History from Belvédère Strandhotel & Restaurant
The building contract between the contractor, Franz Stüttgen, and the construction company, B. Tonazzi from Spiez, is signed in the presence of a lawyer. The construction company is commissioned to build the Belvédère guesthouse along with a number of adjacent buildings for the sum of CHF 160,000. The building takes place in the Bernese Oberland’s glory days when long-neglected work to improve road connections proceeds apace and rail links, such as the Lötschberg tunnel, are opened and hailed as the construction project of the century. Spiez becomes urbane and is known as the ‘Lake Thun Riviera’; the climate has always been quite mild and Mediterranean. The hotel is one of a number to be constructed in Spiez, starting with the Schonegg hotel in 1856. Without doubt, the biggest boost to tourism and the town’s development was the opening of the railway in 1893. Between 1905 and 1961 a tram operated between the bay and the station, helping guests to comfortably overcome the considerable difference in height.
1907 – 1908
The 6-storey building is erected in just over a year, an incredible feat considering the means available to build 4 storeys in stone (which would later prove to be an advantage) and 2 storeys in wood. Great importance was placed on quality and during the complete renovation in 2012 we found a hand-written document stating that as of February 1908, smoking was forbidden everywhere in the building by order of the owner on pain of a fine representing a week’s wages.
Mister Franz Stüttgen recognises the potential of the up-and-coming region and adapts to the predominantly Bernese society, where the French language was the measure of all things. He therefore names the hotel which opens in June 1908 ‘Belvédère & Beau Rivage’, both names inspired by its breath-taking location.
Mister Stüttgen recognises that guests have to be offered something special and invests in upgrading the hotel. In 1910 a tennis court is built (later removed in favour of the tennis court in the bay), the hotel acquires its own rowing boats and guests are able to indulge in lake fishing.
Mister Stüttgen is full of ideas and plans to open a hotel school with his director, Mister Frey-Scherz, so that their own employees could be trained for the expected growth in the hotel and restaurant industry – a visionary view still relevant today.
Unfortunately, visionaries with great plans are often ahead of their time – and if the required means to implement these plans are not available, failure often follows, despite the good ideas. In 1912 Mister Stüttgen is forced to sell the hotel and withdraws altogether from the hotel business. The new buyers are the family Dorer-Baumer – they are to be the owners of the property for the next 35 years (more or less together with the bank).
1914 - 1918
After enjoying an initial wave of success, the Belvédère with 80 beds is one of the larger hotels at the time, the Dorer-Baumer family learn that business can be affected by events beyond anybody’s control. During the First World War guests are so scarce that the government even steps in to regulate the construction and renovation of hotels.
1925 to 1932
The economy recovers slowly after the war, compensating for the lean war years. This is beneficial for the hotel and restaurant business, but the challenge now is to immediately invest the newly generated funds into the business to satisfy the high expectations of the targeted international clientele.
A renowned hotel director sums up: “The public areas have to be refurbished, sumptuous carpets must cover the floors (a stroke of luck, as the wonderful parquet flooring in the Salon Rouge still looks fantastic after 105 years, as it has been hidden under carpet for some 60 years), the rooms must at least have running water”. The Dorer-Baumer family also invests in the hotel and at the same time keeping prices ‘moderate’ so as not to put off the few guests during the economic crisis. Hitler’s rise to power complicates the situation further still.
The start of the Second World War completely paralyses the tourism industry. The long term Swiss tenants who move their families from the border to the Bernese Oberland cannot compensate for the loss of business. Many establishments cannot cope with the pressure and traditional hotels such as the Schonegg and the Spiezerhof go bankrupt in the war years that follow. General Guisan, who is headquartered in Interlaken, is known to enjoy the walk between Spiez and Faulensee to reflect on matters in Switzerland. It is even rumoured that the inspiration for his ‘Réduit National’ strategy came to him on one such walk. Spiez, a source of strength by the water where he who seeks shall find!
The Dorer-Baumer family manage to survive to the end of the war. However, the banks also exert pressure on the Belvédère as well. The creditors are looking for a solution and find it in the shape of the Swiss Master Butchers Association which buys the Belvédère. They succumb to the hotel’s incredible location, solid construction and unparalleled charm. Other establishments built to a more inferior standard, such as the Schonegg Hotel and the Spiezerhof, are demolished. The Association repeatedly discusses the foundation of a technical college. For a long time such a college is not considered necessary as the young professionals travel to Germany to perfect their skills. After the Second World War this changes immediately, as there is a shortage of such colleges. Furthermore, knowledge, in particular relating to meat cuts, improves greatly and is now considered from the chef’s perspective and the relevant cooking method – a huge step which also leads many European professionals to Switzerland to learn about these new meat carving techniques.
More and more guests come from the towns to the country to enjoy good food and drink in lovely surroundings. One reason is the growing popularity of the automobile and another is a steady improvement in the economy after the war years. It is in this context that the current Salon Bleu is built in order to satisfy rising numbers of restaurant guests alongside the hotel guests. This room is often used for wedding celebrations – for which the Belvédère is still renowned to the present day. It is a piece of good fortune that the Association chose to employ Mr. and Mrs. Urben, who moved from the Hirschen Hotel in Gunten, as the new managers. They were to shape the image of the Belvédère for 28 years and guide it into its heyday.
This year sees the opening of the first industry-related technical college for the Swiss meat industry. The first courses are held in the Salon Belvédère, today’s smoking lounge and reading room. The course participants stay on the fourth floor. The system proves to be ingenious as guests fill the hotel in the summer months and the quieter months can be filled with courses.
Given its success, the college needs to expand and requires more space. In 1952 the training rooms are expanded and an extension is built at the front of the house below the main building (today’s spa area). The area available for training increases significantly and the hotel gains a very large terrace (today’s restaurant) between the Salon Bleu and the hotel’s side entrance. During the alterations a lift is also installed, making the Belvédère the first hotel to boast such a feature – again leading the way for other establishments in the region. The only downside is that extension and installation are carried out by ‘creative’ engineers who have to make do with the means at their disposal, resort to ‘innovative’ techniques with regard to statics, as we would discover during the complete renovation in 2012.
The spirit of Spiez receives its most important mission and helps the German national football team to achieve the miracle of Bern. It is a story we could probably write a number of books about. Even today the Belvédère is a pilgrimage destination for football enthusiasts and even today teams are actively looking for the support of the spirit – a source of energy for in many respects. In our jubilee booklet ‘100 years – the hotel with the personal touch’, the story is described in more detail. PS: Just like General Guisan, the head coach Sepp Herberger also received his good ideas on the walk from Spiez to Faulensee and the brilliant tactics were instilled into the players there as well. Spiez, a source of strength with lasting effect, in the past and for a long time to come.
Late 1950s and early 1960s
After a good 25 years without any major investment, the Belvédère begins to lose its charm. The Urben’s success and the demands of the guests mean that a thorough renovation of the hotel is in order if it is to regain its former splendour as a 4-star hotel. Bathrooms are gradually added to the rooms; work begins on the extension in 1963 and is completed in 1964. The technical college for butchers is established on the lower two floors and four double rooms are created on the third floor. These rooms, which are luxurious for the time, serve as honeymoon suites for decades. In the same year, the large terrace is roofed over (today’s restaurant) as the weather in Spiez can change very quickly and the Urbens no longer wish to carry on with the hectic clearing and setting of tables. As Jean Urben is an extremely talented chef and he is able to draw on a rich supply of meat, the newly opened ‘Restaurant français’ quickly becomes the best address for dining in the Bernese Oberland – an honour it retains to this today. In the early 1960s Jean Urben creates the motto of the house, still valid today: ‘Impeccable skills and professional enthusiasm bestow joy and pleasure on the guests staying at the Belvédère Strandhotel & Restaurant, which they will take with them on their way’, or as we say today ‘Your oasis of tranquillity – the hotel with the personal touch’. The great idea was to offer something unforgettable to the hotel’s international guests. This was the reason that a delegation of chefs from the world-renowned Semiramis Hotel in Cairo travelled to the Belvédère to cook for the select clientele during the summer months. Flowers and vegetables were grown in the gardens of the hotel (today’s technical ABZ college and parking area) and the meat could be chosen individually. In the 1960s, fillet steak Belvédère – a creation of H. Zbären, Belvédère head chef and a legend in his time was known far beyond cantonal and even the country’s borders.
The technical college is also a great success and an extension is actively discussed. First of all the influx of course participants has to be housed and an additional wing, which is still the accommodation block of the master butchers (completely renovated in 2007). As a result, the hotel has in excess of 100 beds, a perfect size at that time.
A great era comes to an end – the Urbens retire from the Belvédère after 28 years of total devotion and incredible achievement contributing greatly to the unparalleled reputation of the hotel.
1976 to 1980
As is often the case after a wave of success there follows a period of decline. Due to the oil crisis the Association delays the building of the new training centre as there is a lack of funding. The hotel is considered an adequate source of income and is leased for a generous sum to the hotelier Mr. Näpflin from central Switzerland. He wants to make the hotel the best in the area. Unfortunately the guests do not accept the massive price increases, and the rather artistic and very modern interpretation of French cuisine does not go down well after the traditional kitchen of Jean Urben. The high rent adds to the difficulties.
1980 to 1987
Mister Rupp tries his luck; a successful restaurateur from Bern operates the hotel only in the summer months with respectable success. Thanks to a small mishap (he forgot to drain the heating pipes in the winter and went on holiday) the whole restaurant was renovated. Unfortunately this was the only major investment in the hotel.
1987 to 1991
After no other tenant could be found, the Association contracts a young couple to manage the hotel. Two qualified professionals – Mr. and Mrs. Seiler. During their important early years, both earned their stripes in the large hotels of Switzerland. Mister Hansjörg Seiler, a qualified chef and a graduate of the Hotel Management School in Lausanne and Mrs. Rosemarie Seiler-Bigler, an assertive specialist in housekeeping and service, certified by the Belvoir Hotel in Zurich, revive the hotel’s fortunes in terms of quality of service – but virtually no new investment is made.
Commitment to the business and success can, however, also have a dark side and so it is that the couple part ways. Hansjörg Seiler manages the hotel as the sole lessee until 1994.
The Hotel Association threatens to revoke the hotel’s 4th star. Under massive financial pressure the hotel rooms are given a light refurbishment in order to maintain the hotel’s status.
The new technical college of the Swiss Association of Master Butchers opens its doors. It has taken 20 years from planning to reality (today’s ABZ).
1994 to 1997
No news of note. The hotel experiences great difficulties in all areas and attempts are made to keep it going using all possible means – without much success. The Association quickly learns that two houses also represent two cost centres and the financial attachment becomes more and more difficult, as the master butchers also experience change. Their training school is confronted with the fact that supermarket chains are beginning to open their own fresh meat sections. Butcher’s shops start to go out of business membership numbers dwindle.
A new beginning – fortunately the Belvédère finds its saviour in the form of Mister Walter Hauenstein, before a Belgian industrialist wanted to buy the hotel and create a private holiday residence for himself. The most essential investments are made during the winter 1997/1998 and an army of planners and experts take care of the hotel – or their own wallets?
A grand opening causes a stir in professional circles – however, the fanfare is short lived. At that time, Walter Hauenstein’s health is waning and he charges an external manager to look after his operations – fortunately a manager with a freelance contract who could be relieved of his duties as soon as the harm he had done was recognised.
Fresh start number two, but this time well founded and with experts who know their craft and who know what needs to be done. Mrs. Rosemarie Seiler-Bigler returns to her old place of work – she lives for this hotel and has a great desire to return it to its former glory. Mister Markus Schneider, the second member of the management team, enjoyed a classical, well-founded training. The two lead the hotel to respectable success with a great deal of dedication as if the hotel were their own.
1999 to 2005
The management team is repeatedly able to count on the goodwill of Mr. Walter Hauenstein and make important investments in the hotel. Unfortunately Mr. Walter Hauenstein dies in March 2005 and is unable to enjoy his Belvédère, which he acquired out of fondness, in its current splendour. He is and was the saviour of this hotel.
The development of the hotel continues. If earlier on the problem is to obtain the necessary funding for the much needed renovations, now it is a matter of struggling with the authorities and the envy of destructive people, the flipside of success. With an incredible amount of energy, work is undertaken in all directions so that the hotel can again shine in its current splendour. There is a concept behind it though. A basic plan, corresponding with the wishes of the current owner, Mr. Peter Hauenstein, was drafted by Markus Schneider in 2000. The aim was to create a hotel with the ideal balance between hotel rooms and restaurant capacity in connection with additional services such as spa and seminar facilities, which can operate independently without a patron.
After 4 ½ years of discussion and a lot of spent energy, the time has come. The big renovation starts on 31 October 2011 and is documented with over 3000 photos in the internet for all Belvédère fans.
In November the complete attic floor is dismantled and the hotel is enveloped in a shroud to enable the workers to continue their work in a target-oriented manner regardless of the weather. The first and second floors are completely stripped in December 2011. All piping from the ground floor upwards is replaced. The lift shaft is demolished so that it can be enlarged.
Construction work begins apace. Gradually the new 3rd and 4th floors with the mansard roof emerge. Despite ice cold weather, work carries on at full speed. The whole of the building is wrapped up and heated for the workers, as the schedule is very tight. At the end of February we finally receive the long awaited building permit for the extension of the spa facility. Without delay we rise to the challenge and also start with this conversion, knowing full well that there will be building delays.
In March it is hard to believe that only 4 months have passed since the start and already the upgrading work on the first and second floor is at an advanced stage. A big thank you has to be said to all the companies involved – this is incredible work! Shortly after Easter we open the restaurant, albeit as a weekend operation, but the Belvédère is back! At the end of April we can start using the first rooms, so that the impatient clients can discover the Belvédère, despite it still being a building site.
To run a hotel which is still partially a major building site requires military-style coordination, but that does not stop us from making a special effort and submitting ourselves to an audit with a view to obtaining ISO 9001 and 14001 certification in may, for the benefit and the added value of our guests. This enables us to recognise a number of issues during the building phase which have to be addressed.
The main building is complete in June and officially opened. Work is still on going in the spa area and restricts operations somewhat. The new lounge and terrace are well received by guests and frequented heavily – no wonder with this view. The outside infinity pool is flown in – a masterpiece of technology with a rimless overflow, so that guests have a clear view out over the bay and lake while swimming – what an experience!
The business takes off at a time during which the region certainly does not have to cope with a large influx of guests. We want to base the business on solid foundations, as it is not our aim to rush success, but to build it up from a solid base. In September the last contractors leave the hotel. Our lakefront has now also received its final touch, the wonderful Maggia granite – a real delight. The great moment has arrived - the delegation from the hotel association assesses the hotel’s qualities during an extensive audit. Thank you to all the people involved. We know that the efforts of recent months have taken their toll on everybody, and that without the singular and selfless support of Peter Hauenstein, such a project could never have been realised. With a score of 621 points, the required 570 points for a superior 4-star hotel are easily achieved. If we were to update our software, we could even run the Belvédère as a 5-star hotel, but it is not our style to exaggerate!
Guests as well as the trade press are convinced by the overall project. The way everything was handled, the great devotion of Peter Hauenstein, the explicit attention to detail allow the hotel to appear in a splendour reminiscent of the Belle Époque, without seeming like a retro hotel. All materials are of natural origins, the rooms have parquet flooring from smoked oak, the furniture is made to measure from smoked pear tree wood, the bathrooms shine in marble, stoneware and glass as well as precious wood. The beds are designed in line with orthopaedic research and are being used in the hotel business for the first time. The feedback from guests on the Flow Sleeping bed system is consistently superb. In addition to the wonderful elegance and the clear lines, all rooms are fitted with the latest technological gadgets fulfilling the high expectations of our guests.
Franz Stüttgen, the Dorer-Baumer family, Mr. and Mrs. Urben and everybody who has given their lifeblood to the Belvédère, would be proud to see the hotel in its current shape. Everyone has worked on it in one way or another so that everyone in Spiez and the Bernese Oberland can be proud of their Belvédère!
After 18 years Mr. Markus Schneider leaves the Belvédère to take up new challenges. Since then Mr. Bruno Affentranger and Mr. David Romanato guide together with the Belvédère Team the hotel to the future…