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Sometimes you go for a splurge hotel; sometimes it's worth it, sometimes it isn't. Here are 8 splurge hotels we've stayed in that we didn't regret for a second.
This is a fabulous place to stay. You have to leave your car about a half mile from the lake and take a shuttle bus to the lake and lodge. The lodge sits on a hill above the lake, and most of the rooms are in a series of cabins even closer to the lake that are connected by a series of catwalks. All of the rooms have spectacular views. My major complaint is that because all cabins and the catwalks are elevated on stilts, very light sleepers (like me) may be awakened by the vibrations as people walk by your cabin on the catwalks. But this is more than compensated for by the beauty of the setting and the lodge, the huge outdoor hot tub overlooking the lake that you can sit in and watch the sunset from, and the fabulous food at the lodge. I would rate the overall experience as at least equal to the Post Hotel and much better than the huge, touristy Chateau Lake Louise. If you are going to the southern Canadian Rockies, I recommend splitting your time between Emerald Lake Lodge and the Post Hotel--and stopping in tourist-trap Banff only long enough to buy trinkets to take home to your relatives. That's what we did, and it was a terrific trip.
My wife and I stayed at the Post Hotel several years ago, and it was just wonderful. It is CRITICAL to stay on the "preferred" side--that is, the side away from the Canadian Pacific Railway mainline. We did so and heard no train noise--just the wonderful sounds of the roaring stream that goes by that side of the Post Hotel. The cabins that are even closer to the river looked even better though we did not stay in them. The individual rooms are plenty big and very luxurious. The Post Hotel's restaurant is very nice if you like continental cuisine, but very expensive. We had one dinner there, but ate breakfast and lunch at the delightful Laggan's Mountain bakery just across the footbridge that goes from the Post Hotel into Lake Louise Village--delicious food at a fraction of the price of the Post Hotel.
Can more than 500 rave reviews on TripAdvisor be wrong? Not in our experience. Barbara, Francesco, Mateo et al are the best hosts ever, The Locanda Orseolo is beautiful and conveniently located, and those guys unloading gondolas of produce at 7 am across are part of the charm. This may be the best hotel ever.
After staying at the Locanda Orseoloo on our first trip to Venice and loving it, we were very disappointed that it was fully booked when we returned in July 2006. Not to worry: the Ca'Angeli is almost as good--and that is great! The staff was extremely helpful and accommodating, the location is great (but different, and quieter than Locanda Orseolo), facing right on the Grand Canal.
My wife and I stayed at the Couer des Alpes in July 2004 for three nights. It is an amazing place. It starts when you arrive. Most sane people would say that that the site Couer des Alpes is built on is unbuildable, but not those wild and crazy Swiss. You enter the Couer des Alpes through a fifty yard tunnel into the mountain, take a left into a small lobby, and go into an elevator that whisks you up through the mountain, past an astonishing wellness center (the previous reviewer who described it as a water park for adults had it just right) into the glass floored lobby on the hotel. Pictures on the Couer des Alpes' web site give you some sense of this but don't do it full justice. The design of the hotel is beautiful and exciting if you like modern architecture--much of it is by owner LeniMuller-Julen's brother, architect Hans Julen. (Zermatt is a real small town, and half the businesses in town seem to be owned by someone named Julen, Biner or Perren). The rooms in the hotel are just as beautiful as the public spaces--lots of light woods, glass and very interesting steel fixtures. We found the rooms very private and quiet, and although we had perhaps the worst view in the hotel (facing-north--away from the Matterhorn--on a lower floor) we were very content. This is really a very small boutique hotel--it only has about 15 rooms and suites--which makes the wellness center (pool, dream shower, wet and dry saunas, et.) all the more astonishing--we often had it to ourselves.
Another of the Couer des Alpes main attractions is its staff--especially Leni Muller-Julen, the charming, multi-lingual owner. She was very helpful and friendly, as were the people at the front desk. They had great suggestions for hikes, restaurants etc.
We also like the location of the hotel a lot. Although Zermatt is car-free, the center of town can feel crowded with all the pedestrian traffic and shops. The Couer des Alpes is at the southern end of town, closest to the Matterhorn, and very close to the Winkelmatt gondola line that takes you up to the ski areas (and hiking trails in the summer) in the shadow of the Matterhorn. So you can have the advantages of Zermatt within a five to seven minute walk and still retire to a hotel that is much quieter.
In terms of restaurants, we found several in Zermatt that were good, including Mood's, which is just a three minute walk from the Couer des Alpes. But our best meal was at Chez Vrony, operated by Leni's sister (another of those ubiquitous Julens) in the little mountain village of Findelnes, which you reach by taking the Sunnegga ski tram through a mountain (another piece of amazing Swiss engineering) and then walking (or in winter, skiing) down half a mile to a litle hamlet that makes you feel like you have stepped right into a Heidi novel. On our first visiit seven years ago, a herd of goats was blocking the main path through Findelnes, and we were eyed warily by the Head Goat (or so he seemed to us) as we passed by). The deck at Chez Vrony has the best view of the Matterhorn I've seen, and the food was truly excellent. I especially recommend the rosti with tomato.
Although The Couer des Alpes is far from cheap, it is worth the price. In fact, this is the only time in my life I've ever stayed at a hotel where I felt undercharged. This was our second trip to Zermatt. We hope to make many more trips, and I hope that we be able to spend all of them at the Couer des Alpes.
Where else in the world can you check your email at Marshall Tito's old desk? Where else can you look out at one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, with an island church and a castle atop a cliff on the opposite shore. Fabulous service from the front desk staff, a stack of bikes outside the front door that you are free to use, and rowboats that you can take out to the island church. A perfect base for exploring one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
When we checked in, we noticed an old Cadillac with Minnesota plates parked out front. In Slovenia? "What's with that?," I asked the manager. He explained that a couple from Minnesota has come to stay at the Villa for seven months every year for the past twenty years; they put the car in a local garage over the winter. If I hit the lottery, I'm planning to join them.