The Waldhaus Sils in the fairly tale village of Sils Maria, just a 10 minute drive from St Moritz, was opened on June 15, 1908, by the first generation of the family, Josef Giger (1847–1921) and Amalie Giger-Nigg (1849–1924). For many years, they had managed grand hotels but were not the owners. Now, they had a hotel of their own. And not just any luxury property, but one which has been gradually an impeccable reputation on excellence, with humbleness, patience, earning the trust of its guests step by step and not overnight, the foundation being consistency, reliability and trust.
They were followed by their daughter and son-in-law Helen and Oskar Kienberger, masterful pilots under frequently the most adverse external conditions. Then their son Rolf Kienberger (1917–1994) and his wife Frau Rita (1926–2006) took over. Starting in 1977 Maria and Felix Dietrich-Kienberger assumed responsibility, first shared with Maria’s parents, then, starting in 1989, with Maria’s brother Urs Kienberger (b. 1952).
Since 2010, brothers Claudio and Patrick Dietrich (born 1977 and 1980) have taken over management. Claudio is responsible for the operational and administrative management of the company. Patrick has the main responsibility for the guest relations. Together they continue to give the Waldhaus a human face and a very personal character. Mention must also be made about the very careful selection of staff, who, themselves, are treated as being an integral part of the family.
I was privileged speak to Mr Felix (Dietrich-Kienberger), a true living legend who is nowadays the matriarch supervising the property, together with his sons and the rest of the family. They are the beating heart of the hotel which is more just a home, it is also an integral part of the Maria Sils village and the surrounding, areas, the property sourcing most of its produce from local producers, whether it is the finest quality meats, fruits, honey, milk and milk-related products, vegetables and even flowers.
I know, you may wonder, how special flowers can be. For decades, like any other grand luxury hotels – Waldhaus has its own florist. What is most dazzling is how simple yet sophisticated each bouquet. The same applies to similar features, which, most importantly, have become ‘traditions’ or some many even say ‘basics’ at the Waldhaus Sils.
Beyond consistency and a certain discipline, Waldhouse Sils has always been so much more than a luxury mountain resort. It is an luxury institutions where only a certain number of privileged students from the most prestigious Swiss hotel schools complete their internships, and even fewer making it to a level so they may be considered for a full time job. It is probably the very first such luxury hotel where I would encounter young students with an incredible passion for hospitality.
Like throughout my entire stay, I have felt I was in one of those movies about the glamour of the 1960′ which were the epitome of luxury in the sense of understated or better described as ultimate sophistication through simplicity, which defines the DNA of Waldhouse Sils. And it is not just about simplicity but about a service approach which is not submissive, on the contrary, proud and firm. This is probably one of the motivating reasons which has been urging guests to return almost on a yearly basis, generation after generation. No wonder, 70% are returning guests.
Dinner has two different time settings and guests are most on time. The kitchen and the entire team operate together like a Swiss watch – attentive, caring, efficient and welcoming – without being too friendly, unless the respective guest would show they would accept this. Food is just flawless – preparation, ingredients and presentation! Whether you may have a sandwich in the lobby or a more sophisticated meal in the Swiss specialty restaurant, every single dish will be a treat.
During my fascinating meeting with Felix, he told me: ”My sons have now taken over, and each one has a distinctive role within the hotel. But you know, like today, as they are also part of the committee the town-hall, my job is now to welcome guests at the main door. And it is so much fun. Unfortunately, we know less than a half of them – generations have changed, yet I could not be more proud that they choose us, when they could opt for one of the luxurious resorts in St Moritz. I suppose it is those who do not want to be seen that call Waldhaus home away from home”.
Even the lobby, despite its majestic impressive in size (very high ceilings), as well as an entire wall of glass allowing for superb views, is very much understated and simple, with a certain ‘conservative’ or subdued elegance. Intentionally, during the entire day, the hotel did not impose any attires – you may wonder-in, equipped with
And he took me around the hotel telling me how important activities are, such as those related to the arts – for instance, movies and concerts. But which had to be put on hold because of the pandemic. While showing me around he was also explaining how important it was from the days of the conception for the hotel to have a flow – a logic in its layout, so that for example, the main kitchen is on the same floor. I was breathless looking around the kitchen. Felix added ”We have been constantly investing in all the equipment – which could rival and top luxury hotel around the world”.
Every summer, the hotel is undergoing renovations and an ample process of careful cleaning. I asked him why they maintained so much parquet in all public spaces and most of the rooms and suite and partly covered with classic carpets. ”This is part of our DNA – we know our guests appreciate this. You know, it is like in fashion – at Hermes, people do not always buy new items. Hermes has superb ateliers for reconditioning leather and repairing shoes or bags. This is exactly what we do”
This leads me to the Spa which was a major investment undertaken by the hotel, basically a brand new construction on 3 floors, with every single interior design element being carefully conceived – again with the same DNA pillars like the rest of the hotel – understated, ”laid-back’ and ultimate comfort and relaxation. Attention has been given to aesthetics even when it comes to lighting, many spaces having natural light – especially at the pool which has ample windows with natural light that recreate a very different mood / ambiance, between sunrise and sunset.
Beyond the interior design, the Spa impresses with its team of highly skilled therapists, exceptionally trained to provide the most diverse range of treatments for guest seeking to relax and detox but also skincare-related, ultimately driven by anti-aging.
No expense has been spared at the Spa , with the materials chosen, not to mention the impeccable quality of finishes. Waldhouse Sils could not have chosen a better ”main brand” at the Spa than Susanne Kaufmann, with organic based products sourced from Tyrol, Austria. It is the same brand which has created a bespoke bathroom amenities line for all rooms and suites – although the actual packaging does not have the ”regular” amenities in other luxury hotels, the quality is exceptional, not to mention the scent. As for more, so you can take some samples with you.Waldhouse Sils – suite[/caption]
Since 1970, the heated indoor pool has been a major attraction point. Ideal for sports fans, the lanes extend 20 meters (8 meters wide) into the larch forest. Water temperature: 28°. The children’s paddling pool is a bit warmer, 34°, as is our outdoor whirlpool. Te§forest terrace, which can be reached via a direct door at the swimming pool level. The latest fitness equipment from Technogym is available in the gym. A personal trainer is at your service. Less strenuous activities can help you find your balance, such as courses in our yoga and exercise room.
The Waldhaus remains purely a family affair without external partners or managers, very rare for a hotel of this kind and size. Of course, even here many things have changed. The family has understood early on, that only by continuously investing – some of the recent major investments in the near future being made into the Spa, the new restaurant Gigers and the impeccable back-of-the-house – the kitchen would be considered a ‘work of art’. It often came to my mind how the Waldhouse is also an institution, a veritable school. How many hotels these days employ their very own full time butcher?
Staying relevant for the fast changing new GenZ is a priority for the family especially these days when luxury has taken unprecedented U turns when it comes to (re)defining it. Value is perceived differently and more flexibility is expected for last minute changes. The Spa offerings especially in diversity are impressive, guest being able to spend an entire day at the Spa. The hotel is prepared to provide the most wide range of activities, beyond just skying. Maintaining a genuine desirability factor has always been a constant pursuit of the hotel, aiming for perfection.
The hotel has its very own library which has nowadays undertaken the relevance of a lounge where guests can work quietly on their laptop. There is also a sleek all-leather Fumoir (Smoking Room) which resembles more of a bar, with an exquisite selection of cigars and drinks. Children have not been overlooked – from dedicated food menus to Spa treatments but also tennis, cinema, sledding and the dedicated Gian & Gianna Children’s Club.
For the Waldhouse Sils, the ongoing unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic pose less challenges, already boasting the highest safety and hygiene standards, but that does not mean all the requirements by authorities have not been carefully and consistently implemented – firmly reinforcing wearing of a protective mask throughout ALL the public spaces of the hotel, limiting capacity of dining venues, removing buffet type servings and so much more. Upon your arrival, you will be handed a guidance note on everything related to preventing the spread of the Covid-19 virus, thus protecting both guests and staff.
The family has deliberately refrained from expanding the hotel’s capacity, recognizing that this is essential if we still want to receive and look after our guests in the same way that earlier generations took for granted. Our ancestors would still easily recognize the hotel they wrought! Felix said
Oliver Petcu in Sils-Maria, St Moritz
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