Passing the Bentley convertible at the door, we ascend the carpeted steps. Our cases were whisked away graciously by the footmen as we were escorted into the Atrium of the Les Trois Rois. Looking up, we felt giddy as we crane our necks to take in the glittering chandeliers casting myriad rays of splendid light all around the dark wood-paneled interior. The plaque hanging above the stairs told us that Aux Trois Roys already had an established reputation for providing high-class hospitality in 1752, seventeen years before Napoleon’s birth. He held a banquet here in 1797, but we don’t know if he spent the night. There is a suite named in his honor. The hotel claims many other famous guests, including Queen Elizabeth ll.
Switzerland has long provided generations of fine hoteliers from some of the world’s greatest hotel schools, such as L’École hotelière de Lausanne. So they set very high standards for the best swiss hotels to live up to. Shrouded in myth, steeped in history, marinaded in culture, and garnished with real sophistication, Les Trois Rois, doesn’t disappoint. This Grand Dame of swiss hotels has occupied a position as one of Europe’s foremost Grand Hotels since the seventeenth century. The present building was completed in 1844 thanks to the vision of Johann Jakob Senn, who saw the trade that the new railway link from Strassburg (still then a German city) would bring, and so Die Drei Konige became a familiar point on The Grand Tour.
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Sitting at the crossroads of medieval Europe on the bank of The Rhine, adjacent to the Mittlere Rheinbrucke, at one time and for five hundred years, the only permanent crossing over this mighty river, Basel is quietly one of the most beautiful and charming cities in the whole of Europe.
Basel’s prosperity has been uninterrupted by wars, and this fine city boasts many proud sons and daughters, having been home to luminaries such as Holbein, Paracelcus, and Calvin to name but three. Today, Basel combines high-value industries such as Pharmaceuticals with unblemished medieval streets and marketplaces.
Fasnacht, which occupies the city for 72 hours in Lent, is the largest popular festival in Switzerland. Nobody knows why it is one week later in Basel than everywhere else in the german speaking world, but it is wonderfully wacky and colorful. There is an opera house and numerous museums and galleries here. A great place to do business and a very romantic retreat. The perfect location for a great hotel.
Style & Character
At check-in, we were presented with a single dusky damask rose on a perfect de-thorned stem. A nice touch. When we entered our room, we found a slim, elegant vase, ready filled with water, awaiting our trophy. There were many similar small delights in the next twenty-four hours as we gradually realized nothing was left to chance here.
Nothing is permitted to enter Les Trois Rois unless it is excellent. This applies equally to guests, who are impeccably dressed and well-mannered in the best traditions of the Swiss reserve. From the exquisitely fine but modern bone china in Cheval Blanc, the two Michelin-starred restaurant, to the bewildering pillow menu, everything is designed to enhance your experience.
This is a city hotel in Switzerland, so don’t expect palatial proportions. Our 32 m² Rhine view King was beautiful and well equipped, but the most important feature was the balcony overlooking the river, in full flood as the spring melt in the Alps combines with April rainfall to produce a mighty torrent. We left the balcony doors open as late as we could and were lulled to sleep by the moment’s serenity.
Service & Facilities
Overall this is a superb hotel, and the price reflects the very high standards not only of service but in the fabric and equipment too. Les Trois Rois blends the best of its considerable heritage with all the comforts modern technology can provide. The Wi-Fi is faster than almost any other hotel we have experienced. The key fobs seem quaintly old-fashioned but make no mistake, door locks are electronic and highly secure. Little touches like the rose at check-in (and the satisfied look on the face of the check-in clerk when we discovered the waiting vase in our room) and the gift of their home-made strawberry and rhubarb jam at check-out tell you that they go to a lot of trouble to think of ways to please. It could feel gimmicky if it wasn’t just add to extremely professional and gracious service delivery. The in-room entertainment system is B&O, the air-con may be hidden behind a 19th-century patterned grill, but the control is state-of-the-art touch-sensitive. I could go on, but you get the picture. Fashions fade, and style is eternal. Yves St Laurent would have loved this place.
Food & Drink
Breakfast is served in The Brasserie and is excellent. The only minor disappointment was the limited fruit, but the handmade bread and preserves, the local honey, and the charcuterie were all really good. I am happy to report that this is one hotel that can cook your eggs perfectly. Mine were soft-poached, and my partner’s omelet was spot-on. Service was good without being remarkable and certainly not intrusive.
The highlight was lunch at Le Cheval Blanc, where we were in ecstasy over the delicacy of the amuses bouche before we even got to the starter. It has two Michelin stars, so you expect excellence, but Peter Knobl is a truly gifted chef. How he manages to create such definitive flavors as in the beetroot macaroon or the “mushroom three ways” is beyond me and the presentation, needless to say, was of the highest order. When the kitchen calmed down, Herr Knobl came into the salon in his whites to greet each table personally and seek feedback. We ran out of superlatives.
It has to be said that Switzerland is an expensive destination, and there is also an element of managing both demand and the mix of guests by keeping prices high. It does feel genuinely exclusive. So, my thanks to the whole team at Les Trois Rois. We’ll be back when we have saved up enough.
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