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Swiss Bliss

By Hendrik Coetzee
Posted On Sep 22, 2016
Swiss Bliss

Alpine extravagance is never a tall order at the Dolder Grand Hotel and Spa.

The soaring spires of this striking Swiss castle rise before your eyes as if sprung from a page in a fairytale pop-up book. But the luxuries that await you inside the Dolder Grand Hotel and Spa in Zurich, Switzerland, are more akin to Alpine grown-up indulgence than Swiss Miss cocoa kid stuff. Perched majestically on a verdant hill and embraced by a posy of pines, rife with the charm of history as well as up-to-date amenities, the Dolder Grand is ready to chase your doldrums (and, perhaps, a few face wrinkles and muscle aches) far, far down the mountain.

Zurich Zenith

The extravagance of the Dolder Grand is evident as you enter the stunning, marble-laden “Steinhalle” lobby and are greeted by Carrier-Belleuse’s pendulum swinging bronze lady atop the classical nineteenth century Eugène Farcot clock. But grandeur has always been the order of the day since Dolder threw open its opulent doors in 1899. Indeed, the 176-room hotel and sought-after “Curhaus” spa (literally, “cure house”) has catered to the beleaguered beauties and international who’s who as a place of relaxation and regeneration for a century and counting. During and after both World Wars, the hotel became a refuge for European royalty, as well as a temporary residence for the likes of Winston Churchill and Thomas Mann. In times of peace during the latter part of the twentieth century, it became the go-to spot for prominent politicians, aristocrats, actors, and artists, including Nelson Mandela, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Luciano Pavarotti, Prince Philip, and Mikhail Gorbachev.

More recently—after a $430 million makeover compliments of the London-based architecture and design firm Foster + Partners—Dolder has attracted modern-day, bold-face names in need of rest and recuperation, like former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Prince William, and screen star Leonardo DiCaprio. And no wonder. In 2015, this hundred-plus year-old palace of pampering won the 2015 World Spa & Wellness Award, and is also a rarefied member of the bespoke Leading Hotels of the World.

And with good reason.

It Must Be the Alpine Air

The grandest form of Dolder luxury is found at the stunning Japanese-influenced 43,000-square-foot spa and wellness center built adjacent to the hotel. Their renowned medical wellness center discreetly caters to all your aesthetic dermatology needs, while procedures of the plastic surgery ilk are done in collaboration with Klinik Tiefenbrunnen in the city. Here, au courant face lift techniques are employed, like the combo of surface and deep skin tissue modelling in which deep skin tissue is lifted and fine modeled with Liposculpture—so that just-from-the-spa look lasts long after you leave.

I found their traditional spa services, based on the Dolder Grand Life Balance philosophy (relaxation, beauty, vitality, and detox), more than adequate in perking up appearances. “Whatever your situation in life, you have to find the right balance in order to achieve physical and mental well-being and relaxation,” offers spa director Therese Martirena. Something Dolder is happy to help you with from the moment they pick you up from the airport in a Mercedes equipped with a state-of-the-art backseat massage feature, kneading away the aches and pains of commercial travel.

The spa menu contains a multitude of facials, massages, manicures and pedicures, and body rituals, including their recently launched 100-percent natural Amala skincare product line exclusive to the hotel. Separate spas for both ladies and gentleman include saunas, steam baths, kotatsu footbaths, aroma pools, steam pots, cold water basins, and stand-up sunbeds.

A new addition to the spa this year is mechanical message therapy (a.k.a., endermology) in which an LPG device breaks down fat cells via motorized rollers for the body and pulsating flaps for the face. This odd, rigorous, but rewarding massage kick-starts cellular activity, which slows down with age. “In combination with the Kerstin Florian Intensive Slimming Serum, we achieve very visible results for guests,” Martirena says.

I opted to have the signature Kerstin Florian Hydraheaven treatment, and indeed, a watery heaven it was. The technique employs the interesting effect of slowly inflating a water bed beneath you, while your body is scrubbed and rubbed from head to toe with a loofah. You are then expertly massaged and rubbed with layers of essential oils, as the inflating water bed forms a comforting cradle around your body. The whole experience finishes with a warm-towel wrap and a session in the Sunbaro room, with its egg-shaped loungers filled with black pebbles, inspired by the Japanese wellness tradition of being buried in warm, muscle easing volcanic sand.

Food for the Soul

If the spa is therapy for your outer body, then chef Heiko Nieder’s double Michelin-starred restaurant is the Swiss-centric soothing you need for the inside. Referred to as simply “The Restaurant,” Heiko’s talent lies in his five and eight-course dinners, as well as the 12-course modern tasting menu with an emphasis on unusual flavor combinations. I was enchanted by his dishes of varying complexity, like small canapes atop a deceptively delicate cracker with a burst of oriental spices, a miniature egg benedict with a soft milky texture, and a crunchy whole-grain bread ball merged with Fridolin cheese, lovage, and tomato. The courses to follow were a pas de deux between the chef and his exquisite arsenal of contrasting tastes, textures, and temperatures, like the dancing delight of his tuna tartar with ice cold crunchy cucumber, egg yolk, lemon cress, and Dijon mustard, or his ragout of tender, perfectly spiced venison accompanied by a fluffy foam of garlicky potatoes. “My main focus is on providing a culinary experience that makes you forget about everything else and relaxes your mind,” Nieder told me.

And he was right. At the end of the dining affair, my taste buds had traversed to a culinary nirvana, my mind cleared of useless clutter and focused solely on the intensity and surprise of the outstanding flavors on the plate, proving that real comfort food is not of the junk variety.

Climb Every Mountain

To counteract the effects of Nieder’s 12-course culinary indulgences, there are a multitude of fresh-air activities to keep the theme of balance in check, including a 50-meter outdoor swimming pool, five clay tennis courts, and a challenging nine-hole golf course that requires a minimum handicap 30 (for the less competitive, Dolder has the only mini-golf course in Zurich). And, of course, skiing the breath-taking trails of the Alps is the ultimate way to get your heart pumping.

If weather permits, you can borrow one of the hotel’s many mountain bikes for an energizing yet peaceful cycle through the dense forest. For those who do not want to attempt the steep uphill cycle back to the hotel, E-bikes are also available. And plenty of cyclists, golfers, and skiers alike make use of the spa in winter days after demanding workouts, thanks to the spa’s proven sports massages, lymphatic drainage, and muscle relaxing body wraps such as the Relaxing Moor Mud.

Creature Comforts

Beauty here goes beyond the coaxing of great skin in the spa. While many hotels hang an arbitrary painting here and there for decorative value, the 100 or so priceless and highly-curated works of art at Dolder are museum-worthy, from the most revered names in the art world: think Pissarro, Dalí, Murakami, LeWitt, and Stallone (yes, Sylvester). Framed collections of edgy pop-up pins and the even more provocative collection of cardboard begging signs nearly make you forget that you came here for cure, instead of culture.

But creature comforts do abound. The thick doors of my heavenly junior suite assured that no sound would come in or out of the room, affording peace and privacy that’s often difficult to procure at other hotels. The modern room was spacious and the balcony offered sweeping views of Zurich and the surrounding area. The floor-to-ceiling marble bathroom was luxurious, with a tub-eye-view of the Alps and the clear blue sky beyond to boot. Stellar turndown service is especially appreciated after an indulgent late night listening to jazz at the bar, and clever step-saving technology here means all you have to do is press one simple button to switch off all the lights and fall directly into bed. The best suites are the four themed versions, the most intriguing being Suite 100, inspired by the iconic Rolling Stones. Situated at the top floor of the Spa wing, it has the unconventional decor of posh rock ‘n roll decadence fit for a Jagger or a Richards, and is dripping in Sixties retro furniture in shades of black and pink.

But whether you’re a rocker seeking respite or a royal on the mend, the privacy and space to enjoy it at the Dolder Grand is unlike that of other retreats. It’s the ideal getaway of grandeur, where body and mind unwind and feel renewed among the serenity of the swaying branches of the alpine forest and the waves lapping on the shore of Lake Zurich.

The Dolder Grand Hotel is 20 minutes from the Zurich airport and is easily accessible. A three-night inclusive spa retreat package at the 176 room hotel starts at $2,400 for one person.