Wed. Sep 28th, 2022

The famed French industrial architect and designer Phillipe Starck might not be the first name that comes to mind when choosing to redesign one of Switzerland’s rarefied five-star hotels. Starck seemed a somewhat unlikely choice to deconstruct and reimagine the hotel Eden au Lac in Zurich, better known for whimsy and bold statements than the often conservative tastes found in this city of bankers.

When I stayed there 15 years ago, the French Empire-style property was notable for its superb location across the street from Lake Zurich and one of Europe’s liveliest and greenest waterfront parks.

That location is still enthralling. It’s just a few minutes’ stroll to the Opera House and the stunning Pavilion Le Corbusier, the master architect’s last building, which was renovated and reopened in 2019. It’s also less than 10 minutes to the Bahnhofstrasse, the city’s stately shopping street.

But during that first stay, the hotel also had the tired look of a hotel from a Le Carre spy novel, suitable for world-weary spies, perhaps, but not for those on holiday.

Cut to 2022 and Starck’s radical reimaging of this grand dame as “an imaginary yacht club” that would not look out of place in St. Tropez. The hotel had a quiet reopening during the pandemic but now is fully open. Now called La Réserve Eden au Lac Zurich, it’s part of Michel Reybier Hospitality, which took over the hotel in 2015 and also oversees the Victoria Jungfrau in Interlaken, the Mont Cervin Palace in Zermatt and the Bellevue Palace in Bern. The transformation is dramatic and quite beautiful, the property buzzing without seeming overly busy.

Zurich is already home to some legendary five-star properties, the Baur au Lac, Storchen and the Dolder Grand. The Eden au Lac is far more intimate – there are just 40 rooms – and the size makes it feel more like a palatial villa. The staff meets and greets you and continues to do so – discretely – during your stay. It’s a very personal and welcome touch.

It is also in one of my favorite Zurich neighborhoods. Directly across the street from the hotel is the Art Nouveau-era Bad Utoquai, a turn of the last century bathing pavilion on Lake Zurich. That same thoughtful hotel staff offers complimentary entrance passes, locks and swim bags with flip flops and towels in the event you would like to swim in the lake, as I do every time I’m in the city.

The transformation of the century-old building in Switzerland’s largest city was clearly a challenge for Starck, who said, “La Réserve Eden au Lac Zurich is like dancing rock and roll with the Queen of England. Everything is traditional yet resolutely unconventional. It’s a timeless cocktail composed of classicism, modernity, intelligence and creativity.”

That translates to wonderfully appointed guestrooms, the best of which overlook Lake Zurich and the hills beyond. Wooden floors are a counterpoint to expansive, light-filled views. The rooms have leather accents and soft furnishings, as well as the use of metal in places where you’d expect to find wood, which I think is a Starck hallmark. Bathrooms feature rain showers and stand-alone tubs, not huge but certainly luxurious.

The lobby has a DJ – you read that right – who plays tunes from cocktail time through the early evening. Continue to the glass elevator, which rises slowly and allows views of other floors as you ascend to the top. Here is the rooftop bar, with its panorama of the city. The La Muña restaurant has both outside tree-lined dining overlooking Zurich and inside dining. The cozy interior is a sloped-ceiling space filled with nautical memorabilia, including wooden boats hanging from the ceiling. The menu from Chef Domenico Zizzi is Japanese- Peruvian. You can expect sushi, sashimi and ceviches in this cozy space, along with entrees like Black Cod marinated in miso and served with sweet potato, radish and plantains.

Italian chef Marco Ortolani has created an inventive and daring menu at the welcoming Eden Kitchen & Bar on the ground floor, with windows looking out onto the lake. Behind a green tile counter, the busy open kitchen turns out amuse bouches such as chocolate and foie gras cones, Vermouth-filled black olives and a bao bun truffle. Move on to starters like beef tartare covered in a lawn of chives and topped with a dollop of mustard that looked like a fried egg. Or a pasta dish where squid is the substitute for pasta, with pecorino, pork cheeks and egg. There was also the remarkable Acquarello Risotto, with lime, green beans ceviche and the small shrimp known as cicale di mare followed by grilled beef from Simmental cattle that was butter-tender.

The wine list, which has some well-chosen Swiss wines, also has a bevy of French offerings, including wines from Reybier’s own vineyards. These include wines from his famed vineyards in Cos d’Estournel. Ortolani has already has 15/20 Gault Millau points and, one suspects, must be on a short list for recognition from Michelin.

The return of the Eden au Lac is something to celebrate. It’s a highly sophisticated hotel aimed at a knowing international crowd and the perfect lair for a couple of nights before you embark on your explorations of Switzerland.

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