Deciding to go forward with a late-September press trip to Switzerland, I found the Alps to be a wonderful balm. Their ancient, craggy peaks seemed to remind our group of numbed Americans that “this too shall pass.” And then there was the comfortable embrace of our host hotels, the 168-room Palace Luzern and the 212-room Victoria-Jungfrau. Rich with tapestries, brocades, chandeliers, and airy public spaces, these sister resorts provide a sweet haven for international travelers.
Both properties are well-known high-end incentive resorts, and now they are in the market for meetings as well. The Palace is a short boat ride across placid Lake Lucerne to the three-year-old KKL conference center.
KKL's 1,800-seat concert hall is home every year to Europe's pre-eminent orchestral music series, the International Festival of Music. Several multipurpose halls and smaller conference rooms in addition to the concert hall make it an attractive venue for meetings of up to a couple thousand people. A train station within the KKL can bring Europe to the center's door.
The lakeside Palace Luzern, built 95 years ago and beautifully restored over the last few years, offers 13 multipurpose meeting rooms and two lovely restaurants. From the hotel, which is an hour's drive from Zurich airport, groups can explore myriad central Swiss attractions. We took a cogwheel train ride to the top of 6,000-foot Mount Rigi, a half-day sojourn that started with a steamboat ride across the lake on a crystal-clear day. We also toured the Swiss Museum of Transport, with acres of special exhibits on every form of transportation, plus a 150-foot, tethered hot-air balloon ride. This is one of many excellent group venues available in Lucerne, which offers a tremendous cultural package for a city of just 60,000 residents.
After a two-hour train ride through the Alps, we arrived at the resort town of Interlaken, where the Victoria-Jungfrau Hotel has reigned since 1835. Later we took a train trip to the “Top of Europe,” courtesy of Jungfrau Railways. The daylong trip takes you to a restaurant and outdoor viewing/hiking area at 11,000 feet, where you can see all three of the area's signature snowcapped peaks: Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. Groups can arrange all sorts of special events at this locale. We had a surprise glass of champagne inside the Ice Palace, an underground museum of ice sculptures carved directly into the glacial ice. Here too is the highest vantage point in Europe, containing museum, shops, and a charming cliffside restaurant.
The Victoria-Jungfrau's mix of Old World ballroom space and its purpose-built conference center will knock a planner's socks off. It has a total of 22 function rooms. That doesn't include the wine cellar, where our group had a candlelight tasting, surrounded by 3,000 bottles from around the world. We also enjoyed massages at the hotel's tranquil spa, complete with indoor pool. At both hotels you can be sure your group will encounter the best of Swiss hospitality.
The day before we were to head home, Swiss Air, our host carrier, grounded all its planes. The whole country seemed mortified that such an institution could apparently be bankrupt. (The Swiss government is going to make a new national airline out of Swiss Air, as it turns out.) We were quickly rerouted on Lufthansa. The last-minute glitch was a reminder that in today's world, you just can't take anything for granted.