Swiss Observer

Hotel Belvédère on the Furka Pass

CategoryBy Ilias Ism
hotel belvedere

A Tale of Time and Change

Perched on a serpentine curve overlooking the dramatic Rhône Glacier in the Swiss Alps sits Hotel Belvédère – an icon of the region’s proud hotel heritage now fallen silent amid nature’s indifferent power.

The Golden Era

Built in 1882 by the visionary Seiler family during Switzerland’s golden age of tourism, Belvédère (“beautiful view” in French) immediately captivated well-heeled travelers with its unprecedented views of the glacier and surrounding peaks. An early brochure promised “scenery grander than imagination can paint.” Guests ranged from European nobility, to authors, to even Pope John XXIII.

The highlight for many was a grotto carved 300 feet into the ever-shifting blue ice of the glacier. Reached by a short walk from the hotel, visitors could marvel at frozen waterfalls and intricate stalactites in this natural ice palace – so close to the icy behemoth travelers felt they could almost touch it.

Rise to Fame

Appearing in the 1964 James Bond thriller Goldfinger brought Belvédère international acclaim. The Furka Pass road, with the hotel dramatically clinging to its cliffside perch, left a strong impression on viewers as Agent 007’s Aston Martin sped by in pursuit. Pop culture had cemented the hotel’s iconic status.

The Decline

Yet today silence and fading grandeur mark this once lively institution. The glacier’s retreat due to climate change has collapsed the legendary ice grotto, while making the road and hotel site geologically unstable. With the glacier over half a mile farther up valley, the views lack their former visual power punch. The winter closure of the high-altitude Furka Pass for months at a time further hampers viability.

After decades of dwindling business, owners gave up the fight in 2016. Belvédère still clings to the mountainside, but its rooms stand empty and unheated. The winter snows come, windows shatter from the cold, then the spring thaw carries the broken glass away. The elements continue their tireless work of reclamation.

The Future

While the future remains uncertain, Belvédère’s rich history is unforgettable. Its bold architecture still inspires awe, nourished by memories of sparkling parties on glacier vistas now lost. This queen of Alpine palaces may yet see rebirth – but as its tottering walls echo only the wind, one feels the fleeting nature of humanity’s grandest creations. For now, we are left clinging to nostalgia while confronting hard truths about our changing planet that no luxury can escape.