Dolder: Zurich luxe reborn

A terrace view at the Dolder Grand, located in Zurich’s Hottingen neighborhood.
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At the north end of Lake Zurich, the shoreline tapers and funnels its ultrapure Alpine water into the Limmat River, which splits Zurich's old town between the glitzier west bank, dominated by the shops of the Bahnhofstrasse, and the grittier, more backpacker-friendly cobbled lanes on the east bank.

Here, the land begins to slope upward, enough to induce a sweaty sobriety in any late-night revelers who try to tackle it on foot. Enter the neighborhood of Hottingen and the growing steepness accompanies an equal rise in real estate values, at the top of which perches the Dolder Grand Hotel, home to the creme de la creme of society and hospitality in Zurich.

You'll find the first stepping out of Maseratis, Porsches and Teslas that pull up under the long, slender overhang above the main entrance of the creamy white Alpine castle topped in fairy-tale turrets and towers. Opened in 1899, the building served as a hotel and curhaus (spa) and prospered and grew over the next century. By 2004, however, the Dolder was in serious need of a face-lift, and the doors closed for a four-year renovation.

The lobby of the Dolder Grand, which first opened in 1899.
The lobby of the Dolder Grand, which first opened in 1899.

 In the new Dolder only the original building was spared and largely given over to reception, socializing and dining, especially in the swanky cocktail bar lit with floating candles and the Dolder's two main restaurants: the Michelin-starred Restaurant and lively Garden Restaurant.

The latter features a lively outdoor terrace, which stays full as long as the weather allows it. Service operates with clockwork precision and a sense of fun, but firmly within the lines. The mostly European dishes, while not breaking any boundaries, are prepared and presented with impressive consummation and paired perfectly with wines by the staff, if you let them.

A junior suite at Zurich’s Dolder Grand Hotel.
A junior suite at Zurich’s Dolder Grand Hotel.

But the pulse of today's Dolder is felt strongest in the two 8-year-old wings by architect David Foster, each reached by  curving glass corridors lined with museum-like displays of luxury handbags and jewelry. The spa wing, to the left, gets the best views, particularly Room 1307, a junior suite grand (starting at $1,400 a night). Step inside and behold a new concept of hotel design. Traditional squares and rectangles have mostly been tossed for a more organic shape that forms a figure eight, with the first loop opening into a small sitting area, held together by white leather sofa, and the second to the bed chamber. The highlight here is an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the room with light when opened.

The bath area may bring double happiness, either in the large, window-facing Jacuzzi (topped with a selection of bath salts and soaps) or the shower with eight (yes, eight) separate heads. Douse yourself with the excellent Kerstin Florian products and ecstasy is nearly achieved.

Be sure to budget some time on the balcony in the morning, if only to contemplate the stunning view of Lake Zurich in silence. There's coffee in the room, but unfortunately, if you want tea, you'll have to bring your own or pay an additional charge. Just don't let too much time pass before heading into the Dolder's most incomparable amenity: the spa.

Honestly, if it's a choice between an afternoon in Zurich's world famous art museums or bubbling away in the spa, I'll choose the spa.

Indoors, the centerpiece is the ultrachic pool looking out a wall of windows, while on each side, men's and women's sections have separate spas (clothing optional) stocked with a steam room, dry sauna, Kotatsu foot bath and multiple hot tubs calibrated to enliven or relax. A cold-water plunge pool will cool you down, but it's more fun to step into actual snow in the "snow paradise" room. To warm up again, at least in summer, simply step outside onto the two-level terrace split by an oyster shell-like Jacuzzi.

A double room at the 173-room property, which reopened in 2008 after a four-year renovation.
A double room at the 173-room property, which reopened in 2008 after a four-year renovation.

As you stretch out on daybeds to take in the sun, it's worth noting the large Fernando Botero statue also doing the same. It's just one of dozens of bona fide art treasures in the Dolder's private collection -- which includes works by Warhol, Pissarro, Dali, Richter and Kapoor, among others -- hanging on the walls throughout.

The art isn't just for show, either, but part and parcel to the goal of the Dolder Grand Hotel: rejuvenation of the mind, body and spirit. Although it takes a boatload of money, the hotel wholeheartedly achieves it to such a degree to make it a destination itself, on par with anything else in Zurich.  If booking a room, be prepared to spend most of the day on the premises, otherwise it's probably a waste of money. Don't go to the Dolder to visit Zurich; go to the Dolder, to visit the Dolder. See www.thedoldergrand.com.

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