If you’ve visited the Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus, chances are you’ve seen Steven. Since Arriving in Arolla in the spring, the hotel’s General Manager has been taking time to meet with guests, find out about the hotel’s past, and explore the mountains and valleys. “I want to absorb the history of this place,” he said. “For me, it’d be a failure to make this place a successful hotel without being in touch with its history and without spending as much time as possible talking to our guests.”
If you’ve not seen him in the hotel, you’ll almost definitely have seen him running, climbing, walking, and cycling, (and, when we hit winter, no doubt skiing) in and around Arolla. “For me, there’s no separation between life and work,” he said. “The sports side of things and always having thrived when I’m outdoors and active, is both part of my job and what motivates me in life. Coming on board at the Kurhaus simply wouldn’t have worked otherwise. It’s about sharing these experiences, gaining a deep understanding of an area’s history and looking out for and after our visitors.”
So focussed on history and hospitality is Steven, that he eschews the title General Manager, in favour of the more traditional ‘Innkeeper’. “I may be an international five-star general manager by trade, but I have an innkeeper’s approach,” he explained. And this is apparent in his work: enjoying a drink with guests in the bar or advising a family on the best local walking trails isn’t merely enjoyable time off. Ensuring the Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus is a success means offering new experiences while continuing the warm hospitality it’s known for. Spending time with guests is a key part of this. “Joining people for family activities in a hotel with a family-run history is at the core of the innkeeper approach,” said Steven. “Being outdoors and active is an integral part of my life, so why not launch and lead activities with like-minded visitors.”
Other plans currently in the works include barbecues on the terrace with the hotel’s chef and, each Saturday during the summer months, explained Steven, the Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus will “own the mountain.” The Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus isn’t just a single building; guests and locals can also visit its two further restaurants and bars, one 500m up the mountain, and another closer to the its summit. “The festival atmosphere will be felt across the mountain, and in every one of our restaurants and spaces we’ll be serving fondue, wine, raclette, croute au fromage, rosti, and tartes made from fruits of the valley.”
Owning a mountain is a pretty grand plan. But then again, Steven has a pretty impressive background as a hotelier, especially considering he’s been in the industry for less than ten years. His previous appointments include overseeing five-star boutique hotel Le Chalet Zannier in Megève, France, and luxury safari lodging Omaanda (part of the Zannier Hotels group) in Namibia. The tangible results of this work include being a four-time winner of France’s Best Ski Boutique Hotel at the World Ski Awards, and scooping a double win at the World Travel Awards, first for Namibia’s Leading Luxury Safari Lodge, followed by the Leading Luxury Safari Lodge for the whole of the African continent.
However, it’s the less tangible results of his work that have brought the greatest awards. Entering the hotel business was grasped as “an opportunity to change my life,” said Steven. “I’ve always been into sport, and started skiing when I was three. Fast-forward to when I turned 30 and I realised that I needed to be doing more of what I love. So, I drove from the city into the mountains, and skied. Through friends, I had the opportunity to host a chalet in the mountains, which then led to running a hotel in the mountains.”
Similar projects followed, taking Steven all over the world and from the millionaires’ village and snowy landscape of Megève, to rural villages and rhinos in Namibia. In between, there’s been little time for relaxation of the traditional kind. Quite the opposite, in fact. A spur of the moment decision led to six months off-piste skiing in Davos, followed by an 80km ultra trail – again, a chance opportunity suddenly seized. “I’d never run more than 20km, but decided to enrol,” said Steven “It was intense, but being in the mountains you really feel this extreme force of nature. Some people talk about the mountains in a poetic way and in terms of the landscape suppressing you. I think it’s quite the opposite – you can be impressed and take strength from nature.”
It’s this nature, and the “untouched, pure, raw beauty” of Arolla that drew Steven most recently to the Kurhaus. This is something he’s keen to preserve, while at the same time helping to open up the valley to more visitors looking for the kind of active, outdoor experiences that only the Evolène Valley can provide.
After all, said Steven, “the hotel has been here for 150 years, the mountains have been here forever, and both will be here for long after I’ve gone. I’m looking forward to putting my innkeeper’s stamp on the Kurhaus and putting it on the map of adventurers – and doing so creatively and respectfully.”