“When I was about six or seven years old, someone asked me what I wanted to do. I remember it clearly: I said I wanted to own a hotel,” says Daniel Lauber. “Maybe it was in my bones—not my family’s, who are in a different trade altogether—but to me, being in a hotel feels right somehow. Like home, I suppose.” Yet when his time came, Lauber’s response to his heritage was to act counter to the Swiss hotel tradition. “People of the Upper Valais have a tendency to rebel. We consider ourselves the Scots of Switzerland. We can be a little bit edgier than the rest of the country.”
In May 2009, the Laubers broke ground with Cervo Mountain Boutique Resort, the 33-room contemporary-styled hotel he devised with his wife and chef Seraina, whom he met at the Swiss Hotel Management School Lucerne SHL (L’Ecole Hôtelière Suisse de Lucerne) in 2006. “There were something like 125 hotels in Zermatt at the time,” explains Daniel Lauber, who trained at big international five-stars in both the U.S. and Switzerland before returning home to make his own way. “I wanted our guests to feel they were part of something fresh and modern, while not losing the quality of Zermatt’s tradition and the attention to detail.”
It’s a tightrope to walk—between old and new in a solid Upper Valais town where one can sometimes feel a slight snobbery, or at least stuffiness, in the silver service restaurants and whispering hotel lobbies. “I’m not saying we were the first to revitalize the town’s hotel scene,” he says. “But one needs to understand the context. There was change happening; in the 1980s and 1990s, Zermatt’s hotels were tending towards Alpine kitsch. By 2000, the town had begun to attract more glamor, responding to a shift in the changing demands of modern travelers. I’m talking about the people who don’t want to wear a suit and tie in a hotel, even though they’ve been wearing one all week. We wanted to create a hunting lodge that respected the roots of the region, but with a vitality that reflected our guests’ new style. Alpine chic, I suppose.”
To achieve the right balance, Daniel and Seraina immediately set about breaking the rules: they brought in not one architect, but two, while at the same time retaining absolute control over the interior aesthetic (the couple shopped for all the individual antique pieces, trawling the markets of Switzerland and the South of France). Nor did the two architects the couple hired have much in common; rather they were diametrically opposed, one being Roman Mooser—a traditional local architect in his sixties—and the other Roger Bächtold, a modern, urban architect from Zurich. There were sensitivities to address—the principal existing building was a private chalet constructed in the 1940s for the French engineer who built the railway from Santa Fe to Buenos Aires.
The original chalet—which is still ski-in, ski-out—was therefore always going to form the core of the hotel, which is why the chalet’s former living room is given over to Seraina’s Provençal-inflected restaurant. This functions as Cervo's beating heart, not just for hotel guests, but outside visitors, too.