Situated in Basel’s Old Town and fronting the River Rhine, the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois is a place where history really means something. There has been continuity of hospitality at this location since the late 17th Century. Today’s staff go out of their way to make visitors from Switzerland or abroad feel welcome and relaxed whether they are guests arriving for the first time or familiar regulars.
With so much going on in Basel throughout the year, the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois is a real hub for the city. International clients are a key part of the hotel’s business and many are set to arrive for the annual Baselworld Watch and Jewellery Show from 21st to 26th of March. There’s also much anticipation in the build-up to June’s Art Basel art fair where established artists will be on display along with a number of emerging new talents.
The many period details and individual touches in place at this grand hotel create a harmonious space. Character and authenticity matter to the owners and they have avoided the temptation of chasing trends by “over-designing” the suites, rooms and grand public spaces. The aim is to offer grace, sophistication and a sense of familiarity as guests enter this enduring institution right by the Rhine.
I met Tanja Wegmann, General Manager of the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois at the hotel’s own flower shop Fleurs des Rois in Basel, Switzerland to talk about the spirit and the history of this extraordinary hotel.
Mrs. Wegmann, what is it that makes this hotel unique?
The Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois is genuinely a unique hotel, just one of a kind in Europe. Our owners have invested substantially in the building and its décor and completed a comprehensive and durable renovation back in 2006. We celebrate our rich history which stretches right back to 1681 and want our guests to enjoy our historic glory, genuine style and decorative details. You cannot really argue with our location. We are right on the banks of the River Rhine and many of our rooms have outstanding and always changing views out over the water. The bridge in front of the Hotel was one of the first over the Rhine and dates back to the 16th century. We are proud of our service and celebrate it with our claim “Rich in history, young at heart”, which our staff members work to deliver in so many innovative ways each and every day.
Why is the hotel „Les Trois Rois“ named after three kings, what’s the history behind that and what part of this history is still alive today?
Our name reflects our origins beside one of Europe’s great trading rivers where goods have moved from market place to port over hundreds of years. There are, of course, many places around the world called after the “Three Kings” who were early traders and travelers. We have always been a place where business people can gather and our name is a link to those involved in commerce stretching far back in history. The Rhine was and remains a vital trading artery. We are located at the Schifflände and right at the “Mittlere Brücke”, where goods used to leave via the river for shipping to faraway places. The Three Kings name makes this place not only feel royal, but also sums up its glamour and distinctive look. We are proud to have Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar as our ancestors.
There is something special at the hotel, which you rarely find in other Grand Hotels. This modern “coolness” of the hotel’s staff, and spirit and attitude. Tell me more about it.
I don’t think that we have won an award for coolness yet –but we are privileged to have won many other awards in the past.
We were one of the five nominees last year for the Prix Villégiature in the category “Meilleur espoir et créativité d’hôtel en Europe” thanks to our “Young at Heart” graffiti coloured Bentley car”.
We receive regular awards covering different facets of the hotel’s operations. For example, having one of the 130 three-Michelin star restaurants in the world helps to attract international coverage. The most important thing in the hospitality business nowadays is the emotional intelligence of the staff. We focus intensely on that and recruit staff with a positive attitude who want to walk the extra mile. We encourage them to strive for more than just excellence to fit in with the underlying spirit of the hotel. When visitors reflect on a stay here, I want them to remember the professionalism and warmly commitment of our staff who are always attentive but never obtrusive. Many of them have worked here for their entire careers and understand what makes for special service. It’s almost like they are invisibly available whenever guests need anything to make their stay even more memorable.
What’s the best kept secret of Les Trois Rois that has never been revealed before?
There are many but one comes to my mind especially as the Fondation Beyeler is currently hosting the “Picasso – Blue and Rose Periods” exhibition until May 26th. Picasso stayed with us and always told the press that he did NOT sleep in the bed while staying at Les Trois Rois but instead stayed up all night sitting on our terrace, listening to the sound of the city falling asleep and then waking up again. Was he using just a bit of artistic licence with this tale? The truth is that he had an appointment with Paul Klee that day, but Klee never showed up, which made Picasso pretty mad – “This is why I stayed awake on the terrace all night (drinking and smoking)” – his words of truth.
If there were five people in the world, you could invite for a 3-star dinner at Cheval Blanc by the celebrated chef Peter Knogl. Who would they be and why?
I would invite the following five:
1. Our owners. They contribute to the current success of the hotel with their love of the building and respect for the details all around this place
2. Peter Knogl. He should experience for once his own divine and exquisite cuisine and atmosphere at the Cheval Blanc.
3. Roger Federer. Being a Swiss sports ambassador and Basel native, he deserves to be treated as a king.
4. Pope Francis. Not only would Peter Knogl be delighted to have him as a guest, he should definitely experience Peter Knogl’s cuisine once in his life
5. Myself. I might be selfish, but I would never skip a chance to dip into the Cheval Blanc’s cuisine.
What would you serve them?
I would leave it up to Peter Knogl to surprise us all, I trust him entirely.
I see, details matter at Les Trois Rois…
We like to surprise our guests and make their stay with us memorable. From the rose at check-in to the free minibar with contemporary snacks and drinks in your room we want them to feel properly looked after. You can also go for an unforgettable water sightseeing excursion floating gently down the Rhine with our branded (Wickelfisch) a watertight bathing sac and finish off your day relaxing on our award-winning terrace with a Les Trois Rois Gin and Tonic – Yes, we also produce our own gin.
What is the most exciting thing that has ever happened at Les Trois Rois?
We have had so many great moments at the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois; our VIP guest book is full of vivid comments from some of the great personalities of this world. Out of discretion, we cannot reveal the names of individuals who have chosen to stay at our hotel but we still have some lovely stories to relate. A wedding present of a car passing by on a boat on the Rhine was clearly a challenging moment to organize, a Royal family visiting the Zoo spontaneously on a Sunday and coming back with a huge aquarium full of expensive and rare fish was another.The fact that so many guests are regulars here suggests that they continue to want to make memories here on the banks of the Rhine.
3 Questions, that you would like to ask the three kings if you could travel back in time?
That’s a tricky one. I guess I’d want to know where they laid their heads and who was their host? I’d also ask how business then compares with the way we do things now.
Thank you for this exciting interview, Mrs. Wegmann.