Which are the best pools in the world? All depends on what you want, says the gal. If you want the biggest single lap pool in a hotel, head for the Cipriani in Venice, where then-owners the Guinness family gave instructions in feet, only to find the pool was excavated in metres. If you want one of the most ingenious, memorable and thoroughly sexy pools in the world, go no further than the super-luxury Hotel Villa Honegg, high above Stans, the capital of Nidwalden canton, 30 minutes’ drive from Lucerne.
I arrived at Stans by train, on the hourly, 15-minute service from Lucerne. Even though it is a tiny station, it is busy: Stans only has a population of 42,000 but it is high income. It attracts the same kind of inward investment as nearby Zug, companies moving here because of favourable tax rates. It is also home of Pilatus, the world market leader when it comes to making single-engine turboprop planes. Obviously planes have to fly, hence the nearby private-jet landing strip at Buochs, on the edge of Lake Lucerne. So, come to Hotel Villa Honegg in your Cessna or whatever and you can land at Buochs. Come by helicopter and you can land right up by the hotel.
Perhaps you arrive like me, with a 20-minute drive from the train, past Pilatus and the Buochs airstrip and then near-diagonally up a winding single track. You pass through bright green fields, with cows all wearing cowbells. Finally, up there, 480 metres above the landing strip and a total 914 metres a.s.l., you come to the villa, a four-floor fairytale building with pointed tiled roof above a white body with pale blue window frames and shutters. Once there, look back down, to the lake far below. Outside, in all weathers, there are benches and tables and a coffee service, and a supply of thick furs to keep you warm, when necessary.
Villa Honegg opened in 2011 as a 23-room hotel. It has been run by the start by a most unusual GM, Peter Durrer. His background includes being a Swissair flight attendant, working Swiss railways and helping to manage what was the Floating Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. He came to the Villa from Lucerne’s hotel school, where he had been teaching marketing … all these experiences have helped him coordinate a really unique hotel, as we shall see. Come in through the main door and you find a low-set arrival room, with a small library at one end and lots of hard-back books. The entrance to the wellness is just round the corner here.
There is a Technogym, and a couple of massage rooms, and a serious spa and sauna area. There are loungers around the indoor pool, which is right next to the inside entrance to the already-mentioned sexy pool, most of which is outside. L-shaped, the outside pool, which is all steel lined, wraps around two sides of the hotel. To get into it from outside, go down seven steps into water that is heated 50% by air conditioning outflow, the rest directly. It is long enough to swim properly, though you have to avoid the vitality stations in both the arm and leg of the L. Yes, this hotel is unusual. There is tennis, and croquet, and, at times, classical music performances. Breakfast, included in the rate, runs until 2pm, any and every day – and you can choose anything you want off the copious menu (the basic continental comes anyway, with cold cuts, fruits and local cheese on a three-tier stand).
What else is unusual here? Room numbers are clearly painted at waist height on the frame of your door, so you clearly see them as you walk the corridor – which is cream and straight, with one long wall bearing a cream and mushroom-soup fabric pattern. Inside the room, your minibar, which is alcohol-free, is complimentary. If it is a preferred end room, say suite 25, twice the size of normal rooms, pale lime-coloured marble panels can slide across to cut the bedroom off completely. Your room supplies include a set of really big felt over-slippers, to put on over shoes, and a heavy local blanket, to keep you warm as you sit out on your four-foot-deep balcony, savouring the view. Yes, this luxury hotel is a one-off…