To stay at the Grand Hotel National, which opened in 1870, is to sense the omnipresent aura of a bygone glamorous era. Ever since that time, the facade on the lakeside promenade has maintained a captivating presence with its princely Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance architecture, whose reflections in the water leave the guest with lasting impressions.
From the outset, the new Grand Hotel was considered a jewel of Lucerne. It was built at the right moment: Midway through the 19th century, tourism was emerging and the town became an attractive travel destination, especially for the French nobility, Russian aristocracy and British upper class. But their arrival presented the local hospitality sector, unused to such a sophisticated clientele, with a problem. Hoteliers responded by creating an exclusive, discreet world, a microcosm of luxury catering to guests with expectations that were far higher even than what they might expect back home.
Colonel Maximilian Pfyffer von Altishofen took on the mantle of director of the Grand Hotel National in 1870. Brought up in a castle, the renowned commander knew what his distinguished guests wanted. Seven years later, César Ritz took over the running of the hotel, thus laying the foundation for its traditional, stylish culture of hospitality. Hailing from Niederwald in Switzerland's Upper Rhone region in Canton Valais, Ritz, a natural-born hotelier, later also ran the first Hotel Ritz in Paris with triumphant success. Honored as the "King of Hoteliers" by the Prince of Wales (the future British King Edward VII), the grand seigneur of good taste cultivated an elegant culture of hospitality in Lucerne that still serves as an exemplar today.
In 1881 another master arrived to boost the renown of the Grand Hotel National. French celebrity chef Auguste Escoffier devotedly pampered the discerning – or fussy – palates of the aristocracy, from senior members of the German imperial family to Indian maharajas – not forgetting Sissy, Empress Elisabeth of Austria. By way of special treats, he regularly presented guests with a selection of his world-famous signature dishes such as Lobster Thermidor, Poultry à la Derby, and Pear Belle Helene.
"The perfection of the craft must be paired with simplicity": That was the revolutionary motto of the two top restaurateurs. For César Ritz, it meant doing away with bombastic curtains and overly courteous greetings and bringing in light colors, floral decorations, and attentive, personal service that made guests "friends of the house".
Almost a century later, 1976 saw the architect Umberto Erculiani acquire the Grand Hotel National. Over the years and paying close attention to detail, he has subjected the establishment to extensive renovations. Among other things, 22 exclusive residences were created in the west wing for long-term tenants.
Today, the Grand Hotel National presents itself as a busy 5-star city hotel with 41 guest rooms and suites. In addition to the aforementioned residences, it houses state-of-the-art office space, six restaurants & bars, two ballrooms, meeting rooms and a pool floor with sauna.
New cosmopolitan guests enliven the grandiose setting and inject fresh grandeur into the establishment. Once a guest senses the connection between legendary tradition and sophisticated modernity, he or she is hooked!
Elisabeth Erculiani Tanner was the strong woman in the background, who watched her husband's back and raised their two sons, Umberto and Raimondo.