There is little to beat the sensation of waking up in a room with the best view in the world. To my mind that view is from the penthouse at the Coeur des Alpes chalet hotel in Zermatt, Switzerland.
It feels as though you are on the Matterhorn as the majestic mountain dominates the view. The brightness of the sky, the sparkles of the snow make for a view that to me is perfection.
The chalet was designed by the renowned architect Heinz Julen. He and his family virtually ‘made’ the Zermatt people flock to today. They have always been involved in tourism and development of the area and though Heinz is known worldwide for his work, he and his family’s roots stay firmly in Zermatt.
Coeur des Alpes is a place I return time and again. Of course the views are a draw but the chalet itself is really quite sensational in terms of architecture and interiors. There’s a very special atmosphere created too by Leni and Thomas who run it. Leni is Heinz’s sister. It’s a real family affair.
The family truly has the hospitality gene running through! Leni’s sister Verony runs a mountainside restaurant which is a cool celeb-spotting haunt – favourite with the likes of Robbie Williams and Mick Hucknall. The chalet was the family’s hillside retreat which Verony developed into the restaurant, again, stamping the family mark on the area.
Developing Coeur des Alpes was a project by Heinz that was really ahead of its time in terms of the concept of the building and its contemporary feel, especially for a town where tradition meant everything. Heinz, Leni and Thomas have cleverly been able to give the property a very contemporary feel while retaining its cosy atmosphere and intimacy.
Heinz wanted to offer new perspectives and de-compartmentalise the space, which is why the floor of the central square is made of glass, placing the swimming pool in the lower level at the centre of the room, aligning the fireplace in the living room and the chandelier of the swimming pool in perfect symmetry, thus creating a clear continuity of space.
In the bedrooms you also find this principle of de-compartmentalisation and fluidity of space, nothing interrupts your view: there are glazed bays and the suites are arranged in the style of a “loft”.
The Cœur des Alpes has 14 original rooms, a jacuzzi swimming-pool, Turkish bath, sauna, fitness area, solarium. The entire building was designed with a meticulous eye for comfort and harmony between fire and ice, interior and exterior, at the foot of the Matterhorn.
Three years running the hotel won “Bilanz Contest” for the Swiss hotel which had the best rate of occupation (96%) and the best profitability. It is selected by the famous website www.tripadviser.com, in which it comes in first place of the best hotels in Europe.
The reason for this success is easy to see but more difficult to dissect. Without doubt, Thomas and Leni’s meticulous attention to detail are key.
They make visitors feel welcome and cocooned. You really feel part of the surroundings because the decoration off the building is so influenced by the natural materials that surround the hotel and the desire to bring the outside in.
Glass is used in abundance. There are not only expansive plate glass windows throughout but glass floors as well.
The building is packed with character and has a magical quality. Heinz is well known for using and designing incredible lighting and also mixing traditional with industrial structures.
One approaches the entrance to Coeur des Alpes through a tunnel which is lit by crystal chandeliers. You then get into a glass lift to be taken through the rock up to the reception. The experience of rising through the cliff face is quite something!
You arrive onto a glass floor and below can see a huge fire burning. It is really very impressive. From the massive windows you are face to face with the Matterhorn.
Heinz designed a number of loft suites in the chalet and these have glass-floored mezzanine levels and are furnished with some of Heinz’s curvy and U-shaped chairs. Granite, leather and wood mix with textures of fur and suede.
At the same time some areas, particularly the suite we stay in, have traditional wooden floors and ceilings which are given a contemporary edge with modern accessories and furnishings. The pipework adds an edgy, industrial feel to the rooms. It becomes a feature rather than something to conceal. It means rooms are heightened and expansive and a bit more daring as a result.
In public areas, you might turn a corner and behind a glass wall see a mound of ice and snow glistening against the rock walls. This focus on the natural materials of the surroundings really creates atmosphere. It’s lovely too to be able to sit in a hot-tub surrounded by snow, flickering candles and soft music.
Leni really has a personal touch and creates an unrivalled atmosphere in the building. Not for nothing was it recently named one of the Times’ ten sexiest hotels in the world where it was described thus, “The penthouse suite at this cool little B&B – designed by local guru Heinz Julen – makes full use of uninterrupted views up the mountain, with double-height windows and an open-plan layout that allows you to sample it from every angle – including from the freestanding bath.”
I love the use of these natural materials and textures and certainly they have influenced me in my own property developments.
I think Coeur des Alpes works so well because it makes a bold statement about space and structure. Outside impressive natural structures are part of the landscape and inside Heinz Julen has been daring in his own interpretation of his vision of space and structure. I know this is a place I will return to time and again. The Julens have become real friends.