We stayed one night in Hotel Des Balances last weekend, a discreet hotel situated directly on the beautiful Reuss River in what must be one of the most postcard-perfect cities in the entire world: Lucerne, Switzerland.
As you approach the Balances’ hotel entrance from the cobblestone old town, you are immediately struck by the stunning neoclassical façade, which paints a colorful history of the region going back to 1187.
But it wasn’t the exterior but the interior of the hotel that made this hotel truly shine in our eyes. The owners — established food connoisseurs — hired Chef Andi Fluri to create an exquisite menu that manifested their innate values for seasonal freshness, simplicity and gastronomic excellence. The guests can experience all of this within a superb dining ambiance of soft candlelight, exposed brick and tastefully elegant décor.
We utilized the two free drink vouchers they gave us at check-in to order a glass of wine of our choice with dinner, and as we analyzed the menu, the only fault we could find was the difficulty in making a choice. Everything looked delicious. For those who aren’t able to choose, don’t worry — you won’t have to – go with the 7 or 5-course set menu, each course paired with a specific wine to complement.
We opted for a standard 2-course meal, and to begin we were each brought a small taster from the kitchen of sweet orange pepper mousse with aubergine tartar, which was inspiring. The starter — Crême brûlée of duck liver with creamy pumpkin soup sprinkled with crushed pumpkin seeds — was extraordinary. I’ve never tasted duck liver prepared with a fire torch before, nor have I even seen it served in this way in any restaurant ever, but the flavor combination we experienced is pure bliss. It was a 10 out of 10. Search for it!
Next came the mains. The pan-fried, medium-rare venison entrecote was simply divine. It jumps into your mouth. The deer was served on juniper jus with onion and cherry puree, with boletus finger noodles (essentially better-tasting, herb-infused and lengthened spätzli), a pear marinated in red wine and seasonal vegetables.
Meanwhile, the pan-fried pike perch fillet was cooked with less perfection — it tasted somewhat salty and there was no legitimate reason for this, particularly given that the fish didn’t come from the actual sea, but instead from one of the crisp fresh water lakes scattered generously throughout central Switzerland.
Still, when the Perch was served with grape jus over a bed of savoy cabbage with mashed sweet potatoes, it approached semi-success. Sweet potatoes are quite exotic for Switzerland, so we were already impressed by the kitchen’s ability to source these starchy things. We were also impressed by the transparency with which the restaurant publicized the origin of every type of meat or fish served (it’s printed clearly on the menu). This knowledge is particularly important for discerning travelers nowadays given the risks of Pacific-caught fish that may or may not be sourced from the region around Fukushima.
When it comes to sleeping arrangements, they’re clearly going for the romance vibe in this place and as a result, it’s a decent place to take your wife, your mistress or both. Most of the time their efforts work – the curvaceous, sexy bar downstairs, the luxurious white bedding upstairs, the red “do not disturb” door tassels and the signature “ice water” room fragrance definitely set a mood. And if none of these work magic, one of the gigantic floor-to-ceiling mirrors situated smack opposite each and every bed in one the hotel’s 56 rooms might do the trick.
But at other times, the sensual décor misses the mark completely or even crosses into kitsch. The bedside table lamps were the most salient example of this, but there are others – for instance, the lighting above the showerhead is designed to resemble a starry night sky with tiny bright holes piercing a gold painted ceiling. Instead, it comes across as clownish, and totally out of tune with the elegance that the hotel aspires to exude.
Overall, Hotel des Balances is a mild recommend – if only for the delectable food — but there are much better value deals within just a five minute walk. At the checkout, we were left with the same overly hospitable, empty feeling you get in so many hotels in Switzerland, or indeed, the feeling you get from the Swiss overall – it would be nice if you could take away a little bit of regiment, and add a lot more soul.
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Ultimately, the city of Lucerne is a highly desirable holiday destination for any couple to enjoy either athletically or culturally, whether sailing on the lake, hiking on Mt. Rigi or listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The city is enthralling from an artistic angle – for a population of just 140,000, they offer a dazzling number of classical music concerts, and the place is famous for it’s numerous festivals and cultural offerings.