Hotel Belvédère: The Iconic Swiss Hotel on The Edge of The Rhone Glacier

 Located in one of the snowiest regions of Switzerland, the Furka Pass, connecting the Uri and Valais cantons in the south-central region of the country, is considered one of the "most iconic, exhilarating and exciting drives" through the Swiss Alps. . The scenic road with its tight switchbacks winding up picturesque mountain slopes attracts countless tourists. There's the Rhône Glacier, home to ice grottoes – a hundred-metre-long tunnel is dug through the glacier each year, which glows in an ethereal shade of blue – as well as attractive options for hiking, climbing and skiing. Are. Furka Pas also made a brief cameo in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger.

As the road skirts the side of the mountain, at one point near the top of the pass, it comes within 200 meters of the Rhône Glacier. It was here, in 1882, that the young hotelier, Joseph Seiler, built a hotel in one of the hairpin turns. Over the decades the Hotel Belvedere became one of the most prestigious hotels in the Swiss Alps. Nowhere in the world can one drive so close to the edge of a glacier, get into a hotel room with balconies overlooking a vast river of ice, and then walk down a paved path to the glacier, which is only a few Located in number one hundred. Yards away.

The building of the Hotel Belvedere belongs to the last major wave of development that began throughout Switzerland in the 1880s. During this time the number of hotels in Valais increased from 79 in 1880 to more than 320 just before the First World War – a fourfold increase in just three decades. The number of beds increased from 4,000 to more than 15,000 during the same period.

The Hotel Belvedere's picturesque location attracted pampered clientele, who sometimes resided for several weeks during the summer. At the end of the 20th century, when the hotel industry was booming throughout Switzerland, Joseph Seiler dared to make a new extension to the hotel – a spacious terrace with two additional floors, which gave the hotel its current appearance. In 1907 the number of beds increased to ninety.

During the 20th century, the number of tourists to the Rhône Glacier and hotels steadily increased due to the opening of two new railway lines – the Furka Oberalp Railway and the Glacier Express. With the increase in personal automobiles after World War II, more and more people could enjoy driving over mountain passes with stops at the Rhône Glacier and at the Hotel Belvedere.

However, from the 1960s, guest numbers at the Hotel Belvedere and elsewhere in the Alpine began to decline rapidly. Cars became more powerful and faster, so a trip through the pass that had previously taken two or three days became a one-day round trip. Guests who had previously stayed overnight now took a quick trip to the Rhone Glacier, had lunch at the hotel or just had a cup of tea and left. At Belvedere and the village of Gletsch, just below the mouth of the Rhône Glacier, where the Seilers operated another hotel, the number of hotel guests declined rapidly. Hotel Belvedere has never been the same since.

A few years ago, the hotel closed – and although it has been officially announced – it will probably never reopen. Some speculate that the Rhone Glacier has retreated so much over the last hundred years that it is no longer an attraction, and as the attraction itself is disappearing, so too has the business of keeping the hotel doors open.

While the Rhône Glacier is indeed disappearing rapidly (the glacier has lost 1,300 meters during the last 120 years), it is still as close to the Hotel Belvedere as it was a century ago. What the glacier has lost is its length. In 1850, the Ice River reached far down into the valley basin, but today the glacier tongue ends right near the Hotel Belvedere. Furthermore, one of the major attractions, the Grotto, is still being carved into the glacier every year. According to the hotel's website, the grotto is scheduled to open on time next summer.

The Hut

For almost two centuries, there has been a grotto in the Rhone Glacier. Previously, there was a natural grotto at the mouth of the glacier where it reached the end of the valley. As the glacier retreated, the lower grotto disappeared.

The present grotto near the Hotel Belvedere dates back to at least 1894. It is carved from one of the purest sections of the Rhone Glacier where the ice is clean and there are no pieces of rock anywhere. The grotto runs for about 100 meters through the ice, and as sunlight filters through the semi-transparent ice, the entire tunnel is bathed in a cool blue light.

The ice in the grotto is 200 to 300 years old, and layers of this ice can actually be seen in the walls of the grotto like rings within a tree trunk. The ice layers are often separated by very thin bands of dust particles and pollen, which accumulate mainly in summer and autumn, at the end of the filtration period, when the area around the glacier is free of ice. Similarly, individual ice particles can be found as spherical or teardrop-shaped air inclusions up to one or more millimeters in diameter.

Since the grotto is built on a moving glacier, it does not remain in one place nor does its length and shape remain intact for long. By the end of October, when the Furka Pass and the hotels will close for the winter, the glacier will move 20 meters down the hill, and the grotto, originally 100 meters long, will be shortened by 60 meters. The heat of the summer months will also cause the glacier to melt significantly, and the grotto will no longer be passable. Therefore, every year a new grotto is built at the exact same place.

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