Grandhotel Giessbach

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Discover the Grandhotel Giessbach, which has been among Switzerland’s most beloved historic hotels since the early 19th century.

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Grandhotel Giessbach, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2014, dates back to 1822.

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Giessbachbahn - Giessbach Funicular

Learn more about the Grandhotel Giessbach’s historic funicular, which has ferried guests from the shores of Lake Brienz since the 1870s.

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A member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2014, the Grandhotel Giessbach overlooks a series of waterfalls celebrated locally as the “Giessbachfälle.” In fact, the history of the Grandhotel Giessbach is deeply connected to that majestic body of water. In the early 19th century, a group of Swiss artist discovered the natural landmark while traveling around the Swiss cantons in search of artistic inspiration. Word of their discovery quickly traveled throughout Switzerland, which motivated dozens of people to visit the location. Among the first people to arrive were pastor Daniel Wyss and schoolteacher Johann Kehrli in 1822. Together, the two decided to create their own footpath that made it easier for interested guests to hike up to the waterfalls from Lake Brienz below. Kehrli specifically carved out the lower portion of the path, while Wyss created the top section. Upon finishing their small trail, Kehrli installed a quaint bench in the middle of the path that offered stunning views of the entire area. Kehrli remained deeply enchanted with the Giessbachfälle, though, and stayed for many years thereafter. He gradually developed the area into a magnificent holiday destination, building both a restaurant and hotel at the site of the earlier bench. Kehrli even partnered with a few local businessmen to illuminate the surrounding waterfalls in an attempt to attract even more people. But Kehrli had died by the mid-1850s, leaving his prized hotel in the hands of his children. They decided to sell the facility to Konrad Gerhard von Rappard, who, in turn, sold it to the prominent Knechtenhofer family. The two entities continued the work of their predecessor, nonetheless, expanding the building’s size until it numbered 175 guestrooms!

Then, in 1873, the Karl Hauser acquired the quaint hotel complex for the stunning price of 900,000 Swiss francs. He immediately began his own renovation of the building, charging architect Edouard Horác Davinet to oversee the task. The project proved to be intense, for Davinet completely reconstructed the building practically from scratch. He specifically designed an even grander hotel set upon a palatial floorplan. Davinet crafted its brilliant exterior façade with a beautiful variety of Swiss chalet-style design aesthetics. Its interiors were just as extravagant, featuring five stories of luxurious accommodations connected via an ornate master staircase. Each space within the building had access to water cloisters, as well as modern lighting fixtures. Davinet even thoroughly renovated the grounds, adding such amenities like pavilions, playgrounds, sporting fields, and a wharf out on the lake. Hauser was deeply impressed with Davinet’s work when he finally opened the new hotel two years later. In recognition, Hauser even Davinet to serve as the business’ general manager! Rechristened as the “Grandhotel Giessbach,” Hauser and Davinet worked closely to make the reborn retreat one of Switzerland’s finest. In just a matter of months, the hotel became a popular destination among industrialists, bankers, and aristocrats across Europe. But the hotel soon became heavily visited by guests from the other side of the world, including Asia and Africa. Hauser and Davinet continued to tinker with the hotel and its surrounding grounds as such, even going as far as to open their own funicular nearby.

Unfortunately, a major accident compromised the structure in 1883, forcing both Hauser and Davinet to comprehensively restore the entire Grandhotel Giessbach. Davinet actually used the setback as an opportunity to add onto the hotel’s exterior, installing such gorgeous components like pointed towers and ornate gables. Brand new facilities debuted throughout the hotel, as well, including an exclusive hydrotherapy institute that offered all kinds of relaxing baths and massages. The two even constructed a dormitory adjacent to the Grandhotel Giessbach that housed the ever-growing number of service staff on-site. Their perseverance ensured that the Grandhotel Giessbach’s luxurious appeal reemerged from the crisis stronger than ever before. In just a short amount of time, the destination resumed entertaining its normal clientele of influential dignitaries and businesspeople. This popularity endured for a while, too, even after Hauser sold the Grandhotel Giessbach to new owners shortly before the outbreak of World War I. A fluid period of ownership followed for the next thirty years, ultimately concluding with Bürgenstock owner Fritz Frey-Fürst’s purchase of the site in 1947. The hotel subsequently remained under the ownership of the Frey-Fürst family over the following decades, who took great pains to constantly preserve the building’s historical charm.

Nevertheless, the Grandhotel Giessbach had fallen onto hard times yet again by the beginning of the 1970s. Newer retreats had emerged as rivals, which successfully competed with the Grandhotel Giessbach for business. The hotel’s upkeep began to stagnate, as such, with many of its rooms becoming dilapidated. In 1979, the situation had grown so dire that the Frey-Fürst family considered demolishing the whole hotel. Thankfully, a commission of concerned people known as the Bernese Citizens’ Council pooled their resources with the intent on saving the Grandhotel Giessbach. Under the leadership of its president, Rudolf von Fischer, the organization successfully thwarted any attempt to destroy the building. True salvation finally arrived a few years later, when the entrepreneur Franz Weber obtained the Grandhotel Giessbach through his organization, the “Giessbach Foundation for the Swiss People.” Weber immediately began a series of extensive renovations that took the better part of the 1980s to complete. But he was incredibly eager to resume operations and decided to reopen the Grandhotel Giessbach as soon as the architects had made enough progress. The hotel, thus, officially reopened to great acclaim in 1984. This spectacular historic hotel has since returned to being one of Switzerland’s most outstanding destinations. Thanks in large part to the work Weber sponsored, the hotel’s historical details and amenities still possess the same enchanting qualities they had when the building first opened centuries ago. In honor of the building’s historical character, the International Council for the Preservation of Monuments (ICOMOS) even bestowed the Grandhotel Giessbach with the title of “Historic Hotel of the Year” back in 2002. Few other hotels in Switzerland can lay claim to the kind of history and prestige that define the Grandhotel Giessbach today.

  • About the Location +

    The Grandhotel Giessbach sits high atop a bluff overlooking the turquoise waters of Lake Brienz (otherwise known as the “Brienzersee”). Despite the majesty of the lake—as well as the surrounding Swiss Alps—the most iconic local feature is a series of 14 waterfalls that cascade into the valley below. Called the “Giessbachfälle,” the waterfalls themselves gradually drop down for some 400 meters. While the Giessbachfälle has existed for centuries, its popularity as a tourist attraction truly emerged at the start of the 1800s. Most of the visitors were Swiss in origin, with many arriving from the nearby towns of Brienz, Interlaken, and Thun. Brienz and Interlaken—the closest major communities—are replete with their own extensive history. Situated on both ends of Lake Brienz in the greater Bernese Oberland region, the two communities have a heritage that harkens back centuries. Even though Interlaken is significantly larger, the first to form was actually Brienz. Romans settlers occupied the land in the 1st century BC, conquering the disparate bands of Celts that had originally called the area home. (Archeologists still uncover Roman artifacts today, such as swords and coins.) They soon developed the nucleus of present-day Brienz and used the eponymously named lake as a means to generate commerce. Nevertheless, the Alamanni—an ancient confederation of Germanic tribes—eventually routed the Romans two centuries later and claimed the abandoned settlement as their own. Over time, the Alamanni spread throughout the valley, creating a network of new towns and villages by the height of the Middle Ages. Among the most prolific settlements to appear included places like Unterseen, Matten, and Wilderswil, which now serve as the suburbs for modern Interlaken today.

    Interlaken itself was known as the village of “Aarmühle,” a tiny hamlet that serviced a mill of the same name. Even though the hamlet exercised some limited political independence—it had its own agricultural cooperative for instance—administration of the area fell to the civic officials based in Matten. Despite their authority, ultimate control over the entire area fell to the religious authorities at the Interlaken Monastery. Founded in 1133, the monastery was the most prolific political institution in the valley at the time. While a local lord named Baron Seliger of Oberhofen had created the church for the Augustinians, Emperor Lothair III of the Holy Roman Empire seized it and charged the monks inside to rule the region from the monastery on his behalf. Under imperial protection, the Interlaken Monastery thrived for generations as its population grew in number. At the apex of its power in the 13th century, the abbey contained several hundred inhabitants, including 30 priests and around 350 nuns. Its wealth was incredible, fueled by the generous tithes collected from the surrounding towns. The revenue subsequently enabled the Augustinians to invest in new ways to generate income, going as far as to build a nearby toll bridge across the Aare River. Furthermore, they also created the Aarmühle mill next to the bridge, leaving it in the hands of Matten’s leaders. The Augustinians were even able to obtain the mighty Weissenau castle, which they transformed into an extension of their own abbey.

    As such, the Interlaken Monastery was easily able to exert its influence over the many towns surrounding Lake Brienz. But in the 15th century, internal strife both within the monastery and the adjacent communities gradually eroded the local authority of the Augustinians. Aristocrats in the villages began to challenge the supremacy of the monastery, forming their own alliances that often dragged the Augustinians into unwanted confrontations. Some of those disputes even spiraled into destructive regional conflicts, such as when several towns joined the Evil League amid the Old Zürich War of the 1440s. Disagreements among the monastery’s inhabitants grew bitter as a result, prompting the greater Bishopric of Lausanne to intervene regularly. Such sociopolitical turmoil had significantly diminished the power of the Interlaken Monastery, with church authorities in the Old Swiss Confederacy left to lament its decay. The Catholic Church even closed the nunnery outright in 1484, and transferred its remaining property to a new abbey in the city of Bern. The onset of the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century brought about the final end of the Interlaken Monastery, though. Protestantism’s rapid proliferation in the area inspired Bernese bureaucrats to secularize the facility in 1528, expelling the remaining Augustinians monks in the process. The monastery saw new life fulfilling a variety of civic functions in the centuries that followed. Portions of the erstwhile religious complex served as a hospital and a municipal office, while other parts became storage space for raw grain and wine.

    Meanwhile, the many towns and villages that once owed fealty to the Interlaken Monastery began to rule their own affairs autonomously. Throughout the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, those settlements grew into prosperous farming communities, whose population began to fan out into the greater countryside. Aarmühle expanded, as well, eventually achieving independence from Matten in 1810 after centuries of acrimonious disputes. (One such feud during the 1700s even forced the provincial authorities in Bern to attempt a mediation, albeit unsuccessfully.) The residents of Aarmühle then began to forge a new identity for their town, gradually adopting the name of the historic monastery that resided nearby. Aarmühle, thus, became “Interlaken” officially in 1891. But more than just the town’s name had changed by this point. Interlaken—as well as the other communities surrounding Lake Brienz—had emerged as one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Swiss Alps. Inspired by the works of Swiss landscape artists who had visited the region in early 19th century, many travelers began to arrive by the dozen to experience the area’s inherit beauty for themselves. The deluge of new people saw a construction boom all along the lake, with communities like Interlaken and Brienz seeing the debut of many new hotels, inns, and seasonal cottages. New railways soon reached the locale from places as far away as Lucerne, which further increased the amount of people who vacationed in the region. There was even a dedicated ferry service from Interlaken to Brienz that provided comprehensive sightseeing tours of the entire countryside. Interlaken, Brienz, and the greater Bernese Oberland are still among the most popular destinations to visit in Switzerland. Defined by a rich heritage and unrivaled tranquility, they continue to offer nothing but the most memorable vacation experience.


  • About the Architecture +

    In 1983, Franz Weber and the “Giessbach Foundation to the Swiss People” successfully acquired the ailing Grandhotel Giessbach. Determined to save the structure, he had spent a total of three million Swiss francs to obtain both the historic hotel and its surrounding grounds. Still, the acquisition of the Grandhotel Giessbach was not merely a one-person show. On the contrary, Weber had benefited greatly from a large network of donors spread throughout Switzerland as a whole. Once the sale became final, he proceeded to initiate a massive renovation of the site via a public limited company he formed called the “Parkhotel Giessbach AG.” The renovations would prove to be a mammoth undertaking, costing four times as much as it had to buy the Grandhotel Giessbach in the first place. But it would also take years to complete, too, lasting the duration of the decade. Weber and hits team’s enthusiasm remained high throughout the whole process nevertheless, as all involved thoroughly were completely committed to the task of restoring its Victorian-era charm.

    The first area that the architects addressed was the restoration of the Grandhotel Giessbach’s historic dining establishments. Focusing on the restaurant and kitchen specifically, the engineers worked diligently to rehabilitate its original details, while also modernizing its amenities. Afterward, Weber instructed his crews to work on the spacious dining halls, removing installations from the 1940s that had covered up the historical architecture. This new phase of construction—lasting from the fall of 1983 to the early spring of 1984—also significantly restored the lobby, specifically its bar area and fireplace. Preservationists even addressed the ailing state of the hotel’s brilliant stucco tiling, thus reviving the interior’s festively stylish atmosphere. Furthermore, the renovations covered all of the available guestrooms, which were redesigned to feature separate bathrooms crafted in an aesthetically pleasing appearance. The architects also endeavored to remove any sign of the elevators, too, in an attempt to the architectural beautiful of the grand staircase. Weber and his team visibly shifted them sideways in order to make the staircase the center of attention once more. Craftsmen even took to redoing the roof’s historical edging, restoring the lucarnes and ornate gables that first appeared all the way back in 1883.

    As the project finally reached its climax during the winter of 1988/1989, Weber and his construction crews began to overhaul the hotel’s Bel-Etage rooms. With the help of the local Bernese government, the team managed to fully revitalize the spaces back to their former glory. Additional work undertaken at the time restored the central staircase, as well as the hotel’s very foundation. (The construction specifically created space for an underground passageway that connected each one of the Grandhotel Giessbach’s wings.) But civic officials also aided Weber in the reinstallation of such historical components like the original lingerie from the time of Karl Hauser and Edouard Horác Davinet. They even assisted Weber’s team borrow 19th-century paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern to display throughout the newly renovated spaces. Known on-site as the “Davinet Collection,” the paintings helped capture the hotel’s original ambiance. The project finally concluded the following winter, with both Parkhotel Giessbach AG and the Giessbach Foundation to the Swiss People working together to enlarge the kitchen facilities in both hotel wings. Thanks in large part to the work supervised by Franz Weber and his colleagues, the Grandhotel Giessbach stands today as a renowned Swiss cultural and historical monument.


  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    Smiley’s People (1982)

    Supertick (1989)

    Nestor Burma: Nestor Burma dans l'île (1994)

    Band of Brothers: Points (2004)


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