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26 July 2014

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Take it to the Top

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4,439 metres separate Switzerland’s lowest point from its highest. That leaves a lot of scope to send meetings, events and activities flying.


Ascona & Locarno
Eden Roc Marina - 1102_Eden_Roc_Marina.jpg Most of Lake Maggiore lies in Italy, but views over its Swiss northern tip are shared by the adjacent waterfront towns of Ascona and Locarno. The latter, famed for the film festival that packs out its huge cobbled piazza every August, is just over three hours by direct train from Zürich, taking the dramatic Gotthard route, and is a characterful warren of narrow streets. Ascona is smaller and more exclusive, and is home to several of Switzerland’s most distinguished hotels.
Locarno offers the multipurpose air-conditioned Palazzetto FEVI (tel: 0041 91 751 90 75) for conferences, banquets and exhibitions. Its largest space has a 1,200sq m stage and can welcome 3,000 for a presentation or 1,500 for a banquet. There are also spaces for 50–100 people.
For smaller meetings, Ascona’s Eden Roc (tel: 0041 91 785 71 71) is ideal. One of Switzerland’s finest hotels, it has four restaurants and spectacular decor by world-famous interior designer Carlo Rampazzi.
The new Eden Roc Marina building has three stunning conference rooms with lake views for 10–75 delegates. Work done, you can take to the water, either at the helm of the hotel’s luxury yacht or for a spot of wakeboarding or waterskiing. A local cruise outfit offers lunch or dinner charters for between 116 and 360 people, while smaller groups can join a scheduled sunset cruise. There are also 18 golf courses within a short drive of the hotel.
But the ultimate thrill on offer in the area is the 220m bungee jump from the Verzasca dam, featured in the James Bond film Goldeneye. More airborne excitement can be had by paragliding or parachuting, or for those who prefer the water, a descent of the Ticino river by canoe or the exhilarating sport of canyoning.
Tel: 020 7845 7686, squaremeal.co.uk/scib

Montreux
The town of Montreux has learnt a thing or two about organising events over the past 60 years, from major international music festivals to a European Space Agency symposium. Located beside Lake Geneva and close to many hotels, 2m2c (the Montreux Music & Convention Centre, tel: 0041 21 962 20 00, squaremeal.co.uk/2m2c) offers multipurpose spaces and a floor area of 18,000sq m for events, accommodating between 100 and 3,000 people. The Stravinski Auditorium has exceptional acoustics and most rooms overlook the lake and the French Alps beyond.
Need a hotel? The sumptuous Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic (0041 21 966 33 33) dates from 1870 and has six lake-view rooms for meetings of eight to 150 delegates and receptions of up to 300. Alternatively the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace (tel: 0041 21 962 1212) is the largest hotel in Montreux, dating from 1906, and has been recently renovated to enhance the period charms of its parquet floors and crystal chandeliers. It offers 15 naturally lit function rooms seating five to 1,200 people in modern decor or Belle Epoque style. 
That period elegance can also be found on the lake’s eight paddle steamers (tel: 0041 848 811 848), which cater for up to 700 people and can be chartered 365 days a year. For something very different, you can take the dramatic mountain cog railway to Rochers-de-Naye to spend a night in a yurt at 2,000m. Seven yurts, each accommodating eight people, can be hired for teambuilding events, with a Mongolian fondue and breakfast provided.
Tel: 0041 21 962 8484, squaremeal.co.uk/mrcb

Lucerne
Many consider Lucerne to be Switzerland’s most dramatically situated city, thanks to its lake and mountain setting and the way the River Reuss threads the old city. It also boasts one of the country’s most striking conference venues: the Culture and Convention Centre (tel: 0041 41 226 70 70), or KKL, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. KKL overlooks the lake and mountains to the east and offers three spaces: the elegant 1,840-seat Concert Hall with its outstanding acoustics; the Lucerne Hall, which has moveable partitions to create flexible spaces for 220–1,800 people; and the Convention Centre, which has a 270-seat auditorium and nine smaller meeting rooms.
Built in 1906, the Palace Luzern (tel: 0041 416 16 16) has 13 rooms for meetings of between four and 350 people. All have natural light and air-con, and the hotel offers a variety of teambuilding activities, ranging from a fox trail through the city to sailing on the lake with a staged pirate attack. The hotel’s chefs also cater for dinners at Meggenhorn Castle overlooking the lake, built in the style of a French Renaissance château.
Mountain-top restaurants on the famous local peaks of Rigi and Pilatus offer alternative venues for sunset dinners, both reached by spectacular cog railways. Lake Lucerne is a great stretch of water for canoeing, with its intricate shoreline and dramatic views in all directions.
Tel: 020 7845 7686, squaremeal.co.uk/scib

lavaux - Lavaux_resized.jpgLausanne & Lavaux
Located on steep slopes overlooking Lake Geneva, the historic city of Lausanne is 42 minutes by train from Geneva airport. Perhaps its most unusual venue is the Olympic Museum (tel: 0041 21 621 6720), which can host receptions
for up to 350 people or gala dinners for 250. A 170-seat auditorium offers simultaneous translation booths as well as satellite links and high-definition multiple projection. There are also three meeting rooms for 10–60 people.
Sitting in 10 acres of private garden on the banks of Lake Geneva, the magnificently opulent Beau-Rivage Palace (tel: 0041 21 613 3340) dates from 1857 and commands views across the lake and Alps. Its 12 function rooms take up to 600 people and all have natural daylight. They are supported by four restaurants and bedrooms for up to 400 delegates,
not to mention the paddlesteamer Le Montreux – the perfect setting for a gastronomic voyage framed by the mountain peaks over the lake.
On the nearby lakeside slopes are the terraced vineyards of Lavaux, a World Heritage Site as well as the heart of the region’s viticulture.
Twenty-two producers offer wine tastings in the cool air of an old cellar or on a sunny terrace for up to 120 guests, and 15 of them can cater for dinners for maximum numbers of 20–80. Some of the city’s 22 museums host art and gastronomy functions, and there is a range of architectural gems in the region for gala events, whether you are looking for a medieval hall, baroque splendour or a contemporary setting.
Lausanne, tel: 0041 21 631 7361, squaremeal.co.uk/laus-bureau; Lavaux,
tel: 0041 21 613 2626, squaremeal.co.uk/lakeg-tourism

Interlaken
Interlaken has long been a favourite destination for British visitors on their way to see the Bernese Oberland’s totemic trio of mountains, the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch. Situated on an isthmus between the lakes of Thun and Brienz, Interlaken is an excellent centre for exploring the region.
Its long history of tourism means there are numerous hotels, the queen of which is unquestionably the Victoria-Jungfrau (tel: 0041 33 828 28 28). It has 17 rooms for events, from a meeting for six to a conference of 320, and can host banquets for 380. With professional partners, it offers teambuilding exercises ranging from building an igloo to a mini-Olympics involving leftfield games.
Downtime could see you enjoying an aperitif aboard a paddlesteamer to Brienz for a visit to one of Europe’s finest open-air museums followed by dinner in a historic building. The Swiss Open-Air Museum (tel: 0041 33 952 10 30) at Ballenberg is home to over 100 rescued historic buildings in a 163-acre setting. Some of the ingredients for the dinner are grown on the site, and the three characterful restaurants serve regional recipes.
Tel: 020 7845 7686, squaremeal.co.uk/scib

Les Diablerets
From the railway station at Aigle, 88 minutes from Geneva Airport, three mountain routes connect with mainline trains. One of them ascends to the ski resort of Les Diablerets, an enchanting 47-minute journey in any season. In the heart of the village is the Congress Hall (tel: 0041 24 492 36 19) with a flexible space for up to 350 delegates and all the facilities you would expect to find in a large city venue.
In the village, Hotel Eurotel Victoria (tel: 0041 24 492 37 21)has competitive conference packages for gatherings of 15–120 people. Hôtel Des Diablerets (tel: 0041 24 492 03 03) has four adjustable rooms, all with natural light, and a maximum capacity of 100. Again, the packages compare favourably with venues in larger towns.
The journey to Les Diablerets can be enlivened by chartering one of the railway’s special trains, one of which dates from 1913 and has a capacity of 80, or a train with panorama car for 35 and a lounge-bar car for 30 (tel: 0041 24 468 03 30). During summer months, local companies offer monster bikes, paragliding, via ferrata and mountain biking. 
A few miles above the village (reached by cable car) is Glacier3000 (tel: 0041 848 00 3000) at Glacier-des-Diablerets. Near the summit restaurant designed by Ticinese architect Mario Botta, which serves outstanding food, is the world’s highest bobsleigh track. The 1km Alpine Coaster provides the thrill of 25mph toboggans on rails over its undulations and 520-degree spiral. Husky rides are also available.
Tel: 0041 21 613 2626, squaremeal.co.uk/lakeg-tourism

Schilthorn
You might think meeting rooms can’t get much higher than this… A two-stage cablecar elevates delegates from car-free Mürren to the Piz Gloria (tel: 0041 33 82 60 007) mountain eyrie on the Schilthorn, featured in the Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It can host events for 8–250, and the Crystal Lounge is perfect for secluded meetings of up to 22 delegates. There is nothing but the view to distract delegates and even that can be screened.
Definitely for those who do not suffer from vertigo is a recent addition to local attractions, the via ferrata between Mürren and Gimmelwald. This method of traversing cliffs normally accessible only to mountaineers uses cables, steps and ladders to descend 400 metres over its 2.2km course, taking about three hours. Other exhilarating activities include river rafting, bungee jumping, mountain biking and paragliding. Mürren has a wide range of hotels, the largest being the Eiger (tel: 0041 33 856 54 54).
Tel: 020 7845 7686, squaremeal.co.uk/scib

Jungfraujoch
Jung - ED_LIKE_jun6051.jpg ‘The Top of Europe’ really is as high a venue as you’ll find. The journey to the continent’s most elevated railway station, Jungfraujoch, at 3,454 metres (11,333 feet), is almost as spectacular as the outlook from the mountain’s viewing galleries.
Beginning in Interlaken you take a series of cog-wheel trains to reach the station deep inside the mountain. The first train threads the gorge of the White Lütschine river beneath vertical rock cliffs before the views open out at Lauterbrunnen. As you climb higher, the panorama over the Bernese Oberland peaks grows steadily more impressive until the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch are an overwhelming presence at Kleine Scheidegg. Here, the final train sets off through a 7km tunnel which took 16 years to dig. From the cave-like Jungfraujoch station passengers ascend to spectacular viewing points overlooking the longest glacier in Europe.
Once at the summit, there is a conference room for 30 and two restaurants for hire with capacities of 110 and 220 (tel: 0041 33 828 71 71). More active delegates can walk through a tunnel with a professional mountain guide on to the north face of the Eiger. Meetings don’t get much more exciting than this.
Tel: 020 7845 7686, squaremeal.co.uk/scib


This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, spring 2011


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