The Mandarin Oriental Palace Luzern Restores Life To One Of Switzerland’s Most Celebrated Hotels

By Anwer Bati

3 weeks ago

With magnificent lake views and spacious Belle Epoque rooms, the Mandarin Oriental Palace Luzern is the perfect Swiss escape


Lake Lucerne, surrounded by imposing mountains, has to be the most beautiful and dramatic of all the lakes in Switzerland. And the city of Lucerne, with plenty to see and do, is one of the most appealing in the country. It’s also home to some of Switzerland’s finest hotels – including the Mandarin Oriental Palace Luzern.

Led by the British, tourism in Switzerland began to take off by the mid-19th century, but such was local embarrassment over the state of the marshy lake that the first hotels in Lucerne faced the town and not the water, with the idea – ridiculous as it seems today – that it was best hidden from view. Luckily, by the 20th century, following visits from dignitaries such as Queen Victoria, things were put right and a string of hotels catering for the well-heeled opened on its shores. The grandest was the Palace Hotel, designed in Belle Epoque style, and opened by Franz Josef Bucher in 1906. Family-owned for generations, it changed hands several times before closing down a decade ago. Eventually, after a major three-year overhaul, it reopened as the Mandarin Oriental Palace in late 2022, under the ownership of Hong Kong-born entrepreneur Peter Yip.

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Hotel Review: Mandarin Oriental Palace Luzern

The exterior of the Mandarin Oriental Palace Luzern

STAY

The Mandarin Oriental’s location is as good as it gets in Lucerne itself: you can almost dip your hand in the lake from your terrace, if you’re lucky enough to have one. But even if you don’t, happily most of the 136 spacious rooms and suites, among the biggest in the city, have a lake view – taking in Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus. The terraces are large enough for loungers, a table and chairs; and you can also sit out on the many balconies to admire the view.

Franz Josep Bucher’s original vision was to build the sort of luxe retreat found in Mediterranean resorts, and the sensitive refurbishment – by local architects Iwan Büler with British interior designers Jestico + Whiles –  also bring hints of Mediterranean flair to the rooms and public areas, at the same time retaining many Belle Epoque features. The rooms are decorated in pale, restful colours, with a central circular brass chandelier, along with more traditional wall panelling and ceiling mouldings; the floors are oak parquet with large cream textured rugs. The comfortable and stylish furniture is distinctly modern, from Italian firm Molteni.  To reflect the brand’s eastern origins, there are also subtle Asian craft influences, like in the wardrobe handles, for instance. And there are typical high end Mandarin Oriental features such as Dyson hair dryers, Bose sound systems, Diptyque amenities in the bathroom and helpful extras such as scissors, lens cleaners, extenders for the bed-side tables and tidies for your charging cables.

A bedroom with a wraparound terrace

Today, the original grand street entrance is no longer viable, so you enter from the side to get to the bright high-ceilinged modern lobby with its huge circular chandelier and views of the lake. But, beyond it, several old features have been kept, and the feeling is of surprising intimacy, enhanced by arched wooden doorways, and the artworks (both modern and from the original hotel collection) many featuring the lake, dotted around.

There’s no pool (though you can swim nearby in the lake), but there’s a small Bellefontaine spa with two treatment rooms, as well as an exercise room.

A bedroom with a lake view

EAT

The Mandarin Oriental Palace Luzern has four restaurants, so there’s no shortage of choice. They’re under the control of Israeli-born executive chef Gilad Peled, a protégé of Gordon Ramsay, who was previously at Ramsay’s two Michelin star restaurant in Bordeaux. His Colonnade restaurant at the hotel has already gained a star for its modern French haute cuisine in an ornate lake view room, with marble floors and columns and art nouveau ceiling lights.

For all-day dining, including breakfast, there’s the MOzern brasserie, once the grand entrance hall of the hotel and still full of Belle Epoque style, all centred around the circular bar. There’s an international choice, with an emphasis on Asian fusion. MOzern is also the place for afternoon tea, ideally taken in the veranda (with its view) leading off it.

A spacious Belle Epoque dining room at the Mandarin Oriental Palace Luzern

Colonnade

Minamo, the hotel’s Japanese omakase restaurant – where the menu is in the hands of the chef and dishes are prepared in front of you – is intimate, seating only eight people in a calm, low-key space.

For al fresco dining or drinking on warm days, there’s Quai 10 on a terrace at lake level, serving a Mediterranean menu with tempting offerings from the grill.

A small omakase restaurant

Minamo

DO

Lucerne’s a lively city with several attractions, and a short walk from the Mandarin Oriental Palace Luzern will take you to the landmark twin-towered Catholic Hofkirche. Built in 1633, in the luminous interior, simple architecture is augmented by a highly decorated baroque altar. It’s close to the Lion Monument, a dying lion carved out of rock to commemorate Swiss soldiers massacred in Paris during the French Revolution.

On the way to the pedestrianised part of the old town – with some fine buildings, including the Renaissance Town Hall – you’ll find fountains where the water is so pure (pumped down from Mount Pilatus) that people fill up their bottles from it. And don’t miss a walk along the famous wooden Kapellbrücke, the oldest covered bridge in Europe, once part of the city’s defences, joining the shores of the old town. Built in 1333, it largely burned down in 1993 but was quickly rebuilt. In the distance is the hill of Gütsch, where Queen Victoria stayed on her visit to Lucerne in 1868. It also provided JMW Turner, who visited no fewer than five times in the early 19th century, with a vantage point from which to paint the town.

Chapel Bridge & Water Tower, Luzern

Chapel Bridge & Water Tower, Lucerne. © Elmar Bossard/Luzern Tourismus

Lovers of modern art shouldn’t miss the Rosengart collection, a museum housing the astonishing personal collection of dealer Angela Rosengart in a grand old bank building. The collection consists of over 300 works, particularly by Picasso (who drew her five times) and Paul Klee, but also Matisse, Chagall (a friend of the family), Cezanne, Bonnard and many other major names. It’s not well known outside of Switzerland, but must be one of the finest private collections of modern art in the world, now gifted to the city.

The first proper hotel in Lucerne with a view was the Schwanen, built in 1835, where Turner stayed and painted, and is now the pleasant Café de Ville, serving simple, well-prepared dishes. You can still see the views that inspired Turner from the main room and the outdoor terrace. Turner was particularly inspired by Mount Rigi, a shape not overshadowed by other mountains, and the way it appears to change colour during the day. He painted three versions of it, as well as many sketches.

Lake view from a terrace at Mandarin Oriental Palace Luzern

So what better than to take to the water on a ferry (some boats serve a decent lunch) from in front of the station to the mountain? Even just for a round trip. Getting to Vitznau, at the foot of Mount Rigi, the only way up (unless you want to walk) is to take the waiting cogwheel railway, the first of its type, completed in 1873. The view at the top, from almost 6,000 ft high, is staggering, offering a panorama of many of the lake’s communities and the mighty Alps. There are cafes at the top and along the way, and several restaurants by the lake at the bottom. The fare on both the boat and train is included in the Swiss Travel Pass, and also in the free local transport pass, available from hotels.

Lucerne is also home to the country’s most visited attraction, a hit with children, the Swiss Museum of Transportation, featuring not only the history of transport, but also a planetarium, screenings, a history of chocolate and plenty of interactive displays and simulators. You might also like to visit the KKL cultural centre (by the ferry terminal) designed by French starchitect Jean Nouvel, the venue for concerts of all types and the occasional art exhibition.

The lobby at the Mandarin Oriental Palace Luzern

Lobby

THE FINAL WORD

The Mandarin Oriental Palace Luzern refurbishment has brought life back to one of Switzerland’s most celebrated hotels. It offers magnificent views of the lake and mountains from most of its extremely comfortable and well-appointed rooms. It’s also conveniently placed for exploring Lucerne.

BOOK IT

Double rooms with breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental Palace Luzern start at £695. mandarinoriental.com

A Swiss Travel Pass, available from the Swiss railway (SBB) website allows unlimited travel on public transport (including boats, trains and cable cars) and free or reduced entry to museums. sbb.ch

Anwer was travelling in Lucerne when this review was conducted.