Staying in Style

By Lydia Itoi

Food writer Lydia Itoi enjoys a weekend getaway at two top-end Swiss hotels.

Relais & Chateaux properties are never in the budget travel category, but they are almost always exceptionally charming, unique places with a high standard of comfort and service. If you are going to splurge, it's hard to do better.

L'Hermitage de Bernard Ravet

This beautifully appointed small restaurant/hotel, located in the shadow of the imposing private château of Vufflens among acres of vineyards, was our favorite stay. The main building is a 16th-century winery, where we were warmly welcomed. The atmosphere was more old-world inn than modern hotel, but without the kitsch. It's a family affair, run by Bernard and Ruth Ravet and their three children, Ruth, Isabelle, and Guy.

There are six rooms and three suites, tastefully decorated in country-chic reds and golds. We had reserved a regular room for CHF 450, but they gave us a courtesy upgrade to a suite with high-beamed, vaulted ceilings and a view overlooking the tranquil duck pond. The room was furnished with antiques, including a doll-filled vintage baby carriage and an old picnic table. The bathroom had a tiled shower and a rather old-fashioned toilet, all charmingly appointed for a weekend in the country. But for die-hard road warriors, the hotel is also equipped with wireless Internet access throughout. Rooms are non-smoking, but there is a cigar lounge.

L'Hermitage specializes in serving as a base camp for outdoorsy fun-hiking, biking, sailing, fishing, hunting, water skiing, even polo. There is a children's program available, and a golf course eight miles away. However, in February, only eating and chilling out sounded appealing, although we did take a walk through the vineyards and the village. (The impressive château is a private residence, but it can be enjoyed from the outside.) A fire was blazing in the old stone fireplace, and comfortable chairs and a well-stocked humidor invited us to linger. A small bodega in the reception offers treats from the highly regarded kitchen as well as the award-winning house wines.

Unfortunately, we were only able to put the kitchen through its paces for breakfast. It's a cozy affair, served fireside in the tearoom lounge. There were about 20 tiny bowls filled with a mini smorgasbord of fruits, cereals, and yogurts, as well as slices of artisanal charcuterie and a selection of local cheeses. The restaurant has two Michelin stars and consistently places at the top of the "Top 100" list of best restaurants in Switzerland, so we'll be sure to grab a bite there next time.

Contact: L'Hermitage de Bernard Ravet Route du Village, 26 Vufflens-le-Chateau, tel. +41 (0) 21 804 68 68, fax 802 22 40, closed Sunday and Monday and three weeks at Christmas.
Daily Rates: Doubles CHF 450
Rating: Quality 17/20, Value 17/20

Auberge du Raisin

Auberge du Raisin is another well-appointed Relais & Chateau restaurant/hotel where we missed the eats but enjoyed the sleep. Located in the heart of the lakeside resort town of Cully, between Lausanne and Vevey and 44 miles from Geneva airport, it was our base while visiting Pont de Brent. Unofficial hotel parking is in the main square. We were instructed to put the hotel brochure on the dashboard and hope for the best, since the local cops usually don't ticket hotel guests. A refreshingly laid-back attitude for Switzerland, we thought.

Inside, the décor is classical elegance verging on the formal for a provincial inn, all creams and blond woods and paneled ceilings hung with chandeliers. Service was again friendly and welcoming, extending even to pets. The main surprise was that no room in the hotel seems to have a view of the lake, even though it is only a few steps away. (There is a building in between, blocking the view.) Since it directly fronts the main square of this small but rather elegant town, the setting does not feel like a country inn.

There are seven rooms for CHF 350 and two suites at CHF 490-580, which includes a hearty breakfast. Each room is different, named for the famous people that have patronized the inn over the years. Ours was a spacious corner room with a large, airy white bathroom with a large bathtub. High windows with stately lace curtains overlooked the main street, and there was plenty of space for a comfortable cream-colored sofa and chairs. The queen-sized bed was luxuriously furnished with a heavy tapestry duvet. Some rooms have beamed ceilings and fireplaces, so it pays to ask to view the rooms while checking in. Modem connections, concierge, and babysitting services are available.

In addition to summer outdoor activities, the hotel offers cooking classes with chef Adolfo Blokbergen. The restaurant is on the ground floor directly off the reception and is known for its classic cuisine and good wine list featuring both French and rare local vintages. Menu prices range from CHF 89-198.

A lavish breakfast is included and was served in the cheerful rear dining room at large round tables overlooking a small terrace patio. We were checking out early to drive to the airport, but they whipped up plates of eggs, cheese and country sausages, pastries and jam as well as coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice right away. There was also a warm bowl of rustic muesli and dried fruit to ward off the chill. This was the perfect send-off after a marathon gourmet weekend in the Vaud.

Contact: Auberge du Raisin Place de l'Hotel-de-Ville 1, CH-1096 Cully, tel. +41 (0)21 799 21 31, fax 799 25 01, open all year.
Daily Rates: Doubles CHF 350, suites CHF 89=198
Ratings: Quality 16/20, Value

Information current as of February 2006