The Dolder Grand, Zurich
Room type: Suite Superior
Duration: 14th > 17th May, 2017
Booked with: Ourisman Travel
I had such high hopes for The Dolder Grand. A 4 year renovation and enlargement project ending in 2008 with a state-of-the-art spa that became known as a Norman Foster masterpiece; a name I had subsequently heard thrown around like a sex toy at an Anne Summers party. Branding works with repeated messages, so hearing Norman Foster regularly made me think it was a good thing, but instead I should have listened to the actual message – it was more like hearing of the designer of the Hindenburg.
I only contacted The Dolder Grand once prior to arrival, simply to enquire about their pool temperatures. I am clearly still scarred from my experience of Four Seasons Prague, who decided global warming was so serious they had to counter it by calling in an ice age in their spa. Barely 12 hours later and they respond with
Indoor: Swimming Pool, 29°C Hot Water Pool, 37°C Gentlemen`s Spa/Ladies`s Spa: Aromapool Revitalizing, 37°C Aromapool Relaxing, 37 °C Cold Water Pool, 15°C Katatsu Pool, 37°C Outdoor: Hot Water Pool, 39°C Whirlpool,35°C Cold Water Pool, 15°C
37C and 39C – I knew I was in safe hands.
No winding, never-ending roads for you, no sir; The Dolder Grand is barely 20 minutes from Zurich’s main train station. Your luck just cashed in. When we arrived they even checked us in straight from the car.
Whenever I think of a property being only 20 minutes from town, I still think of it being incredibly urban, but this is apparently because my brain operates in stone age thinking and believing 20 minutes only allows you to travel at the speed of a geriatric turtle. Of course, 20 minutes drive gives you pause as to whether you want to bother going somewhere, but it’s close enough to not need to form a debate group to discuss the pros and cons of it.
The Dolder Grand is situated on the top of a hill, over looking a golf course and the city below, with the woods just metres from the entrance. You would think that with this, and the added matter there there is close to $1bn of art within the hotel, this would give the hotel lobby a feeling not as sterile as an airport, but you would be wrong. It does incentivise you to spend more time outside though.
They take stay lists seriously here. My pinnacle of respect is always reserved for whether a hotel can be bothered to get me Robinson’s Orange Squash. Or a specific Tempur Pillow. Do either and you are not messing around. Were Robinson’s parent company not knocking down their share price like a game of dominos, I would even consider buying shares in them, as I know my repeated business will keep them going for years to come. The Dolder Grand made clear during check-in that it would not arrive until the Monday, but when it did they stacked 3 of them in the fridge. A round of applause, if ever anyone deserved one.
I would have liked to have seen the preferences passed throughout the hotel, but this rarely happens anywhere, so I’m left with frequently being asked if I want something I’ve already specified I don’t like.
This is the first time I’ve ever rejected a room in a hotel. Sure, I’ve moved rooms once or twice before, such as noise in Aman Venice; AC sounding like a wrecking ball in The Connaught; hating the room in Four Seasons Prague; the Apple TV not working in Beau-Rivage Palace, The Lanesborough realising their loyalty scheme should actually act as one and be loyal. Ok, so maybe more than once or twice. Yet this is the first time I’ve ever hated a room to the point I was considering leaving. Ok, maybe second after Gora Kadan. Ok, so I’m probably a hoteliers nightmare, but why spend so much on something that doesn’t make you happy, when the entire product is designed just for that?
I booked a Junior Suite Grand – their highest room category before Suites – that was positioned in their new, Norman Foster designed, wing. He also apparently helped give guidelines to the interior designers, but I cannot help but feel he was suffering a mental breakdown at the time. The design was like being in a vandalised IKEA store. Everything looked so cheap, so generic, so unsubstantial and so empty you could even hear a faint echo in the vastness of nothingness that made up the design. 1300 CHF/n for this? No chance.
Less than 5 minutes after being roomed, and having giving up Googling for some new religion I could quickly join to pray to a better god, we asked for to the Duty Manager to come talk to us. Coming from the pure prestige of Beau-Rivage to this was a new level of disappointment. I have not felt this deflated since that hot air balloon race went wrong; I didn’t know disappointment on this level could exist. Randy arrived and kindly saved our entire stay, as he offered immediately to move us and asked that we speak to him regarding any issues with our stay. We ended up in the classic part of the building in a suite, albeit one with a view of what a view shouldn’t look like. I am still going to reserve a bit more love for my first born than this room, but it was infinitely better than what we saw in the first instance and it meant we could restart and enjoy the property. Of note, if you do book with a service that offers guaranteed upgrade on arrival, it only counts in the Junior Suite categories, so you cannot go from Junior to Suite.
The suite offers a spacious living room with dining table, kitchen and small balconies to help you pretend that your non-view is good. Both the bedroom and kitchen have a fireplace, as well as Bang & Olufsen TVs that for once have usable remote controls. The bedroom’s blackout blinds are almost as useful as the view, as are the lack of any light switches anywhere near the bed, but I admire the consistency of everything being bright at all times.
Each room is separated by huge, thick doors like we’re in a military complex, but bizarrely none of them close themselves, so you will forever be running back to your room in panic of all your belongings having been stolen.
Having a suite offers you some extra perks, such as a free minibar, stocked kitchen and a butler. The butler does as all butlers do in city hotels: nothing extra beyond normal room service, except trick you into thinking it’s better. In this case, when you order room service you are removed the burden of using an iPad like in the lower, pleb room categories, as your butler will come along to suggest a “personalised menu”. A menu that is identical to their main restaurant, Saltz, and tastes equally as gut-churning. Instead of just reading a list of what you want and pointing, something that I’m told has existed for quite a few years, the Swiss have somehow managed to create an entirely more complex, inefficient and frustrating method, all in the name of luxury. Why stick with the old, when you can have a length discussion around it? The best part is the meal then turned up wrong. Oh, and it was still appalling, but I’m not going to blame the butler for that.
The bathroom comes with a sauna and whirlpool bathtub, whilst the shower looked like some torture device, but one that malfunctioned and started handing out hugs. At one point I turned the wrong knob on the shower and thought this was the end for me. Their generosity of 3 different toiletries was only dampened by a piece of the bath falling out right near by foot. You win some, you lose some.
- 2 Michelin star restautant, originally named The Restaurant.
- Saltz restaurant with outdoor terrace.
- Lobby with terrace for afternoon tea and drinks.
- 4000 sqm, epic spa, containing library, cafe, hair dressers and gift shop.
- Toilets better than most of the rooms.
Spa / Gym
Cameras are not allowed in the spa, so I did what any sensible person would do: I asked if they would let me in pre-opening to photograph it. They kindly agreed, so I got up at 5:25 to do so. I took over 300 photographs, so if you want to know how much dirt is on top of the mens lockers, I’m your man.
The spa can be divided into 3 areas: outside, with the hydrotherapy, plunge pools and loungers; separate male/female facilities, that include sauna and jacuzzis, and main pool, with shared facilities . In theory, it must be the most impressive spa I’ve ever seen, but in practice it was also was crowded that it removed the exclusivity and serenity that is kinda expected. Park Hotel Vitznau it is not. Randy, fix it! Even on a Monday morning we found nowhere available to sit outside, and with just 10 indoor loungers there was rarely anywhere to sit inside if the weather turned. Switzerland is not Dubai – there is not year round good weather, so why would you only have 10 loungers? Randy took our complaint very seriously by making the indoor beds so uncomfortable that few wanted to lay on them and use them for long periods.
The separate male/female facilities have an enforced nude zone. No chance, my Swiss friends. I’m British and haven’t shown my genitals to another person since Thatcher died, out of respect. It is a shame they did not copy the Park Hyatt Vienna, with their rather innovative take on having a separate female changing area, but the men’s area is communal. The women are free to be left alone, as we now know that all men are pigs, yet they are free to spend time with their disgusting partners if they so choose. I’m a sensitive snowflake, so I cannot stand being by myself in a spa for too long before boredom steps in. If you do venture into these areas, bestowed upon you is huge number of different areas: saunas, foot baths, aroma pools, wold-water plunge pools, sun beds, saunas, steam rooms and a partridge in a pear tree. The shared area, just in front of the pool, offers far less exciting instruments of pleasure, mostly focused around a Japanese bath filled with warm pebbles. Fun for all of 30 seconds. There is also a snow room, sanarium and steam room. The spa feels like it has everything, except perhaps anywhere to dry your swimwear, or to spend any time in peace.
The Dolder Grand had the youngest crowd of all the Swiss hotels I stayed in 2017, and perhaps we’re now all so vain that we need the spa more.
Everything is super high-tech, even down to the doors that open themselves after a little nudge. I would struggle to find any complain in the hard product here, but the service really lets it down. Several times we sat in the cafe waiting for someone to arrive for over 10 minutes, or found it so busy around the pool that we just had to stand up. Treatments were harder to come by than an honest banker. It was so busy that no treatments were available during our 3 days, so we used the spa credit at their recommendation for a hair treatment. Which they then billed for.
Whilst normally in a city hotel I would leave this up to your imagination, The Dolder Grand is not really a city hotel. So venture out we did, first for a walk through the woods, and then hired mountain bikes from the concierge, who also provided some recommended routes. They offered either electronic bikes, or just standard mountain bikes. Who takes an electronic bike for a 30 minute ride? Well, me, if I had any sense. We made it to the top, clinging on for dear life with every grind of the pedals. Randy was nowhere to be seen; I thought this was it. The climbs were less steep in a MiG. I wish they had warned us, as you must need a Lance Armstrong approved cocktail to have survived that trip, or spent the last 3 months in one of the many free fitness classes they put on in their ginormous gym.
Food followed in the footsteps of Beau-Rivage Palace and not in a good way. The menus are rather limited. It started off promising, as lunch was very good, but then dinner was pretty awful in the same restaurant, followed by yet another revolting room service option. I thought it was only fair to give their 2 Michelin star restaurant, aply named The Restaurant, a go, after everyone on site spoke as fondly of it as I do of complimentary hotel stays, plus it was actually priced at a point (249 CHF for 8 courses) that didn’t make me sick. It also came with the added benefit of not having to eat in their other restaurant.
I could not recommend it enough; simply phenomenal on every level. It’s meals like this that got me into fine dining in the first place, only for so many other restaurants to destroy it along the way. Even better, my impatience of not spending 3 hours eating a meal was helped by us asking the staff to bring it quickly. At one point I thought I was in a speed eating competition, as the moment the plate was taken away, another one was there. From ordering to finishing the meal: a mere 80 minutes, even including a welcome by head chef Heiko Nieder. Absolutely perfect. I will now setup a petition to demand he moves to Cambridge.
For Saltz, it started off so promising with some light snacks, such as beef carpaccio and soup, but that’s where the positives end. The food took an ice age to come; requests to remove ingredients were ignored; drinks and juices were forgotten and the limited menu meant after 2 days we were just eating the same thing over again – including the small buffet for breakfast. It was like the staff had zoned out, even though they were 90% empty. The pastries were good, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
The service can be split into two areas: management and workers. Management were excellent, from the Sales Manager giving a grand tour, to the concierge even offering his own bag for me to take on the bike ride. Then there’s Randy. Let us do a 12 gun salute to Randy for his contribution to our stay.
Yet management cannot do everything, otherwise they would not be management and we’d all be Communists. The difference elsewhere was stark, with either strange interactions, such as asking a waiter for some petit fours and him assuming we were complaining, to asking for some nuts from the bar, and the waiter refusing to go get them from the bar upstairs, when there were only 4 other tables in the restaurant. The next day we returned and someone must have given him a kick up the arse, as he was really trying by bringing snacks that he remembered we asked for the day before.
It constantly felt like a lot of chasing going on: where’s my food, where’s my spa confirmation, where’s housekeeping? The “make my room” button must have purely been cosmetic, as 3 hours after pushing it we were still left waiting.
The Dolder Grand are amongst the best I’ve ever seen of handling complaints. When we checked out they still had the wrong room service food and bill for us, so we mentioned it and they just comped the entire in room dining experience as they said it was their fault. The Director of Rooms came out to say goodbye, and they provided some water for our journey. Randy was exhausted by this stage, so was probably in rehab and was nowhere to be seen.
I was alerted to a little article by a small publication called the Financial Times whilst traveling to Park Hotel Vitznau. A rip-roaring, page turning comedy it was. Pay your taxes, kids. I didn’t see any glaring empty spaces on the walls, but I do like to imagine being a guest and armed guards walking through the lobby and taking paintings off the wall. There would have been a lot of complimentary drinks being handed out that day. Even the butlers probably found themselves with a purpose.
- Beautiful setting surrounded in greenery
- Food. It’s always the bloody food in Switzerland.
- Food. It’s not always the bloody food. The Restaurant is one of the finest restaurants I’ve ever eaten in.
The Dolder Grand is a dichotomy of excellence and disappointment. I do not feel the need to return, but also do not hold any resentment towards my stay. It offers a great location for those happy to avoid being within 50m of a Rolex store, excellent management, a good suite and The Restaurant, my newest shrine. Yet the service elsewhere, the poor food, the spa being as relaxing as a weekend football match in Millwall, and the Junior Suites all make me feel I’ve got what I wanted and it’s time to move on.
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