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The Unusual Story Of The Hotel At Over 2,000 Metres Above Sea Level

The Chetzeron was a cable car station before Sami Lamaa turned it into a restaurant and hotel.

Sami Lamaa's natural way of moving around seems to be running rather than walking. He scurries around the Chetzeron like an ant. Every movement is on point, and there is a method to all he does. The managing director of the hotel that used to be a mountain station is inextricably linked to the village at an altitude of 2,112 metres, located between the Cry D'Err and Merbé cable car stations. It is a place of power, he says.

"You can see the station from everywhere down in the valley. When they decided to close it down, I often found myself standing there, looking up. And my brain started to work on something," recalls Sami Lamaa. At that time, the hotelier's son ran a restaurant, but more and more he had his mind set on doing something with that striking, now empty stone building up on the mountain. And he decided he wanted to have it. And finally, in 2010, he did it, turned it into a place to eat. "Good food is the basis for everything else: People who like what they were served will come again. And maybe one day book a room or celebrate a wedding here," says Sami Lamaa. So he concentrates on building a pool of regulars but also offers companies an exclusive setting for teambuilding workshops or conferences.

Alpine cuisine that brings back memories

You won't find typical ski hut dishes in the Chetzeron; the kitchen here has gourmet status. Alpine cuisine, Sami Lamaa calls it. Ingredients and inspirations come from Switzerland, Italy, France, Grisons and Austria. The chef, on his part, comes from Argentina. "We work with old recipes that remind guests of their childhood. You can touch people deeply when you succeed in bringing up fond memories of their childhood," explains Sami Lamaa, who could talk about culinary topics for hours. Wines, on the other hand, fall into his sister's realm - she's a trained oenologist. "I work 7 days a week, 15 hours a day. I treat myself to a glass of wine only in very special cases," Lami admits.

Already when he started out with the Chetzeron, Sami Lamaa wanted to offer more than just food. He had a whole hotel in mind. It is fair to say that the way there, mainly obtaining all required permissions, was Kafkaesque. But he fought his way through the red tape for years and made his dream come true: He built hotel rooms and welcomed his first overnight guests three years ago. Ambroise Bonvin, an architect from Valais, designed the new house. "It was very important to me to make it feel like a hut. That was the challenge for the architect: Translating the atmosphere of a 10sqm hut to 5,000sqm," says Sami Lamaa.

"The energy around here is incredible"

Sami Lamaa does not like unnecessary extras; even his body reflects this. And in the house you can see it in all the things that are not there: no paintings on the walls, no drawers in the nightstands, no music in the restaurant. Everything is neat and tidy. And comfortably warm thanks to a smart heating system and big triple-glazed windows showcasing the real stars around here: the mountains. From the Chetzeron you can marvel at Mont Blanc, Cervin and their neighbouring summits, framed by the windows like a painting when you stand still. No picture on the wall could ever keep up with this view. And then, when you look down, the valley stretches out beneath you. “One of our guests once said it looks like the view from an airplane,” Sami Lamaa says. Another guest once meditated for four hours in one stretch, sitting in his bathroom’s bay window, Sami Lamaa recounts, “The energy around here is just incredible. Sensitive people feel it as if absorbing it from the ground.” To avoid mistakes in the building process, Sami Lamaa consulted with monks he flew in from China. Who else could know more about Feng shui?

All tables, doors and furniture are made from oak wood from the Bernese Oberland region while the walls are built of stone. And to make it all run smoothly, Sami Lamaa invested a lot of money into the place's infrastructure. And of course it's all eco-friendly at the Chetzeron: The water is heated through solar panels and power is produced with the help of photovoltaics. "As a guest you only see about 40 per cent of the things we invested in. The remaining 60 per cent went into IT, cooling and solar technology and other systems."

At night, when the cable car stops operating, it all goes quiet up here. Particularly in winter when the snow absorbs the noise and all that can be heard is the sound of the soundcat bringing guests up from the valley and back again after dinner. Most of Sami Lamaa's staff members strap on their skis to get back to town at night after work, whereas Sami himself stays up on the mountain. That's when he steps out onto the terrace to take in a few breaths of the crisp air to end another 15-hour day. Here, at the place that he pours all his energy into. And that gives back to him at least just as much.

Text: Martha Miklin //
Photos: Heiko Mandl //

April 4, 2018

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