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04-05-2020 | Frank Jansen

Hotel Belvédère, the most famous hotel in the Alps

Just before the top of the Furka Pass, in beautiful Switzerland, lies the most famous and undoubtedly most photographed hotel in the Alps: Hotel Belvédère. The hotel was built in 1882 by the famous Seiler family of hoteliers from fashionable Zermatt, exactly 15 years after the Furka Pass was completed in 1867.

The hotel has always been a risky investment: after all, the Furka Pass is closed in winter so the season is very short. The big attraction are the ice caves that run right through the adjacent glacier. Those caves are owned by the Carlen family, whom we will meet later in this story. Furthermore, the hotel offered shelter to rest seekers, hikers and casual passers-by. 

In 1964, the famous chase scene of the James Bond film Goldfinger. Supposedly, Sean Connery slept at the hotel at the time and remained a frequent visitor in the years that followed. Pope John the 23rd could also be counted among its regular clientele. Yet the hotel didn't manage to take advantage of the generated publicity.

In 1982, the Seiler family sold the land between Grimsel and Furka including the hotel to the canton of Valais, which had no intention of continuing the hotel. The canton initially wanted to flood the entire valley to turn it into a reservoir to generate electricity. A plan that was cancelled thanks to objections from the locals. In '88, the hotel was sold to the Carlen family (of the ice caves) who still own it to this day. The ten years before the sale, the hotel had been empty. In 1990, renovation was completed and the hotel was leased, although the decor remained very traditional. Time seemed to literally stand still at the Hotel Belvédère.

But business was getting harder and harder due to a variety of factors. The tenant proved unreliable so the Carlen family took matters into their own hands. Alternative roads were built through the Alps, reducing throughput at Furka Pass and greatly reducing the number of passersby. Meanwhile, climate change shortened the glacier by more than a kilometer (!), leaving little of the once impressive ice caves. Ten years later, the Carlens try to lease things out again, but twice to no avail. 

When a rock formation landed on the road between Göschenen and Andermatt in 2015, the main supply route from Lucerne was temporarily closed. Add to that the expensive Swiss Franc, health problems among the managers and the sad state of the rooms, and the Carlens had no choice but to close their doors.

The Carlen family plans to find a new tenant, but until then, the iconic Hotel Belvédère stands empty. Probably for good.

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