It has been a long week and my legs are still sore from the race the weekend before. I am back in Valais, my first time since the Zermatt Marathon.
After collecting my start number for the Matterhorn Ultraks race, I make my way on foot to the CERVO Mountain Boutique Resort, beautifully located on the south west facing slope of Zermatt. As I climb the stairs with antler railing, the door opens and I am warmly welcomed by the receptionist.
The check-in is smooth and I have time to tour the facilities before arriving at my room. It is not actually just a room, but rather one of the seven small chalets that make up the resort. Complete with vaulted ceilings, a fireplace and a balcony facing the village!
I am astonished by the attention to detail: There is a vintage telephone, Molton Brown toiletries, Beschle chocolates, and even lounge chairs on the balcony. Time to freshen up and check out the hotel bar!
Daniel Lauber: Hotelier and Huntsman
Entering the bar, I notice the wall of wine featuring Ornellaia, Gaja, Château Latour, and Araujo Estate, to name just a few. As I am taking some pictures in the bar, a tall man steps into the doorway and comes to greet me, giving me his hand. Daniel Lauber and his wife Seraina are the owners and hoteliers behind the CERVO.
Almost from the start, Daniel and I start talking about the Ultraks race. Daniel is supposed to be running the K30, but a viral cold has him down and out. Having had to prematurely end a race this year for health reasons and then not being able to train for two weeks, I sympathize and know that he has made the right decision.
About Swiss Entrepreneurship
A year older than me, Daniel is the personification of Swiss entrepreneurship - and perhaps he is an exception to the rule that the Swiss are afraid to follow their dreams and be entrepreneurial.
This fear and the stigma around failure were the topics of the first Failcon Switzerland last year, and the TEDxBern speech delivered by jobs.ch founder Thomas Sterchi. When I look at Daniel, however, I see success: Hard worked for and well earned success.
Behind that is Daniel’s keen business sense. Knowing that achieving and maintaining a good reputation in the hotel industry is not something that happens by chance, or is easily kept. It requires vision, persistence and attention to detail in regards to quality and the way guests are treated.
Returning Guests and Dreams
As some hotel regulars are ready to check in, Daniel steps away from our relaxed conversation and welcomes them back. Being a small business owner myself, I know the importance of customer centricity, and I find it interesting.
Once people discover the CERVO, they clearly like to come back. Returning to our conversation, I ask Daniel if he comes from a family of hoteliers. He tells me that his father was an engineer and his mother stayed home to take care of the family. At an early age, he knew he wanted to one day run a hotel, but probably through peer and social pressure he went off to study business in Bern.
The spreadsheets and best practice theories did not much interest him, so he soon left the academic track to study at Switzerland’s prestigious Schweizerische Hotelfachschule Luzern. Nonetheless, the business background has surely served Daniel well, if only rounding off his professional profile.
CERVO is a Timeless and Fitting Resort
Returning to Zermatt after his studies, Daniel and his wife received some land from the family on the edge of town to start their own hotel. Everything in the CERVO was built to his specifications, including the integration of the old house.
It must be one of the advantages when your father is a civil engineer. They also had two architects with different backgrounds and styles working with them, believing that the tension would unleash creativity and uniqueness.
The results speak for themselves. The hunting lodge style of the hotel is at once timeless and fitting to the surroundings, yet unique to Zermatt, almost as if taken out of the Bavarian Forest or somewhere in Austria. It speaks to Daniel’s hunter side. In fact, his LinkedIn profile says Hotelier & Huntsman.
Noticing the time and seeing more guests come in, Daniel accompanies me to the restaurant and says that he would be back afterwards when I have my coffee to talk some more. The meal in the elegant yet familiar and comfortable restaurant was - well – amazing!
I had the good fortune of arriving for the first offering of the game menu: Venison medallions, Spätzli, red cabbage and caramelized chestnuts. The salad starter was a Nussli Salat (lamb’s lettuce) with a poached egg and truffles. Yes, it was pretty close to heaven in a place that I consider to be paradise on earth. The service was exquisite and attentive. The price of the three course meal was CHF 84, which in is a steal Switzerland.
The Many Faces of Zermatt
After dinner, I sat down with Daniel again. While sipping on a coffee, he took me on a journey about how he got to where he is today. I asked him what it was like to have a hotel in Zermatt, as the resort town does not seem to be lacking accommodations.
Daniel told me that in winter, Zermatt has the good fortune to be at close to full vacancy. The summer is less busy, which is why many smaller hotels will close and the supply of rooms is reduced.
Then, Daniel pointed out that sporting events like the Zermatt Marathon and Ultraks do a great job of attracting people. For the less sporty, there is always Zermatt Unplugged - or the Zermatt Festival for music enthusiasts.
Small Things Make a Big Difference
We are in the middle of talking about the developments in Zermatt's tourism when Daniel’s phone rings. It is the organizer of the Matterhorn Ultraks: A regular guest at the CERVO wants to run the 2VK (2 vertical kilometers) race the next day, and Daniel had contacted the organizer to see whether it this was still possible.
After a brief conversation, Daniel hangs up with a smile on his face - everything is good. I ask if this is part-in-parcel for friends or guests in a five star hotel. Daniel assures me that neither are necessarily the case, but it is one of the things that he does with pleasure for his guests.
Daniel and his wife Seraina are in the hotel business not just to earn a livelihood, but to be great hosts and provide travelers with a home in Zermatt. Helping a guest to enjoy his trip to Zermatt to the fullest is what a good host should do. Loving what they do and doing it well has definitely paid off for these hoteliers.
Ferdinand, a New Restaurant
With a new cheese fondue and raclette restaurant - Ferdinand - opening up at the CERVO, it is obvious that Daniel and Seraina are vested in their business and like to see it grow.
The CERVO was awarded the distinction of Switzerland’s Best Boutique Hotel by an independent panel of hoteliers writing for the SonntagsZeitung. This is what really affirmed that these hoteliers are on the right track. I have not lodged at many five star hotels before. But my stay at the CERVO Mountain Boutique Resort has given me a new measure of excellence and of what to expect from the designation "Five Star Boutique Hotel."
Breakfast par Excellence
What separates the CERVO Mountain Boutique Hotel from other hotels is the attention to details. Be it the many textures throughout the hotel, or the baskets of fresh apples in the halls for the taking for when you are on the go.
It is also the attention that the staff members give you in making your stay more than a place to lay your weary head, but rather an experience that lives on in your memories.
At breakfast before the race, I arrive early before everything is set up. Of course, I am too early, but the staff invite me in to take a seat and help myself. They even ask whether I would like for them to prepare any special pre-race foods.
Not needing anything special, I just help myself to the buffet par excellence and enjoy the surroundings and the view. As I leave the hotel, the on duty staff wish me luck on the race. Again, one of those little things that go forgotten so often in other hotels.
Hotels are in the business of hospitality. And great hotels understand hospitality not simply as room and board, but giving someone a home while they travel. A place where they feel welcome, comfortable and most importantly: Special.
The CERVO does that for each and every guest.