Some hotels are a destination in their own right. And when it comes to the five-star Hotel Bellevue Palace in Bern, its reputation precedes it.
Serving as the official guesthouse for the Swiss Confederation, this hotel is the top choice for diplomats, heads of state, presidents, and the occasional: spies. That is, during the World Wars and the ensuing Cold War, the Hotel Bellevue Palace was the place to be for those in the business of espionage.
We learn this valuable intelligence from our host, Mr. Bührer. He and his team have invited us to go undercover and spend a weekend in the heart of Bern. Bührer is likely one of the most engaged hotel directors we have ever met. He has an unfiltered passion for hospitality, immersing us in his world while showing us around.
This hotel tour is off the record!
Inside the Bellevue Bar, Bührer explains that in the distant past, German and American spies would sit back-to-back. This was (and still is) a popular place for diplomats, journalists, and politicians. If only walls could talk, they would have a lot to tell...
We move on to the restaurant, now called Brasserie VUE. Thanks to the room’s revealing acoustics, this was another favorite spot for spying. A covert spy would ideally sit in the center of the dining hall, right underneath the domed ceiling. From this spot, they would potentially be picking up conversations from both ends of the restaurant. Allied powers would be sitting on one end while Axis powers were on the other.
At each station, Bührer shares more anecdotes. Before his time, the likes of Queen Elizabeth II or Johnny Cash have lodged here. But since taking over as GM in 2007, Bührer has hosted numerous A-lists of his own. And he keeps an official record: nobody can check out unless they sign his guest book - not even President Xi Jinping!
Bühler’s anecdotes typically start with a disclaimer: “This is off the record, OK?” Our reassuring nods then open up fascinating doors into what it must be like to host the world’s elites.
When high-profile visitors stay at the Bellevue Palace
Obviously, we cannot share details and names in this public forum without getting into trouble with Mr. Bührer. But we can share a few generic details about the Bellevue Palace and its role as a guest house for high-profile visitors.
For instance: in order to house their own staff, some illustrious guests will occupy an entire floor. Off-limit entryways create a security bubble for assistants, bodyguards, chefs, family members, personal doctors, or nannies. It is possible to essentially run an autonomous household or a diplomatic headquarters (or both) in the confines of this five-star hotel.
On the other hand, some heads of state do not hesitate to use the public elevator. There was a time when Mr. Bührer shared the elevator with Akihito, the former Emperor of Japan.
We learn that some foreign details appear surprised about the hotel’s own security operations. Elsewhere, it may be common for luxury properties to have their own security departments. But this is Switzerland, after all, and a hotel like the Bellevue Palace is near a police quarter as well as a hospital.
“Just call me,” Mr. Bührer would instruct his guests in case of an issue, “I have Bern on speed dial.”
A suite with unbeatable views
Antique furniture, luxurious amenities, bullet-proof windows, and views to die for: enter our third-floor corner suite!
From the bedroom, we can peek at the Department of Defense inside the Federal Palace. And from the living room, we enjoy pristine views of the River Aare below and the Bernese Alps in the distance. Needless to say, we enjoy each vantage point, with binoculars and without, during different times of the day.
The farmers’ market is mere steps from the Hotel Bellevue Palace in Bern
Given its top-notch reputation and long tradition, I expected this five-star luxury hotel to be rather unapproachable. Yet, on this Saturday morning, we see many local Berners walk in and out. Friends meet up on the sunny terrace for coffee, and families would gather for a shared brunch.
By definition, the Bellevue Palace is the people’s home. The property has officially been on the government’s real estate inventory since 1994 - just like a public university would. Therefore, each and every tax-payer in Switzerland owns a small share of this grand palace.
A minute’s walk from the Bellevue Palace is another palace altogether - the Swiss Federal Palace. On weekends like this, the official home of the Swiss government is quiet. The usual buzz of black cabs dropping off suits is nowhere to be found.
Instead, the generous plaza in front of the Federal Palace is the scene of a pulsating farmers’ market. Every Saturday, vendors would put up their booths hawking everything from cheese and flower bouquets to cannabis plants. (Yes, we spot actual cannabis plants.)
For many locals, the Saturday farmers’ market is an important event in the social calendar. It is as much an opportunity to restock on organically grown produce as it is an opportunity to chat. “Have you been affected by the hail storm?” one woman asks her fruit vendor.
We enjoy taking photographs and sampling cheese, meanwhile picking up souvenirs to take home. The benefit of staying right where all the action is: I return to our suite a couple of times to unload my acquired assets. The drawback: I leave behind a movement pattern indicative of The Spy Who Loved Fruits...
Mezze with soul at Noumi Grill & Bar
After a day of exploring Bern with its boutiques and museums, our palates are in for a treat, too. Noumi Grill & Bar is open to hotel guests as well as the public.
For the first time ever, the restaurant is able to serve diners outdoors. We hope that the city will renew the permit indefinitely because this patio has so much charm.
We find an eclectic mix of world foods on the Noumi menu. Think BBQ and bowls, bulgur, burrata, and bao buns. The dishes taste as delicious as they sound, and we are already planning to return with friends.
Grilled octopus with chickpeas, tomato, couscous, and coriander:
Before tasting the steamed pork buns and assorted dumplings, we meet Executive Chef Eric Henck:
The drink menu, entitled “Mixology”, surprises as well. Merely reading all the names brings up Wanderlust: Tiki Taka, Angkor Cut, Singapore Trap, or Cruise Ship Margherita. Our advice: engage the bar staff as they are the ones concocting all the drinks!
A road trip to Kemmeriboden-Bad, home of the meringue
Did anyone say meringues?!? The next morning, our handler, Ariane, drops some sweet intelligence about a recommended road trip. As a local who works at the Bellevue Palace, she knows the GPS coordinates of the largest and bestest meringues in the world...
Off we go to 46.802138369115326, 7.935350121789861 where delicious merängge are baked daily. The name Kemmeriboden-Bad is a mouthful for a countryside hotel with its own restaurant. But once you have heard the name, you cannot un-hear it.
Located roughly between Bern and Lucerne, this is a popular destination for Sunday road trippers like us. Here, many bikers and hikers indulge in a well-deserved dessert.
Pictures speak louder than words… After watching several orders of meringue fly out of the kitchen, we decide to get “just” a small portion:
At the end of the weekend, we look at each other and smile: with all those fun times, there truly was NO TIME TO SLEEP!
Hotel Bellevue Palace is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World and Swiss Deluxe Hotels.
Hotel Bellevue Palace
Phone: +41 31 320 45 45
Many thanks to Mr. Bührer and Mrs. Abdelali for the warm welcome and for making our stay so amazing. For the purpose of this review, they have invited us for two nights, incl. half-board and picnic in the park.