One of our favourite ski resort hotels

8th April 2020, by Nicky Holford

Stepping back in time with all the joy of modern comforts at the Bella Tola Hotel, St Luc

Stepping back in time with all the joy of modern comforts at the Bella Tola Hotel, St Luc

Surrounded by the Imperial Crown, a group of imposing 4,000m mountains, in the small picturesque and unspoiled Swiss village of St Luc in the Rhone valley, is the Bella Tola Hotel, that was built in 1859. What sets this hotel apart is not only its historic grand salon and dining room and its original features, but also the personal ambience its hosts have created and the design and attention to detail in every corner of every room and communal space.

It’s one of my (and Where to Ski and Snowboard’s) favourite hotels and Editor Dave Watts and I were lucky enough to stay there while researching the Val d’Anniviers ski areas (St Luc/Chandolin and the separate Zinal/Grimentz area) for Where to Ski in Switzerland, which will be published in 2021.

The hotel is a short walk to the St Luc funicular which accesses the 75km ski area of St Luc and Chandolin and a twenty minutes drive to the linked resorts of Grimentz and Zinal. On the day Dave Watts and I skied the area more than 10cm of fresh snow had fallen overnight and coated most of the pistes, so we were lucky enough to be skiing powder on the pistes.

Owned by the enterprising couple Claude and Anne-Françoise Buchs, who work tirelessly every day and evening, there is not a guest who isn’t welcomed personally or a task too menial. After skiing the St Luc/Chandolin area, we first luxuriated in the spa and then settled in the lounge which, with its lush velvet curtains, roaring log fire and cosy seating areas was cosseting and comfortable. It was like staying in someone’s luxurious home – during our stay I noticed dogs curled around the log fire, two guests playing chess, others reading newspapers and couples sipping aperitifs.

Anne-Françoise and Claude Buchs relaxing after a busy evening

Many of the returning clientèle, who are mostly Swiss, are keen followers of the hotel’s innovations. “A lot of our followers look at Instagram to see what’s new,” says Anne-Françoise. “Every time I do something new I put a photo up. People come here because they know I’m always having new ideas. I’m always changing things in the corridors, the dining rooms and the bedrooms ¬– there’s always something happening. Guests arrive and say where’s that new sofa I saw on Instagram. Sometimes they say something is new and it’s not but they enjoy this kind of game.”

Modern design that compliments antique features add class and comfort

The interior design and little touches make this hotel unique. There are many original pieces such as lampstands but with a new shade. “All the shades are made of velvet they are all different sizes and shapes but the bases may be 15 years old,” explains Anne-Françoise. “I might choose stripes, plain, different sizes. Lights in decoration are very important. I lightened up the red and the green deep colours by adding some spotlights which are all LED and it’s made certain features such as paintings really stand out whereas before, without lights, they were forgotten.”

Claude is very conscious of saving energy and is on a strict programme to make everything energy efficient. The Buchs met “at the bar” when they were both at the hotel school in Lausanne and married in 1990. Later when they started looking for their own hotel the Bella Tola came up for sale. Anne-Françoise could not believe it. They stayed in it overnight and it was only when Claude said how much he loved it that Anne-Françoise told him she had worked there in her 20’s.

The spa which has a log fire in the relaxation area, sauna and steamroom and signature massage and treatments

When I first stayed soon after the Buchs had bought it, Anne-Françoise was busy turning ordinary looking chairs into plush dining room chairs by covering them with material from the original velvet curtains.

Lighting and especially lampshades demonstrate Mme. Buchs’ interior design talent

Every year there is a project. These have included adding a spa (with a pool and relaxation area with stupendous views, sauna, steam room and treatment rooms with their own signature treatments), renovating original features, redesigning rooms and creating terraces.

For next season a team of restorers are to repair the stunning painted ceiling in the breakfast room. “It’s from 1883 and it is cracking in many place; I’m worried it will fall in the soup,” says Anne-Françoise.

“Whenever we decorate we have to find something new. I do not follow trends. Our hotel is a historic hotel, not a new hotel. It is like an old lady, you have to know her to understand her and have the right feeling. I know this house by heart because I’ve lived here for 24 years. We need to be different.”

Original features such as the floor and wood panelling in the Salon Vallet have been retained as has the ceiling painted by Raphael Ritz and a heating cupboard in the kitchen making use of hot pipes from the heating system. But instead of an antique feel, Anne-Françoise’s gift for adding modern design and comfort results in a unique combination where the past and the present blend together seamlessly.

Attention to detail such as these colourful flowers are everywhere

Opening the door to my room 402 reminded me of stepping through the wardrobe to emerge in Narnia. At first everything appears normal, a large double bed with a canopy dominates the room, there’s an en-suite and a reading room, espresso machine, china teacups, but then the magic begins and it’s all in the detail. Binoculars are conveniently at hand to see the view out of the window that frames the magnificent Weisshorn and the Imperial Crown mountains. The loo brush is in a milk churn, there’s a bar of homemade chocolate by the bed. There’s lots of cupboard space, old-fashioned light switches and a hot water bottle near the kettle.

Sadly the hotel has currently had to close as Switzerland is, like most of Europe, in the grip of Covid-19. At the moment it’s due to re-open in June. I’m hoping in the near future there will be a chance to go back. I never had time for my roll-top bath, or a fondue in one of the dining rooms. No doubt the Buchs are using this time to plan a few new surprises.

Find out more at

The Buchs have also renovated a 1933 chalet into a mini Bella Tola, with en-suite rooms at lower rates and with a cosy lounge and dining room decorated in Anne-Francoise’s innovative style. For details see

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