Modern life, with its unforgiving pings of incoming emails and the constant ticking and tocking of precious time passing by, is enough to make anyone yearn for a quick escape. An escape to a place where efficiency and productivity seize to be the leitmotif – An escape to the floating Hotel Palafitte.
lakeside packing guide
Located along the peaceful shores of Switzerland’s largest lake, Hotel Palafitte is part of the Sandoz foundation’s collection of Swiss palaces and luxury hotels. Originally built in 2002 for the purpose of Switzerland’s national exposition, it is today Europe’s only hotel on stilts. The architecture is an ode to the history of the site itself, where the oldest remains of houses in Switzerland were found, which were built on stilts. Whilst easily accessible by car, the hotel’s thirty-eight pavilions feel surprisingly isolated from the world, creating a sanctuary where it is easy to get lost in a picturesque backdrop of lakes and mountains.
Twenty-six of the hotel’s pavilions are located quite literally on the lake itself, giving guests direct access into the lake through their balcony, from where they can jump right into the clear blue depths (or, for those preferring to keep their hair dry and makeup on point, climb down a ladder). I stayed in one of the shore pavilion, located right behind the lake pavilions – whilst still comfortable and with easy access to the lake from the hotel’s dock, this felt somewhat less spectacular and I would definitely recommend getting the lake pavilions for the full experience.
The rooms themselves are spacious and cosy, with a large bathroom that includes both shower and bath and a stylish décor that echoes the shapes and colours of nature outside. In fact, each room also contains artefacts lent to the hotel by the local archaeology museum, Laténium, as a reminder of the site’s ancient history. The unquestionable star of the show, however, is the view onto Lac Neuchâtel and the mountains that emerge from behind it, visible through the large bay windows that lead to the balcony. And these views are not only visible from the plush double bed and sofas at the centre of the room. By uncovering the bathroom’s lake-facing wall to reveal the glass behind it, guests can soak themselves in hot bubble baths whilst admiring the views during cooler evenings.
Wining & Dining
The hotel’s flagship restaurant, ‘La Table de Palafitte’, is the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely breakfast or watch the sun turn pink and red above the water at night. Led by Michelin star chef Sébastien D’Onghia, it has a large terrace and features fresh and regional ingredients with a seasonally changing menu. As a result, it has quickly become a local favourite.
The breakfast selection was good, ranging from meats, fresh fruits and yoghurts to various baked goods, and even included soya yoghurt and gluten-free bread (upon request). For dinner, I had the deliciously fragrant ‘Tartare de daurade’ (Sea Bass tartar) with white peach, perfumed with verbena and lemongrass, followed by a tender ‘pièce de veau’ (veal) with fig polenta, in a light balsamic dressing and a selection of indulgent pastries from the dessert cart. This may have been one of my favourite dinners in Switzerland and I can only recommend any of these dishes – although as I watched neighbouring tables, their meals looked just as tempting.
Hotel Palafitte, except for the dock, terrace and restaurant, does not include many other facilities. This, however, definitely does not mean boredom: here, activities are focused on nature. Aside from taking full advantage of the balcony or hotel deck and jumping into the lake multiple times a day, the hotel has various types of water sports equipment freely available for hotel guests, including stand up paddles, canoes and fishing rods. More elaborate activities such as water skiing and motorboat trips can be organised by the hotel at local nautical clubs. My favourite part of the stay undoubtedly was going for an early-morning stand-up paddle promenade. As I floated along the shore, I could watch Tai-Qi groups perform their morning meditations and discovered undefinable species of lively birds chase after their morning prey, as the world around was slowly waking up around me.
For those craving to wander further in-land, Hotel Palafitte is located right near many of the major bike trails that surround the lake and provides bikes that guests can use. Also located close to the hotel, is the local archaeological museum, Laténium and the charming city of Neuchâtel, whose cobbled streets, small boutiques, medieval old town and ancient castle are well-worth an afternoon stroll.
The hotel’s facilities do not include a spa, but the hotel can easily arrange for outside masseuses to come and massage guests in their room or on the balcony of the pavilions (I definitely wouldn’t say not to a leisurely aromatherapy massage to the sounds of quiet ebbs and flows of lake waters hitting pavilion stilts), in addition to organising spa treatments at local spas.
Ultimately, Hotel Palafitte is not the hip and glam boutique hotel found in a city, nor the quaint or funky spa hotel common to British suburbs or Asian mega-cities and not the Grand Palace so typical of Switzerland. Instead, it is an original and unique experience, where guests have the opportunity to reconnect with the beauty and peace of all things natural, in a world that increasingly spends its time disconnecting us from these.