EuropeWeddings, Honeymoons & Romance

Something old, something new at Burgenstock Resort

The Burgenstock Resort overlooking Lake Lucerne in Switzerland.
The Burgenstock Resort overlooking Lake Lucerne in Switzerland.

Privacy and postcard-perfect views once made Switzerland's Burgenstock Resort a favorite of celebrities such as Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren, who both lived at the property in the 1960s.

Now the Lucerne-area luxury resort is back in the spotlight, following a nine-year, $550 million expansion and update. 

The refreshed destination offers four distinct hotel experiences, 12 restaurants, a 107,000-square-foot spa, extensive art and heritage exhibits, a nine-hole golf course, 40-plus miles of hiking trails and access to Europe's highest outdoor elevator, the Hammetschwand Lift. 

Guests can reach the resort by road, but the more memorable option is to travel by boat from the downtown Lucerne docks and then take a funicular that climbs some 1,600 feet up a forested cliff. That secluded location, high above Lake Lucerne, means outstanding views from the resort's top-tier Burgenstock Hotel. 

When I checked in as part of a press tour shortly after the late 2017 opening, I was immediately drawn to a window seat overlooking the tapestry of idyllic waterways and hills below. 

A deluxe lakeview room at the resort’s top-tier Burgenstock Hotel.
A deluxe lakeview room at the resort’s top-tier Burgenstock Hotel.

The 102-room property, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, has chic interiors that combine modern design, high-end amenities and classic Swiss accents, from carved wood walls and cowbell lamps to shell limestone from the Alps. A corridor outfitted with historical memorabilia connects the Burgenstock Hotel to the Palace Hotel, a fully restored 1904 inn with more-relaxed, yet still well-appointed, rooms. Recent renovations also updated the 12-room Taverne 1879, a rustic chalet with a ground-floor Swiss restaurant.

Near Taverne 1879 sits the small chapel where Audrey Hepburn married Mel Ferrer in 1954, and guests can book the 70-person venue for their own ceremonies (the recommended lead time for reservations is at least one year). Two wedding packages combine decorations, reception and formal dinner menus, audiovisual services and overnight suite accommodations for the bride and groom. Customized ceremony and celebration options are also available, with venue options ranging from cozy outdoor terraces to the grand, glass-walled Lakeview Ballroom that extends past the edge of the cliff.

Beyond the chapel, walking trails wind through the trees to where passengers can board the Hammetschwand Lift and ascend another 500 feet above the resort.

A lane between the chapel and Taverne 1879 leads to the Waldhotel, a health and medical inn that debuted in December 2017. The venue has 160 spacious, sophisticated rooms with sunny, south-facing patios. Doctors evaluate and treat a variety of medical concerns and injuries here, while other professionals administer programs related to nutrition, weight management and stress reduction. 

At the Burgenstock Alpine Spa, practitioners promote wellness in the form of massages, body treatments and fitness classes. An L-shaped infinity pool with spectacular Lake Lucerne views wraps around one exterior corner of the venue, separated from its interior counterpart by a wall of glass. The spa also has a kids club, saunas, whirlpool tubs and a serene relaxation room with its own sweeping vista of the lake and the lush Lucerne landscapes.

The resort's appealing blend of old and new mirrors that of Lucerne itself, where medieval structures mingle with the modern Kulturund Kongresszentrum Luzern, the city's cultural and conference center. Tucked between the ferry terminal and the train station, the landmark was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and features three venues under a cantilevered roof: a conference center and art museum, an elegant event space built around two interior water channels and a grand concert hall. Legendary orchestras and soloists take center stage here during annual Lucerne Festival events, including a four-week summer series founded in 1938.

Across the lake at Max Chocolatier, staffers hand out decadent truffle samples and discuss how the family-run business crafts nearly 160 candy flavors by hand each year. The snug lakefront shop offers 45-minute tasting sessions and stocks a selection of suitcase-friendly bars and boxed sets that serve as tasty souvenirs.

For more local fare, follow the water to where Lake Lucerne meets the Reuss River and turn right on Rathausquai. Several cafes seat guests at sidewalk tables set along the scenic riverfront, including Rathaus Brauerei, which pairs house-made beers with Swiss rosti potatoes and sausages from local vendors. Nearby, Zunfthausrestaurant Pfistern serves regional classics and seasonal specialties in a beautifully maintained 1500s structure with an outdoor terrace.

Both destinations overlook Lucerne's Chapel Bridge, a 14th-century landmark that was carefully updated after a 1993 fire. More than 275 flower boxes decorate the covered wooden bridge each summer. 

Blocks away, sidewalk tables also line picturesque plazas scattered throughout Lucerne's old-town district. 

"In the old days, the plazas were the social media of the town," said the guide on my city heritage tour. "People came here to talk to their neighbors. Many still do."

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