Rooms with a Story: A Grand Swiss Hotel Brings History to Life

Beverly Stephen checks into the Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern

The buffet breakfast at Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern.

The Plaza has its Eloise and the Stanley of The Shining fame its haunted room 418, but at the Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern, every key has a story. Crowned heads, rock stars, political heavyweights, literary geniuses, and classical composers are among the greats who have populated its 101 rooms over its 175-year history. The signatures of the famous guests are inscribed on the bathroom wall of “their” room.

We were booked in the Schweizerhof’s Queen Elizabeth suite and I was looking forward to being queen for a day or so while my royal consort and I immersed ourselves in the charms of historical Lucerne.

As soon as we emerged from the train station, we could see the imposing structure of the grand Hotel Schweizerhof across the lake. The queen probably would have arrived in some kind of royal carriage or at least a limo but we simply walked across the bridge rolling our carry-ons.

Nevertheless, we were graciously received at the hotel and relieved of our luggage. The guest elevator is small, no need to crowd it with luggage. Winston Churchill, who stayed at the hotel in 1893 when he was a young man, enthusiastically praised the modern conveniences of the hotel in a letter to his father, writing, “The Schweizerhof is a magnificent hotel — lifts, electric lighting, fireworks every Saturday.”

These days every hotel has a “lift” but apparently it was easier to maintain the configuration of this charming old-fashioned elevator with a seat when the hotel was completely renovated in 2014. All the guest rooms were refurbished with beautiful up to date bathrooms, furnishings, lighting, wi-fi, etc. But the smartest addition was bringing its colorful history to life.

I was soon engrossed in the coffee table book placed on my writing desk that detailed the hotel’s history. The pages are cleverly addressed to the famous personages who have filled its guest roster. Could I possibly describe the sweeping view of Lake Lucerne as eloquently as Tolstoy who was “dazzled and overwhelmed by the beauty of the sheet of water, of the mountains, and of the sky” when on his visit in 1857, he threw open the window of his room 025.

Out my window to the left, far in the distance was the Rigi which so entranced the great landscape painter JMW Turner (not a Schweitzerhof guest) that he painted it more than 30 times. His Blue Rigi is prominently displayed in the Tate in London and was said to have been responsible for a surge in English tourism in the mid-19th century. Straight ahead, paddle wheel steamers were plying the lake just as they had since the 1800s and Mount Pilatus beckoned in the distance. “A trip on that lake is almost the perfection of pleasure,” remarked another famous Schweizerhof guest, Mark Twain (Room 125, 1878), who seems to have slept in more places than George Washington. To the right lay the old town and its famous 14th century covered Chapel Bridge, the oldest wooden bridge in Europe (though much of it was destroyed by a fire in 1993, it has been carefully restored).

I ventured out, eager to see the Saturday farmers market spread out along the banks of the Reuss River. Sweet, succulent strawberries were the seasonal star that warm June day. White asparagus was also vying for attention and the profusion of sunflowers would have held Van Gogh’s attention. Local cheeses and smoked meats gave the market its sense of place.

Later in the day, the market is replaced by a profusion of outdoor dining options serving rather unremarkable local specialties at remarkable prices that make New York look like a bargain. Nevertheless, their waterside location is charming as is the entire old town with its cobblestone streets and historical architecture.

Not to be missed is the baroque Jesuit Church with its dramatic gilded interior. We stumbled upon a noon time organ concert there that enlivened its splendor. Another must see is the Sammlung Rosengart Museum which houses an astonishing private collection of 100 Picassos as well as numerous works by Matisse and Klee.


Just steps from the hotel is the shop of the acclaimed artisanal chocolatier MAX. How could I resist? My son’s name is Max.