It is rare to find the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘luxurious’ in one sentence. The stereotype of luxury is that it wastes resources, throws tons of food and spoils beautiful natural landscapes. In most cases this image is true, but not in Switzerland, one of the richest countries in the world. A look at few Swiss hotels and famous tourist destinations reveals that the balance between sustainability and luxury, between man and nature, is possible.
I arrive at the historic Schloss Wartegg Bio-Schlosshotel a little bit before midnight. Entering the room, I dump the two heavy suitcases on the floor and hurry to check my smartphone. For my surprise, there is no Wi-Fi, not a single network… I keep trying but even my laptop can’t find anything. My hands start to shake. How will I cope without the Internet?
Then I look through the window from where the full moon smiles at me, reflected by lake Constance’s calm waves that are scattering its light further, somewhere between Germany and Austria. Together with the silence of the night and the herb-scented air in the quiet Rorschacherberg town, they bring me back to my natural state of being, that of a human who is part of this earth and the water. I finally find a network with a strong signal. I can finally connect, but not with the Internet. I connect with nature. Then, of course, I discover the LAN cable in the room.
‘We’re not doing this to make our guests feel bad.’ – Christoph, the hotel owner tells me the next day. ‘Our aim is to preserve the unique atmosphere of this place and to help our guests detoxify from the electromagnetic pollution they are subjected to every day.’
It takes me a day and a half to adapt to the digital detox and serenity. It is hard to fall asleep without the noise of cars, nearby flying airplanes, without the midnight Facebook chats. I even miss the garbage truck’s roar that usually wakes me every morning at home. Now it is still dark when I wake up. Birds are singing and I am overcharged with energy that makes me want to go outside, to run. The absence of Wi-Fi actually inspires me. It is the only way for me to really see and appreciate the living, breathing and moving panoramic picture in front of my eyes during the day – ten acres of protected park, raising on top of the hill above Bondsee lake. The castle management tells me that there are newborn lambs in the park and that I might see them if I’m lucky.
More than organic
In the summer, half of the restaurant’s products come from its own organic garden. If something can’t be grown there it is bought from selected farmers from the area. Building a network of local partners is a policy of many Swiss hotels. This is how they save resources for transportation and support the regional and national economy.
But the vegetables and the herbs at Wartegg’s garden are more than organic. They are demeter – grown according to biodynamic agriculture’s principles. A specially trained gardener plants, waters and harvests the plants according to the moon cycles, considering the garden’s ecosystem. It is an autonomous and self-sustaining organism and when working with it the gardener must mind its individuality, rhythm and character. He must cultivate seeds, not compost outlandish plants and give more than he takes from the soil.
For dinner, I try amuse-bouche with artichoke and quark foam for an appetizer, a pleasure for the taste buds, and fresh ravioli with some rare vegetables and herbs, old sorts that the castle’s gardener has recultivated. Maybe I’m imagining, but Wartegg’s food energizes me like a cup of evening coffee. My digital detox is complemented by the healthy food of which there is only one side effect – I can’t fall asleep from all this energy.
A car-free destination
The serene atmosphere blends into an eight-hour scenic journey through the Swiss Alps with the slowest and perhaps the cleanest express in the world. The Glacier Express takes me through a rocky picture with evergreen hills that change into eye-blinding snowy mountains touching the sunny sky. I regret forgetting my sunglasses. Final stop: Zermatt village.
Everybody who comes here with a car has to leave it in the nearby town Tasch and get the train. Motorized transportation is forbidden in Zermatt. ETaxis and eBuses are maneuvering around the pedestrians who walk on the car-free streets with great confidence. Thinking I can find my way to the hotel, I choose to walk too. But I am immediately stopped by a Swiss couple driving an electric car who tell me the distance is too much, especially when I have to pull a massive suitcase so they order me to jump in their vehicle. I sit at the back with my luggage between my legs, firmly holding onto a metal bar as the tiny electric car loudly goes uphill. Its sound reminds me of cow lowing. The first electric bus appears in 1947 in Zermatt to replace horse carriages. Cars were never a means of transport and today the benefits of this are pristine mountain air and quiet movement.
The self-sustaining village is a great example of successfully developed eco and winter tourism. Zermatt has been awarded the most sustainable winter destination in Switzerland, two years in a row. This award evaluates the efforts for wastewater management, recycling, energy efficiency, clean air and resource saving technologies. Mindfulness, natural to local hoteliers.
Centuries-old family business traditions help Swiss tourism’s development. I’m in the most famous ski destination in Switzerland, in the richest country in the world and yet there is no megalomania, outrageously expensive cars or showing off. What is clearly visible is locals’ eco mindset and the human-nature balance they have created. High profits at all cost are not the goal here. The coziness and preserving culture and traditions have higher priority. I wonder when will other developed countries catch up with Zermatt… in 1947? Swiss nature doesn’t need to be saved from people’s actions.
I arrive at the family hotel Matterhorn-Focus where I am greeted by otherworldly designer luxury. Its owner Chris invites me for a cup of cappuccino and tells me how the hotel’s aim is to create a nice and informal atmosphere for its guests. As we chat, I notice how he makes efforts to greet and smile at every single person who is passing by and it is clear that this attitude comes from his heart. ‘All our rooms are full and more than half of our guests come back,’ he shares with me and I feel like I already know why this is true.
Dear Miss Pelova
Welcome to the hotel Matterhorn-Focus. We wish you a pleasant stay in Zermatt and all the best.
Family Noti & Patrizi Gosser
A hand-written card is put on my table, next to a bowl full of fruits and Swiss chocolate – a small, but respectful gesture that touches me. The rooms’ interior reminds me of Herbert Wells’ ‘Time Machine’ story. After the 8-hour journey, the spa is a real delight which also impresses with its unique design. I really enjoy swimming in the hot open-air pool in the evening while looking at the stars.
The next morning, I wake up before sunrise and it is worth it – the soaring sun illuminates half of the Matterhorn while the other side of the mountain and the village is still in the calm shadow of the morning darkness. As I have a Nespresso coffee machine in the room, I don’t have to wait for the breakfast buffet. I take my cup and a blanket and sit on the balcony to enjoy the gorgeous iconic mountain cone. It is as if the ‘time machine’ has taken me to a different world.
A natural heating system
Part of Matterhorn-Focus’ building is built into the ground. ‘This preserves the authentic landscape of the field. When part of the building is built into a mountain or hill, it is much more environmental friendly and it doesn’t harm the vegetation around it,’ comments Ivan Velkov, a financial and insulation expert. Energy efficiency improves significantly when the building is naturally surrounded by land mass. The temperature is regulated much better because only a part of the hotel must be cooled or heated when necessary. Natural materials like wood, glass and metal, of which the Matterhorn-Focus hotel is built, make the movement of heath maximally economic. Of course, I am not surprised when the hotel owner Chris explains that only local materials have been used when building the hotel. I love exploring Matterhorn-Focus which is how I find the Skylight room where guests can rest inside the mountain while looking at the night sky.
Before leaving Zermatt, I fill my lungs with mountain air, wishing I could preserve this purity in a jar and take it with me to Zurich. I image the biggest city in Switzerland as a dirty, overcrowded and boring place but it turns out this perception is wrong. ‘Zuri’, as locals call it, is almost as clean as Zermatt.
‘Zuri’ and its cleanliness
‘Limmat’s water is drinking quality’ – I don’t believe this statement. How can this river be clean when it passes through a city where nearly half million people live? There will always be someone to throw garbage in it. But no, these things don’t happen in Switzerland, even in its biggest city. Gorgeous swans are swimming in the Limmat, demonstrating superiority with their slow elegant movements. The is super clear.
In summer, ‘the water city’ turns into a giant water park with many sunbathing facilities. Floating in the river, drinking beer or swimming is how locals relax and refresh themselves. At night, these bathing facilities are transformed into bars, inviting visitors to concerts, movie projections or culinary evening cocktails. There is also no need to buy bottled water in Zurich as nearly thousands of springs are scattered around the city.
‘Zuri’ seems to offer a great work-life balance but it also has a strong vision for the future. Green City, a project in South Zurich, aims to be the most sustainable neighborhood in all Switzerland. Its idea is to offer a better quality of life near nature, in an urban environment. The project sets new standards for energy efficiency and sustainability called ‘the 2000-watt society’, 100% powered by renewable sources and its own hydroelectric station.
The eco team
Sustainable solutions complement Storchen hotel’s luxury, my next destination. Regula, its sales manager, greets me with a glass of champagne and tells me about the good practices of this family-owned business. ‘We were the first hotel in Zurich that became green and started to think this way,’ she tells me. The four-star hotel has a charger for electric cars, its tabs save 30% water, documentation is managed electronically or on recycled paper, waste is sorted and food left overs are turned into biogas. But the hotel makes sure that these sustainable solutions don’t affect guests’ comfort.
A digital ad inside the lift invites me to try the restaurant’s vegan menu as it is healthy and ecological. But in general, the hotel’s restaurant uses regional products when preparing food, whenever possible. As I enter the room, I find a cute stork toy on my bed with a note on it, asking me to leave it in bed if I don’t want my sheets to be changed every night, which saves water resources.
Such innovative solutions are discussed by a team of 6 staff members who work in different departments. Their additional responsibility is to take care of environmental problems. These forward-thinkers meet every 3 months and have to report their decisions to all colleagues who undergo special training in regards to sustainability.
‘Here only the very best is done to ensure that our special place stays as nice as it is in the next 650 years,’ states Storchen’s sustainability page.
From food waste to biogas
Regula shows me the restaurant’s Bio-Transsystem that produces environmentally friendly energy from food waste. If I haven’t seen it, I would have never thought that such high-class restaurant would care about this problem. The Bio-Transsystem looks like a giant metal blender connected by pipes to several massive plastic drums in the basement where the mixture goes. When I ask how they use this energy Regula replies that they don’t. ‘We don’t gain anything from this system. We actually pay a company to come and take the mixture.’ This company doesn’t even have to enter the hotel – its employees use a small hole outside the hotel’s building. All with comfort in mind.
I notice a similar trend in all three hotels – more actions and fewer words. They give a new meaning of luxury. It is not just about great comfort and service but also about respecting our environment of which we are guests.
The article is also published in Bulgarian by Magazine EIGHT.