singapore in November and, given the uncertainties surrounding newly opened borders, we were said to be one of the first few Singaporeans to travel to Switzerland then.

Clearing immigration was a breeze, as long as you convert your Singapore vaccination certificate to a Swiss Covid-19 certificate through the Notarise government portal created for travellers.

Next, download the SwissCovid and Covid Certificate apps, which you will need when moving around Switzerland.

The former is the country's official contact-tracing app and sends alerts to your cellphone if there have been confirmed Covid-19 cases in your vicinity or in areas you recently visited, for increased vigilance while you are on the move.

Much like Singapore's TraceTogether app, the Covid Cert app enables places of interest and business to easily verify your vaccination status. Just flash the app alongside your identification card or passport to verify your identity. It is also a good idea to take along a printed copy at all times, just in case.

Given the capricious nature of travel these days, it is best to check the latest updates and requirements to ensure all your paperwork is in order.

One tip when flying, though. Airlines require passengers to wear surgical masks rather than cloth ones on flights. I learnt this just before we boarded our Swiss flight and it was a good thing I had packed one such mask as a spare in my carry-on bag.

What is interesting is that different countries have differing rules when it comes to the wearing of masks.

Across Switzerland, people are required to wear masks only indoors. I find the Swiss to be very compliant on this note.

A sign indicating that masks are compulsory is placed at the Christmas Market, in Montreux, Switzerland, on Dec 6, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

Once, on a train en route to Interlaken, one of our travel companions was maskless while searching endlessly for her mask among her bags.

One of the local men in our First Class cabin kept glancing over and we feared that perhaps something untoward was about to occur. Eventually, he asked if she needed a mask and fished out an extra one for her. It was lovely - and a relief - to witness such grace and kindness.

What I find somewhat amusing is if you still wear your mask outdoors, as I sometimes did to help keep warmer in the biting cold, you will get strange looks from the locals.

In restaurants, you can remove your mask once they verify your vaccination status and can keep it off even when you are walking around, such as to visit the washroom.

While these feel a little unsettling at first, having lived under strict mask-wearing enforcement for two years, a feeling of freedom returns and, with it, a familiar sense of normality.

In Lausanne, for instance, Christmas markets were in full swing with large gatherings of people outdoors enjoying the merriment of the season.

This was pre-Omicron, of course, and it really felt like business as normal with quality of life restored, but with social distancing measures and safety checks still in place. And that, for us, was the real break.

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