The hotel in 3855 Brienz, Switzerland.
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Article by Jacqueline Perry-Strickland, travel photojournalist, added on September 27, 2004
route of St James, crossing Germany, Switzerland, France and ending in
Santiago de Compostela in Spain has long carried pilgrims across the length of
Europe. Through Switzerland there are two routes, one sweeping north
through Lucerne, the other wending south through the Bernese Oberland. Along
Jakobsweg, as the route is known in Switzerland, I made a pilgrimage of my own
sort – to a bygone era.
Jakobsweg takes you to the 500-metre high Giessbach falls and departing
slightly from the track you come across the Grandhotel Giessbach overlooking
Lake Brienz. This majestic edifice in the heart of Switzerland is a
reminder of days of yore when hotels were statements and not functional
Nestled in the rising mountains, Giessbach sits in harmony with the
surrounding meadows and forest. Upon arrival, relaxation greets you as
you breathe the crisp alpine air, take in the sweeping vista of the turquoise
lake, and hear the tumbling sounds of the nearby cascades.
Grandhotel Giessbach’s history dates back to 1832 when it started life as a
small hotel-restaurant, “Gasthaus Giessbach”, and served visitors coming
to admire the waterfall. Subsequently it changed hands three times with
each new owner pulling it down to construct a grander hotel.
In the 1870s the Hauser family took over and constructed the palatial
five-storey hotel we recognise today. Giessbach then entered its golden
era, frequented by royalty and aristocrats, statesmen and business tycoons,
industrialists and financiers.
Philosophers came to contemplate. Poets came to wax lyrical. Artists came seeking to capture its essence. Others came just to
languish in the verdant surrounds – as we do today.
When threatened with demolition in the late 1970s after a long period of
unfortunate neglect, friends and admirers banded together to find a saviour
for the “Dream Castle by Lake Brienz”. This saviour came
in the form of the Swiss environmentalist campaigner, Franz Weber, together
with his wife Judith, and his environmental protection organisation,
With the help of funds from his fellow countrymen and an interest-free
mortgage from the town of Brienz and the Canton of Berne, Weber managed to buy
the whole property. He then set about founding a shareholder’s company
to finance the restoration of Giessbach to its former glory.
Its splendid renaissance complete, doors re-opened in 1984. Chandeliers,
oil paintings and antiques abound keeping alive the hotel’s old-world charm.
from April to October, Giessbach tantalises guests of all ages with its season
of social and cultural events. Balls, concerts and exhibitions are
constantly held creating an ambience of evening gaiety.
Set on a 22-hectare estate, Giessbach offers 70 rooms and suites along with
ballrooms, conference rooms and banquet rooms. Step outside to the
gardens and terraces and let the children loose in the playground while you
take a dip in the open-air swimming pool or play a spot of tennis. Dogs
are also welcome and a small surcharge gets them a spot in your room and a
In the two restaurants Franz Weber’s environmentalist sensibilities are
felt. The fish comes from local lakes; the meat from animals raised and
killed humanely; and, for ethical reasons, no frog legs, foie gras or caviar
Languish over dinner, an astronomical delight, before sampling the buffet of
desserts and cheeses. Pleasantly sated you can now repair to the parlour
to sip cognac by the fire or browse through books in the library. When
sleeps calls your lullaby will be the sound of the ever-gushing falls.
Enamoured with the cascades, my travel companion, Heinrich, sat outside with
watercolours trying to capture their majesty for posterity, much like the
Swiss master painters of yore.
The ‘Kunstverlag Brienz’ houses these paintings, Brienz being accessible
by foot or funicular then ferry. To continue the olde worlde theme, take
Europe’s oldest funicular railway down from Giessbach and then hop on board
the Lötschberg steamboat for a trip across Lake Brienz.
A short bus ride from Brienz is the ‘Ballenberg Open-Air Museum’. It
offers a showcase of Swiss architecture and crafts in its collection of
well-preserved traditional houses from all over Switzerland – much like the
Grandhotel Giessbach offers a showcase of history, grandeur and time-honoured
your hotel in Switzerland online.
View of the hotel. Photo © Jacqueline Perry-Strickland.
Grandhotel Giessbach, Brienz,
Switzerland. Photo © Jacqueline Perry-Strickland.
The lobby. Photo © Jacqueline Perry-Strickland.
Photo © Jacqueline Perry-Strickland.
Giessbach Falls. Photo © Jacqueline Perry-Strickland.