We report on a near-perfect Swiss hotel & restaurant.
The Michelin Green Guide for Switzerland describes Vufflens Castle as "one of the proudest buildings in all Switzerland." We agree.
Surely everyone must gasp just slightly at their first glimpse of the castle when approaching the village of Vufflens-le-Château by road from Morges. Actually, it isn't a glimpse. One last turn in the road and suddenly there it is, spread out before you. The great brick structure, whose keep rises to a height of 200 feet, commands a scene of neat vineyards and farms for miles around, and shelters the tiny town huddling behind it. The Château, which, unfortunately, is privately owned and cannot be visited, remains in the family of Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, whose face is found on Switzerland's 20-franc note.
Particularly if ones destination is a couple of nights at L'Ermitage, the restaurant and hotel of Bernard and Ruth Ravet, this splendid tableau is a fitting gateway.
A few hundred yards beyond the fortress, in a house once used by the castles servants, is the Ravet compound. This old farm buildings premises are now a mecca for food-loving film stars, captains of industry and anyone else who can afford L'Ermitage's magnificent cuisine, wine cellar and hospitality. Be assured that all who come here bring thick stacks of M. de Saussure's likeness.
If you choose to pay the freight, a weekend, an overnight or even just a lunch, will be a memorable experience.
Not since we reported on Les Sources Des Alpes (Aug. '89) have we found a small, country hotel and restaurant that offers such across-the-board excellence. L'Ermitage delivers the whole package: idyllic location, beautiful grounds, superb food, personal service, wonderful guestrooms and great charm.
Arriving by car in the middle of lunch, we parked in the graveled lot, grabbed our bags and headed toward reception. We hadn't gone five steps before we were met, relieved of our luggage and immediately shown to a corner room, Number two, on the first floor of an annex which contains all nine guest rooms.
Number twos best feature is its bed; a single, large mattress, probably queen-sized, soft without being mushy or saggy, and equipped with three hefty, down pillows and a long headroll positioned against the headboard. The latter is perfect for reading in bed. One sleeps between luxurious sheets covered by a wool blanket and a down comforter. We cannot recall a better bed in Europe.
One window in Number two overlooks the garden and the main houses terrace where meals are often served in summer; the other affords a view into the first-floor kitchen, where, from early morning to very late at night, uniformed Ravet minions slice and dice their way to culinary fame. The bathroom, which also has a window, is equipped with a double sink and both shower and tub. The toilet is separate from this room.
Like most affluent villages, Vufflens at night is very quiet. The only sounds we heard were from the beloved Ravet ducks. (L'Ermitage seems to be the Swiss version of Ducks Unlimited. They are everywhere: on the menu, splashing in the pond, in pictures and displayed in the hotel's boutique, even your room key comes linked to a fist-sized, wooden duck.)
We inspected several other rooms in the hotel and found them equally comfortable. We especially liked the spacious balconies of the first floor doubles, which are perfect for breakfast.
In Europe, hotels with charming settings, buildings and furnishings abound. L'Ermitage backs its charm with service that is faultless and friendly.
M. Ravet himself is a gracious, if somewhat retiring, host. His wife Ruth is equally friendly but does not speak English (try your German). Genius is said to be 10% brains and 90% hard work. M. Ravet definitely qualifies in the hard work category. Based on what we saw over three days, the man is a dynamo. In addition to cooking at both lunch and dinner, he personally bakes all the hotels breads in a wood-fired brick oven. (Bakers as you know are early risers, and when we were guests in the hotel M. Ravet was still in the kitchen at midnight.) Whether or not he also tends the L'Ermitage's flower, herb and vegetable gardens we can't say, but we did spot him one early morning with a box of plantings digging away in a flowerbed. He also along with Christian Martray, the hotels bright and engaging young sommelier chooses the wines for the hotels 30,000-bottle cellar.
Château-le-L'Hermitage Vufflens-le-Château, Route du Village 26, +41/021 804 68 68.