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A hotel fit for an Emperor

1 May 2019

When your famous past guests include one Napoleon Bonaparte, few would expect a dental specialist to be your salvation. Yet it was Dr Thomas Straumann, Swiss entrepreneur and chairman of a market-leading dental implants business, who resurrected Les Trois Rois as one of the world’s finest hotels.

That was in 2004, when Dr Straumann celebrated his family’s acquisition by immediately closing the hotel for 20 months to carry out a comprehensive renovation. The first record of The Three Kings (the name refers to the biblical three wise men who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus) dates back to 1681, when it was described as ‘an inn for gentlemen’. But it was not until 1844 that the hotel was rebuilt in Classical style, re-designated as a Grand Hotel, and began attracting distinguished guests from the worlds of politics and the arts.

We like to say that we are rich in history, young at heart”

The original inn was built close to the Middle Bridge in the historic Swiss city of Basel. Known as Mittlere Brücke, it was one of the first bridges over the Rhine and sat alongside a landing place where ships used to unload their wares. There has been plenty of water under that bridge since then, including a grand banquet held at Les Trois Rois for General Napoleon Bonaparte as he was travelling back from fighting in Italy in 1797 - since dubbed the hotel’s first business lunch.

Michelin stars

Today’s guests can dine in even greater style, courtesy of the Cheval Blanc, a restaurant which now has three Michelin stars – one of only three restaurants in Switzerland to be recognised with the honour. A combination of its elegant riverside location and outstanding cuisine, overseen by the world famous chef Peter Knogl, chosen as the Chef of the Year in 2011 and 2015 by the Gault Millau guide, sets it apart from the competition.

Being in Switzerland is very important to our success”

“We are rich in history, young at heart – our teams are always open to new ideas and live up to our values every day,” says Tanja Wegmann, the hotel’s General Manager. “That is what the Swiss brand is all about: a country with a great history and with great people. Being in Switzerland is very important to our success.”

For the first 160 years after it became a Grand Hotel, Les Trois Rois was run by a succession of owners, some of whom sold off parts of the building. So when the Straumann family took over 15 years ago, they set about restoring the hotel to its former glory. As well as opening the Cheval Blanc, Dr Straumann bought back the parts of the site which had been sold in earlier years.

Belle Époque

In addition to providing more rooms, a large ballroom was built in Belle Époque style which has provided space for parties, conferences and other events. The hotel also caters for events at clients’ homes and other venues. And it owns a beautiful flower boutique called Fleurs des Rois in the city’s market place.

People who travel a lot like to stay in Swiss hotels because they know that the standard of service, the quality of the food and drink, and the welcome is top-class”

Wegmann attributes the success of Les Trois Rois to the international reputation of Switzerland’s hotels. “People who travel a lot like to stay in Swiss hotels because they know that the standard of service, the quality of the food and drink, and the welcome is top-class,” she says. ‘We have great hotel schools in places like Lausanne and Lucerne which are famous for the quality of the hotel managers they produce.”

The historic setting of Les Trois Rois has smoothly embraced modern digital demands. The hotel management holds workshops for their leadership team on how best to use technology to streamline processes, while the importance of responding quickly to social media activity is a high priority. “We work with IT specialists to get it right and to handle guest data securely,” Wegmann says.

Napoleon would not be pleased to hear it, but the quality of experience at Les Trois Rois has become even better since he last came to stay.

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