Most hotels in Switzerland are clean, comfortable, and efficiently run. Many in the luxury category are among the finest in the world (two in Zurich, in fact, are regarded as the best in Europe). After all, César Ritz came from Switzerland.
There are several categories of hotels. An alkoholfrei hotel is one that doesn't serve liquor. A hotel garni is one that serves breakfast and beverages but no other meals. You can judge a hotel and its prices by its stars (as judged by Swiss travel authorities): Five stars signify deluxe; four stars, first class; three stars, superior; and two stars, standard. One star indicates minimum. A minimum hotel, with the most limited of facilities, can nevertheless be clean and reasonably comfortable, and standard hotels are among the country's best travel values.
Reservations can be made directly with the hotel, through any recognized travel agency, or through various reservations systems that have toll-free numbers. The hotel is entitled to request a deposit when you make your reservation; the amount will vary from hotel to hotel.
If you want a total deluxe-hotel-chain trip, you'll find the Hilton with more choices, each ideally located. These include the Basel Hilton and Le Palace Hilton Geneva, which is one of the finest chain hotels in Switzerland. The latter hotel occupies an entire city block.
The chains do not dominate the hotel scene in Switzerland as they do in some countries. The InterContinental weighs in with such heavy-duty choices as the Royal Plaza Montreux, but we find this one often filled with convention people as the convention center is just next door.
If you're looking for a chain bargain, and your tastes aren't too demanding, you can book into any Novotel (there's one at the Zurich airport, for example).
Among the leading German chains, with minor but choice representation in Switzerland, is the German-owned Steigenberger. Hotels in this chain include the Steigenberger Belvedere at Davos Platz and the chic Steigenberger Gstaad-Saanen outside Gstaad.
All accommodations listed in this guide have private bathrooms unless otherwise noted.
To cut costs, you may consider a package tour (or book land arrangements with your air ticket). You'll often pay 30% less than individual rack rates (off-the-street, independent bookings). Also, be sure to ask about winter discounts. Some hotels won't grant them, but many will, especially if bookings that week are light. The price you'll pay in inexpensive hotels depends on the plumbing. Rooms with only showers are much cheaper than those with private bathrooms. Even cheaper is a room with only a sink and a cabinette de toilet (toilet and bidet).
When you check in, remember to ask if there's a surcharge on local or long-distance telephone calls (these can be lethal, up to 40%).
Alternatives to Hotels
Bed & Breakfasts -- The Swiss concept of a bed-and-breakfast is different from that in the United States and Canada. In Switzerland, many bed-and-breakfast places are more like small, cozy hotels than private homes. Called "E + G Hotels" -- a marketing association which includes about 220 guesthouses -- they can be found throughout the country (www.rooms.ch/index.cfm). A folder listing addresses and phone numbers of E & Gs is available from the Swiss National Tourist Office (www.myswitzerland.com).
Private Homes -- In Swiss mountain and rural areas, a list of private accommodations can be obtained from most local tourist offices. Look for the following signs advertising such accommodations (generally, a single room): ZIMMER FREI in German, CHAMBRE A LOUER in French, and AFFITASI CAMERA in Italian.
Chalet, House & Apartment Rentals -- For a list of U.S. agencies handling such rentals, contact the Swiss National Tourist Office. Local tourist offices in Switzerland also provide listings of apartments and chalets to rent. The Swiss prefer to do business in writing rather than on the phone, so it's strongly recommended that you write to the home owners directly; allow about 20 days for a reply.
The best agency for arranging vacation homes in Switzerland is a Swiss-based company called INTERHOME, which represents some 20,000 properties throughout Europe -- some 4,000 of these in Switzerland. Travelers have easy access to chalets and condos in all the major resort areas, from modest studio apartments at budget prices to luxurious chalets with all the modern amenities. The U.S. branch of INTERHOME, Inc., is at 131 S. State Rd. 7, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33317 (tel. 800/882-6864; fax 954/791-8522; www.interhome.us). Contact them for a catalog of vacation homes outlining some 4,000 listings in almost 200 locations.
Farm Vacations -- A unique way to get to know Switzerland, this program lets you experience firsthand the working world and home life of a Swiss farming family. A brochure called Swiss Farm Holidays tells exactly how it can be done; it's available from the Swiss National Tourist Office (www.myswitzerland.com).
Youth Hostels -- About 60 youth hostels exist in Switzerland, open to single people, families, or both. Fees range from 26F to 40F per person including bed linens and breakfast, depending on the hostel. There is no upper age limit, but in peak season travelers 25 and younger have priority. For more information, contact Hostelling International USA, 8401 Colesville Rd., Ste. 600, Silver Springs, MD 20910 (tel. 301/495-1240; fax 301/495-6697; www.hiusa.org).