Just two hours south of Zürich a charming, tiny mountain village of Flüeli-Ranft sits high above lake Sarnen at the entrance of the Great Melch Valley. This is Switzerland as idyllic and picturesque as it gets: wooden houses with bright window shutters scattered on green slopes, colorful patches of wildflowers clinging to rocky paths, and distant sounds of cow wells carrying through the valley. In the morning the air is sharp and fresh, and dense fog envelops the surrounding mountain peaks. Warm noon sunlight magnifies the glow of the white-walled 17th century St. Karl Borromäus Chapel centrally perched upon a hill. And the evening stretches elongated tree shadows across the valley, and reflects crimson sun rays in the windows of the magnificent Hotel Paxmontana, the Art Nouveau masterpiece that has been the local hallmark since 1896.Hotel Paxmontana was originally founded by an alpine tourism pioneer Franz Hess Michel as a spa called Kurhaus Nünalphorn. Looking at the old photos of the building made me think of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain – a kind of secluded mountain sanatorium where Hans Castorp was elevated to from the familiar flatlands and where time loses its usual tempo. The landscape of the Berghof Sanatorium seemed very familiar at Paxmontana:
“The morning was cool and cloudy. Long banks of fog lay motionless along the hills to both sides, while masses of clouds, white and gray, were draped on the more distant mountains. Patches and streaks of blue sky were visible here and there, and when a ray of sun broke through, the village in the valley below glistened white against the dark forest of pine on the slopes.”
The hotel’s name was changed to Paxmontana in the 1960s. After several expansions, including two added floors and the characteristic towers the hotel now boasts 83 rooms and modern amenities. The latest renovation, completed in 2011, for the first time made Paxmontana a year-round hotel since previously it was closed in the winter months. The hotel also features nearby seasonal a chalet with 17 rooms and a guesthouse with 16 rooms and an amazing restaurant serving local specialties such as Huis-Schtei dishes served on a hot stone. Both are connected to the main building by a beautiful trellis archway.But Flüeli-Ranft’s fame dates much further than Paxmontana’s founding. The village was the birth place and the residence of Niklaus von Flüe, or Brother Klaus, a 15th century Swiss national hero. He was a respected local farmer and councilman before becoming a hermit and spending 19 years of his life in the Ranft Ravine as a visionary and spiritual adviser. Most famously, his counsel is credited with preventing a civil war between the cantons in 1481. Today his hermit cell in the Ranft Ravine remains an important pilgrimage destination for the faithful and Brother Klaus is the patron saint of Switzerland. The hiking trail from the house of his birth to his grave (called Bruder-Klaus-Weg in German) is an amazing meditative path that starts right next to Hotel Paxmontana, drops steeply to the bottom of the valley cut by a bubbling mountain stream, and rises to the St. Niklaus Chapel high up on the opposing mountain slope. For centuries it has been a popular draw for pilgrims and an important stop on the Way of St. James (Jakobsweg), the famous medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Flüeli-Ranft is also an ideal place to start many other hiking and biking adventures in the area. A chance to take in amazing mountain vistas and enjoy the small things…