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A history of hospitality

The story of the Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus

The Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus opened 1896, the vision of Honorine and her husband Jean-Baptiste Weatherill, a British alpinist. Honorine was a true Arolla native and a natural innkeeper. Her family had lived in the area for generations, and in 1858 had opened the Hôtel de la Dent-Blanche. Situated lower down the mountain in Evolène, this was valley’s first inn and proved to be a successful business venture.

The vision for the Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus was for an establishment that held onto the family feel and offered a sanctuary for travellers. Yet unlike the Hôtel de la Dent-Blanche – and as the name suggests – the Kurhaus would be far grander, creating a striking outpost perched at 2,100m above sea level.

Honorine in the gardens of the hotel (circa 1900)

Building the hotel would prove as impressive as Honorine’s vision. The frame was constructed primarily of Arolla wood, the species of pine that grows in the surrounding forest. The Arolla trees themselves can withstand the harsh cold of the Alpine winter, making this the perfect choice for such a formidable building. The stone was similarly carved from the surrounding landscape and carried up and down the mountain by primitive means. In 1896 the valley’s ‘transport network’ consisted of tracks traversed mainly by foot, by sled, or by horse and cart. The key building materials involved didn’t have to travel too far, but even so, carving stone from the mountain and felling trees from the woodland for such a large building would have been a novel feat of engineering for local workers.

In addition to the main hotel, the couple decided to build the House of Guides. This smaller building was the residence for local guides who stayed on-site, year-round, and could be hired by guests as and when needed to organise and lead mountaineering expeditions.

After years spent planning and building together, Jean-Baptiste passed away before the Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus was complete. Managing the project and determined to realise the couple’s dream, Honorine forged ahead and established the business, the vision and spirit of which remain long after she too passed.

In 1896, the Grand Hôtel opened its doors to welcome its first guests. Visitors included mountaineers and explorers, naturalists interested in the local flora and fauna, skiers and sports enthusiasts, and a steady stream of people attracted by the prospect of fresh mountain air and the peace of the valley. The hotel’s management stayed in the family for generations, and its team comprised locals who travelled from neighbouring villages.

In 1930, there was a modest addition to the hotel’s north side, and in the 1960s two storeys were added and central heating was installed. The Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus introduced tourism to the Evolène Valley, and in the ‘60s opened up the region as a winter sports destination to those in the know.

Today, the setting remains as peaceful as ever, and the hotel too has lasted the test of time. Under the watchful innkeeper’s gaze of General Manager Steven, locals still ski to the Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus and enjoy drinks in the cosy bar, while globetrotters still journey across the world to soak up the hotel’s history and breathe in the Arolla air.

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Grand-Hotel-Kurhaus-Arolla-Valais-Switzerland
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Grand-Hotel-Kurhaus-Arolla-Valais-Switzerland
Grand-Hotel-Kurhaus-Arolla-Valais-Switzerland

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