HOTEL DES BALANCES
JACKIE: We want to Talk about a gem of a hotel, but David will do most of the chat. I left for home after Paris, but still have much affection for the Hotel des Balances from memorable prior visits. Ah, we can’t always be everywhere … unless you are David.
DAVID: If location were its only advantage, Hotel des Balances in Lucerne, Switzerland would still be a real winner. Its front facade, decorated with paintings in the style of Hans Holbein, has sat in the heart of the Old Town since the year 1200. Its back (and my room) is right on the River Reuss, which flows into Lake Lucerne with the Rigi and the Pilatus Mountains beyond also in plain view, as are the hundreds of large white swans, the sea gulls, the famous Chapel Bridge, the Water Tower, and the splendid Jesuit Church. Since it became the Balances in 1807, the hotel has welcomed a host of celebrities including George Bernard Shaw, Princess Louise of Baden, Queen Wilhemine of the Netherlands, and your humble correspondent, myself. Having said all this, location is just the beginning of the story. Balances CEO Peter E. Busser and the young, talented staff insure a stay that earns every one of its four stars, and then some. Recently remodeled, the rooms are contemporary, bright, spotless, and the last word in comfort. Mine had two balconies overlooking all the landmarks I’ve mentioned, and an interior with huge gilt-framed mirrors, lots of space for clothes, a huge bed, and furnishings that could be welcomed in an art museum. Downstairs, one flight below reception, is the gourmet restaurant, domain of Chef Andreas Fluri, where I enjoyed daily breakfast and a memorable dinner – more about that later. There is also an adjoining bar and lounge where arriving guests may “spend” their complimentary cocktail card; I did on my first evening and was treated to a combination of sparkling Prosecco with a touch of elderberry syrup and crushed fresh mint. Delightful and refreshing. Bordering this handsome space is a terrace on the river, perfect for a lunch or good-weather drink.
Now, a word or two about Lucerne itself, one of my favorite towns. It’s all here: the cobblestone streets that wind from the Wine Market to the Corn Market, wandering past shops and cafes and restaurants and hotels and, of course, watches – Swiss watches from hundreds to thousands of Swiss Francs. The streets end at the Swan Place across from the Lake Lucerne. If you walk along a few minutes in one direction you are at the rail station; a bit longer in the other and you come to the enormous and emotional Lion Monument: a magnificent beast, wounded and dying and crying.
Point your camera in any direction, at any corner, and you will capture a wonderful memory. The day before I left, there was a sports exhibition and a “stop cancer” drive. The next day there would be a marathon through the Old Town. But tonight, for me, there is dinner in the Balances Restaurant, the best in Lucerne.
My meal got off to a splendid start thanks to the Chef’s gift: three bite-sized delicacies, Scallop, Scampi, and Lobster, each cooked to the split second of perfection. Next, a fillet of Pike-Perch: moist, flaky and – again — perfect. My main was veal steak, simply grilled with olive oil and pepper and accompanied by a superb pumpkin risotto with chunky Boletus mushrooms. An encore of my Champagne accompanied a large spoonful of each of the house ice creams – vanilla, sour cream, coconut, and chocolate. I was so stuffed even the next morning I had to struggle to breakfast. But Balances’ is so unique, I couldn’t resist. The buffet consists of small plates, each containing: smoked salmon or herring or salami or cheeses, cherry tomatoes, cuke slices, and more. Almost Japanese in concept. You choose the plates you want and one of the lovely servers brings coffee and offers eggs. My egg white omelet with onions and mushrooms was the best I’ve ever had — including my own.
The symbol for Hotel Des Balances is a scrawled “B” and its motto is: Enjoy the “Ins-B-Ration” moments. Believe me; I did.