Switzerland is almost as famous for its hotels as it is for its mountains, watches, and chocolates; its standards in hospitality are extremely high. Rooms are impeccably clean and well maintained, but prices are accordingly steep. Americans accustomed to spacious hotels with two double beds, a big TV, and a bath-shower combination may be disappointed in their first venture into the legendary Swiss hotel's small spaces and limited facilities.
Where no address is provided in the hotel listings, none is necessary: in smaller towns and villages, a postal code is all you need. To find the hotel on arrival, watch for the official street signs pointing the way to every hotel that belongs to the local tourist association.
Air-conditioning is not as prevalent as in the United States; evenings are generally cool, so Alpine air often stands in for air-conditioning, but even those hotels that offer it may shut it off after the summer).
Most hotels in Switzerland allow children under a certain age to stay in their parents' room at no extra charge, but others charge for them as extra adults. The Swiss Hotel Association has listings of family-friendly hotels throughout the country.
Particularly in ski resorts or in hotels where you'll be staying for three days or more, you may be quoted a room price per person including demipension (half-board). This means you've opted to have breakfast included and to eat either lunch or (more often) dinner in the hotel, selecting from a limited, fixed menu. Unless you're holding out for a gastronomic adventure, your best (and most economical) bet is to take half-board. Most hotels will be flexible if you come in from the slopes craving a steaming pot of fondue, and they will then subtract the day's pension supplement from your room price, charging you à la carte instead.
You can order brochures and get information about bed-and-breakfasts from the user-friendly website of Bed and Breakfast Switzerland, www.bnb.ch. You can also make reservations through the site.
Participating farm families register with Agrotourismus Schweiz (Agritourism Switzerland), listing rooms and facilities, and types of animals your children can see. Prices are often considerably lower than those of hotels and vacation flats. You should be reasonably fluent in French or German, depending on the region of your stay—although these days, at least one family member will probably speak some English. More information is available through the agritourism website as well as Switzerland Tourism.
Agrotourismus Schweiz. 031/3595030; www.myfarm.ch.
When selecting a place to stay, an important resource can be the hotelleriesuisse, the Swiss Hotel Association (SHA), a rigorous and demanding organization that maintains a specific rating system for lodging standards. Four out of five Swiss hotels belong to this group and take their stars seriously.
In contrast to more casual European countries, stars in Switzerland have precise meaning: besides having luxurious and comfortable furnishings, a five-star hotel is required to have a luggage service, a minibar in the room, bathrobes and slippers, and extended hours for room service. In contrast, a two-star hotel, with adequate furnishings, must have a TV with remote control and a shower with a curtain. But the SHA standards have nothing to say about the grace of service. Thus you may find a five-star hotel that meets the technical requirements but has a rude concierge, or a good, family-run two-star pension that makes you feel like royalty.
Some rules of thumb: if you are looking for American-style comfort—a big bed, flat-screen TV, working space—you will probably be happiest in four-star, business-class hotels. If you are looking for moderate prices, regional atmosphere, family ownership (and the pride and care for details that implies), but don't care about the most modern TV or a minibar, look for three stars: every such room has at least a shower or bathtub. Two stars will get you tidy, minimal comfort, with a majority of the rooms having private toilet and bathing facilities. One-star properties are rare: they have only shared facilities and generally fall below the demanding Swiss national standard. "Swiss Lodge" properties are basic properties outside of the star system that may have rustic charm but simple facilities.
Many hotels close for a short period during their region's off-season (usually during May and November). Closing dates often vary from year to year, so be sure to call ahead and check.
A few useful phrases in French, German, and Italian: a room with a bath (une chambre avec salle de bain, ein Zimmer mit Bad, una camera con bagno); a room with a view (une chambre avec vue, ein Zimmer mit Aussicht, una camera con vista); a quiet room (une chambre calme, ein ruhiges Zimmer, una camera tranquilla).
hotelleriesuisse (Swiss Hotel Association). Monbijoustr. 130, Bern, Bern, 3001. 031/3704111; www.hotelleriesuisse.ch.
Travelers on a budget can get a helping hand from the Swiss Budget Hotels group; its 90 participating hotels are in the one- to three-star bracket and generally comply with the SHA's quality standards. These comfortable little hotels have banded together to dispel Switzerland's intimidating image as an elite, overpriced vacation spot and offer down-to-earth standards in memorable packages.
Another resource both at home and abroad is Airbnb.com, which allows locals to open up their private or shared rooms, apartments, and chalets to travelers worldwide. Prices are competitive, and it's a nice way to get a local perspective.
Relais & Châteaux. 022/5083001; www.relaischateaux.com.
Relais du Silence. 01/70238163; en.relaisdusilence.com.
Romantik Hotels and Restaurants. www.romantikhotels.com/en/hotels/switzerland.
Swiss Budget Hotels. 031/3781835; www.rooms.ch.