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The Bio-Hotel Balance in Wallis

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

Hotel Balance has been a member of the Bio-Hotels group since 2003, although this business in Switzerland was launched more than 25 years ago. The building, that is more than 100 years old, radiates a special aura. Its location is high up in the mountains, so it has a fantastic view of the Alpine panorama. Silvia Raabe visited Bio-Hotel Balance last year, and she wrote this article. The Bio-Hotels group currently consists of 65 members in five countries, but this hotel marketing association estimates that by the end of the year the figure could rise to about 70. (Picture: Bio-Hotel Balance in western Switzerland)
In the Canton Wallis in French-speaking Switzerland the mountains don’t bother with foothills – they simply stand there, mighty, rugged, and rise straight up. To get to Les Granges by car from the valley, guests have to follow the steep, winding road – wrestled from the rock but not dangerous – for 15 minutes. At the top await little villages with houses at all angles made of wood and stone. They have retained their original robust charm, in keeping with the mountain world of Wallis. You won’t find houses with rendering in a pseudo-Alpine look specially for the tourists. Nature itself is both decoration and attraction enough for the visitors. Hotel Balance is in Les Granges (50 km south of Bern as the crow flies) in the wild and idyllic Vallée du Trient, a good 600 metres above the village of Martigny down in the valley. Les Granges has just 120 inhabitants. (Picture on right: Dining room)

For Roland Eberle (picture below) it was love at first sight when in 1984 – also on a lovely sunny winter day – he flung open the shutters of this hotel in Les Granges. He let his gaze wander over the mountain panorama covered in fresh snow and sensed that it was here that he would realise his dream: to create a place where people could meet and interact, a hotel with healthy food. Roland and his first wife Lea kept to a strict macrobiotic diet and knew from experience how difficult it was to adhere to this practice when on holiday, because there simply weren’t the appropriate hotels available. At the time, Roland – a German Swiss – worked as a teacher in a vocational school. Having graduated in business studies, he spied a gap in the market that he wanted to fill in keeping with his personal philosophy of life.

On 12 April 1984, Roland (who is now 56) bought the old hotel that dates back to 1897. It had stood empty for seven years and was desperately in need of restoration. With the help of skilled craftsmen he already knew, Roland renovated the building bit by bit. During the first five years in the history of Hotel Balance, he oscillated between two worlds – from Monday to Thursday he continued to work as a teacher near St. Gallen, and the rest of the week was spent on the building site in Les Granges. Each storey needed its own sanitary equipment, the rooms had to be bigger and the wooden walls between rooms had to be sound-proofed. Despite all this conversion work, it was essential to retain the character and substance of the more than 100-year-old edifice that was perfect from the building biology point of view. The restoration work lasted 20 years. As the years passed, the number of beds increased steadily, and that meant more and more guests.

Just about every day, you’ll find Roland’s wife Ulrike (a graduate in sports science) in her treatment room, where she offers guests Shiatsu, Ayurveda and massage. She loves meeting the guests. Hotel Balance helps her to follow her own personal path. She explains her philosophy: “The hotel is here for me; I’m not the servant of the guests – we meet our guests on the same level. We interact, and both sides derive strength from the interchange. But we don’t impose anything on anybody.”

In the main building of the hotel, that celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, there are 23 rooms with 44 beds. For a long time now, all rooms have been en-suite. No two rooms are exactly alike. Each room is individually furnished with old rustic and natural wood furniture. Above many of the beds you see pictures woven by Roland’s father, a baker who discovered this skill in his retirement. The staircase and wooden floors of the old building make a homely creaking noise; some of the walls and ceilings – made of wood like in a Swiss chalet – are uneven. On cold days an open fire flickers in the little library near the hotel’s entrance. On the one hand, Ulrike and Roland have retained the original character of the building; on the other hand, they have constantly changed and extended Hotel Balance over the years. Generously proportioned, modern apartments have been built which are separate from the main hotel. The biggest of the seven apartments is equipped with a corner bath with jacuzzi, a dining table, a kitchen, a leather sofa, and a double bed and a child’s bed. Some time ago, they constructed a hamam next to the little Finnish sauna, and currently a room with a private spa is being built onto the main building. Regarding building materials and furnishings, the two hoteliers select those that as far as possible conform to building biology standards.

In 2003, Hotel Balance was the first hotel in Switzerland to be awarded the maximum five ibexes (a Swiss environmental logo) for its sustainability concept. As early as 1986, Roland was using solar panels to produce hot water, and since 2006 the hotel has covered at least 50 % of its electricity consumption with its own photovoltaic installation. An LED display near the entrance shows guests how much electricity the PV panels are producing at any one time.

To finance the PV equipment, Ulrike and Roland adopted new strategies, among other things loans and donations from guests. ”Our guests were pleased to help, because they were able to invest their money in something positive,” explains Roland, “I want to demonstrate with our hotel that sustainability is achievable, especially in the sphere of tourism.” So the sauna and the hamam are only heated when needed and requested by guests, thus avoiding a senseless waste of energy. The only worry they still have is the heating. The basic fabric of the 19th century edifice is perfect from the building biology perspective, but it is not insulated to current standards. The consumption of heating oil is too high, and this goes against Roland’s holistic approach. So the next big project he is going to undertake is heating based on geothermal energy, in other words using the earth’s natural heat.

The cuisine at Hotel Balance has also changed in the course of time. Roland and Ulrike no longer follow the pure doctrine of macrobiotics. However, the cuisine is still vegetarian and only occasionally is fish served. Animal products like milk and cheese are served mainly for breakfast only. The couple began to experience macrobiotics as too limiting, and they developed it further for themselves and for their guests. Hotel Balance embraced organics from the very start. Everything organic that Roland could lay his hands on was served to the guests. Together with his employee Ljubo, who has worked for thirteen years at Hotel Balance, he prepares all the dishes fresh every time and by hand. He values as many seasonal ingredients as possible, and he has contempt for the fact that even organic products are now flown halfway round the world. The standards imposed by Bio-Hotels are a guarantee that, among other things, only certified organic food products are used. Very few exceptions are permitted, and the guests must be made aware of them. In the case of Hotel Balance, these are milk, yoghurt and cheese from the only farmer who still operates in Les Granges. As the owner of Hotel Balance, Roland Eberle would like to support his neighbour and prevent the last farm from disappearing from the village.

Steep, winding streets, a little village without the usual tourist attractions, no meat, no reception, no television – as Roland explains: “Sometimes it happens that a guest arrives up here, at the end of his tether and wanting to leave the next day, because it’s not what he expected. The first thing I do is make him a cup of coffee or tea, talk to him, let him unwind. And so far everybody has wanted to stay on here.”

Awards and certification:
  • Swiss logo for sustainability: Five Ibexes (2005)
  • Award for one of the best hotels in Europe by GEO-Saison, category eco-hotels (2009)
  • Certified since 2003 as compliant with the standards of the Bio-Hotels Association




Organic Hotels/Gastronomy

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