People who say Switzerland is tidy and boring have never been to Rorschach. Traffic rattles along the high street as if everyone is in a dreadful hurry to get somewhere else, but it’s far more casual and interesting than most other lakeside resorts. The old town is an intriguing mishmash of 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century architecture (even the police station is a gem), although what makes Rorschach exceptional isn’t the town itself, but its proximity to one of the best views on the lake and one of its very best hotels.
First, the view: a cherry-red funicular makes its way up a giddy slope, past grazing goats, to the hilltop town of Heiden. At an altitude of more than 800 metres, I was expecting a few spartan Alpine huts. Instead, I found a majestic spa town built in the Biedermeier style. This was where Jean Henri Dunant, founder of the Red Cross and inaugural winner of the N’obel Peace Prize, spent the last 20 years of his life. I can’t imagine a more peaceful place to retire to, and if anyone deserved a peaceful retirement, it was surely Dunant.
Now the hotel: Schloss Wartegg is a fortified chateau built in 1557 in the hillside forest above the lake. However, it isn’t the location that makes it special, or even its antiquity. It is the work its new owners have put in since they took it on less than 10 years ago. A stately home for several centuries, it was a ruin from the 1950s until the 1990s, and it only opened as a hotel five years ago, after careful renovation. It’s a dramatic synthesis of ancient architecture and modern design: walls and floors are bare; the colour scheme is neutral; there are no televisions in the bedroom, and hardly any pictures on the walls. There are family suites, a children’s play room, a meditative room where silence is observed, a reading room, and a music room for concerts. A tranquil terrace overlooks the lake. The menu in the intimate restaurant is wholesome and simple. Free-range meat, fish straight from the lake and delicious, organic vegetables from the restaurant’s own garden. The owners live in the hotel, and staying here you almost feel like a guest of the family. I don’t think I’ve ever found a more welcoming place to stay.