It’s 7 a.m. on the Furka Pass, high in the Swiss Alps. Silence. The only sound is the waterfall on the Rhône Glacier. The hairpin bends are undisturbed. From the Grimsel Pass opposite, the wind pushes impressive banks of fog deep into the valley. Nature could not have done a better job setting the stage for this meeting of present and past.
For over 100 years the Furka Pass has been a popular route for luxury travel. First via stagecoach, later by car. The BMW 8 Series (E31) was the most advanced luxury car of its day in the 1980s and 90s. But how do you bring the lure of the extraordinary into the future? How has the understanding of exclusivity changed since the first BMW 8 Series? We invited two Swiss experts in contemporary luxury to a special interview, and sent them on a search for clues – taking the scenic route on the famous mountain roads of their homeland in the BMW 8 Series of the present.
Where once guests of the Furka Pass Hotel Belvedere would have climbed out of their stagecoaches onto the Swiss glacier, the new BMW M850i xDrive Gran Coupé and its predecessor, the BMW 8 Series (E31) from 1989, are now parked. Nenad Mlinarevic and Daniel Mani step out of their vehicles and stare in silence. Their homeland has once again left them spellbound.
In the restaurant “focus” in Vitznau, near Lucerne, “Swiss Chef of the Year 2016” Nenad Mlinarevic cooked his way to two Michelin stars. But then he made the brave and unusual decision to give up his awards. Mlinarevic wanted a restaurant for everyone, to make more people happy with good food. Together with friends, he breathed new life into “Bauernschänke” in Zurich, and along the way developed food concepts for restaurants such as “Fritz & Felix” in the exclusive “Brenner's Park Hotel” in Baden-Baden, Germany.
How many of us get to say that our work takes us across one of the most beautiful Alpine passes? Hotelier Daniel Mani, together with his partners Günter and Manfred Weilguni, designs unique wellness retreats for the modern traveler in Switzerland. His city hotel “Spedition” in Thun received this year's UNESCO Prix Versailles for the world's most beautiful interior. A drive over the Furka Pass lies the village of Flims, home to Mani’s design hotel, “The Hide” Hotel Flims – and the finish line for our experts’ Switzerland tour in the old and new generations of the BMW 8 Series.
At home on the pass
Review. The two-car trip through time begins in Gletsch. The Furka Pass connects the hamlet in the canton of Valais with Andermatt in the canton of Uri. For Daniel Mani, who wants to do the first section in the original 8 Series, it’s a familiar sight. When he was a child his family would take this route across the mountains, while today he often commutes over the mountain roads between his hotels in Thun and Flims. “Our trips in the Furka Pass or the Grimsel Pass were a ritual. And when I got my driver's license I drove straight over the Furka Pass the very next day.” For Nenad Mlinarevic, too, the mountains are familiar territory. “They’re home. I particularly love the trip over the Julier Pass.” In order to enjoy the pass, comfort and good roadholding are key. But even more important is safety – and being able to accelerate out of corners fast. Both generations of the BMW 8 Series tick all the boxes.
Luxury is the sum of many details
Things change over time. As the perception of luxury cars has developed, so too has the understanding of luxury travel. Following its construction in 1882 and the beginning of tourism on the mountain passes, the Hotel Belvédère stood for nobility and pioneering spirit. But in the time since its fortunes faded, and the iconic building has now been closed for a number of years. This aspirational destination is now no more than a monument. Its allure, however, remains unbroken. Half an hour later, both vehicles are in front of the hotel. Driver change.
Daniel Mani takes his place in the driver’s seat of the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupé. He strokes the seam of the perforated seats and looks across to Mlinarevic. “I love the feel of it. I wanted to hold the Swarovski crystal gear lever, to touch the speakers (➜ The best 6 songs to test car speakers). How does the milled metal feel? Like the leather on the dashboard? Whether it's a hotel room or a car, if a multitude of small details make a whole, that to me is perfect design.”
The design of a car and the design of a hotel room have something in common: what’s crucial is a multitude of small, individual details that ultimately make a whole.
Owner of “The Hide” Hotel Flims
Luxury is a service that goes beyond expectations
Where in the past luxury was associated with high-end products and expensive materials, today experiences like a trip or top-quality food enjoy a high status. “Luxury does not have to be ostentatious,” explains Daniel Mani. The days when bellboys or elevator operators served guests but were not allowed to talk to them are over. “Luxury is reducing the distance. Approaching people. Being a host with personality.” “That’s right,” Nenad Mlinarevic agrees. “Personality is the most important ingredient – both on the plate or at the reception”.
At the turn of the 20th century, luxury hotels attracted guests with conveniences such as electric elevators and speech tubes, which connected guests to the staff from the comfort of their rooms. Today, guests can control mood lighting and draw curtains from their tablets, or relax in their suite’s own private spa. “Guests staying in luxury hotels expect comfort and the right products. What we can offer beyond that is a human touch,” adds Daniel Mani. “A host who’s personally on site. Attention. And service that goes beyond expectations.”
Freedom as a driving force
Between the mountain slopes, the historic Furka Cogwheel Steam Railway winds its way up the gear rails yard by yard, as it did in its golden age. A hundred or so yards above it, the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupé glides around the bend, followed by its predecessor. Its V12 engine, in particular, was pioneering and an impressive demonstration of what was possible in the 1980s and 90s.
Innovation is a key factor for Nenad Mlinarevic. But luxury does not mean having to reinvent everything. It simply needs implementation with passion: “It’s much more effective to put your own spin on something that already exists,” Mlinarevic says. The 38-year-old is tall, dressed head-to-toe in black, tattooed, has a three-day-beard, and spices up every sentence with a pinch of humor. The new generation of gourmets is down-to-earth and innovative.
To me, real luxury on your plate means not seeing the effort, but tasting it.
Comfort Food with a new twist is what the Michelin-starred chef calls his philosophy. By way of example, Mlinarevic reinterpreted Auguste Escoffier’s eponymous delicacy (invented in 1927) for the restaurant “Tatar”, including vegan variations. “I'm not one of those chefs who finishes cooking then spends another ten minutes moving the food around with a pair of tweezers. I aim for my food to be simple, but fun. You cannot see the effort behind the dishes. You have to taste it.”
The skilled restaurateur Daniel Mani can only agree. He says many people feel that fine dining is becoming more and more expensive, more exclusive, more extraordinary, whether in a big city or a Swiss Alps hotel. He shows Mlinarevic a picture on his smartphone. “I recently cooked for a billionaire heiress in my hotel. And I chose a very simple dish: meatloaf with potato pancakes. After she’d finished she came into the kitchen full of enthusiasm – she had not eaten that well in a long time. Simple cooking with the best ingredients is the new luxury for me.”
Modern luxury cars such as the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupé are tailored to the needs of the driver – and that includes under the hood. The pleasure trips that Nenad Mlinarevic likes to take are just as tailor-made – and he enjoys getting up into the high gears. For the culinary concept of his restaurant “Fritz & Felix”, he had a special idea. The focal point of the restaurant is a 3.1-ton (2.8-metric ton) cast-iron designer grill custom-made in La Coruña, Spain. For the cost of a mid-class car. That, too, is modern luxury for both Mlinarevic and Mani – not just a meal on a plate, but an atmospheric, work-of-art experience of kitchen, interior and service.
Next on the menu for our two drivers are the 24 hairpin bends of the Oberalp Pass from Andermatt to Disentis, a dish perfectly prepared for a pleasure drive. Behind every bend (12 pro tips: How to find the racing line on any corner), a new panoramic delicacy awaits. A little while later, the two BMW 8 Series cars park in front of the finish line for this Switzerland tour trip through time: “The Hide” Hotel Flims, which opened in late 2018.
For Nenad Mlinarevic, modern luxury in the kitchen is no longer restricted to caviar, lobster and foie gras. “For me, luxury also means something rare. In my kitchen, for example, I use oils from Simon Müller. The oil-maker produces a rosehip seed oil in his factory in Basel, Switzerland. There are only about 4 pints (2 liters) of it made each year. That is a luxurious ingredient.” The oil is produced with an oil press worth around 25,000 US dollars. But it gets even more exclusive than that – one of Mlinarevic’s producers gets to decide whether you can buy his product at all. “My baker not only calls himself “Eigenbrötler”, he is a lone wolf,” Mlinarevic explains. “He selects his customers and shares the bread from his bakery only with people who he believes understand, appreciate and respect his craft.”
Time for individual luxury
In contrast to the closed Furka Pass hotel the Belvédère, or the five-star resort the Chedi Andermatt – which put the small Swiss town of Andermatt on the luxury tourism map – “The Hide” Hotel Flims is scarcely recognizable as such from the outside. And it's like that on purpose. For host Daniel Mani, luxury is simple, smart and all about detail. Once again, the idea was implemented by the Swedish design studio Stylt Trampoli AB on the interior. The reward: all three Swiss hotels that Mani and his partners operate have been accepted into the Association of Design Hotels.
“We wanted to create a big living room. A lot of the furniture was custom-made to our specifications.” Customized aesthetics for guests who want to ditch their workday suit for a pair of shorts every now and then. The host himself is the living embodiment of the stress-free interpretation of luxury that prevails in his hotel. “Silicon Valley has done it,” Mani says. “The new luxury travel means consciously choosing hotels where you can move about unencumbered. What is priceless to our customers is the time and the personal attention we can give them. Experiences that you remember.”
What does a top chef value when he’s traveling? Mani asks Mlinarevic. “I don’t want to feel like I’m in some impersonal furniture shop or a baroque palace,” Mlinarevic says. “I like hotels with lots of space and nice design. Hotels like “The Hide” that feel like I'm with friends. Friends who just happen to have a big house. I’d love to come back here for a private weekend stay some time.”
“This is one of my favorite places,” says Mani, opening the door to the sun terrace. Mlinarevic's eyes are immediately drawn to the designer outdoor chairs. He instantly recognizes the furniture of a Spanish designer label. “I’ve wanted to buy this for myself for a long time. Very nice!”
When Nenad Mlinarevic and Daniel Mani talk about details, you can see the rev counter of dedication in their eyes, whether it be about the preparation of potatoes or the development of a new restaurant or hotel. “As simple as needed, as good as possible,” explains Mlinarevic. “When you’re designing a restaurant, a hotel or luxury cars, you want to get everything right the first time.”
From the hotel lobby, Nenad Mlinarevic and Daniel Mani look out into the courtyard. The last rays of the day’s sunshine fall on the current and the previous generations of the BMW 8 Series. Where to next for another road trip? Another scenic route? “I'm doing a road trip through Australia. For a whole month. Time is my luxury,” Mlinarevic reveals. Mani is drawn to Tierra del Fuego. “I've been dreaming about it for a long time. This raw, barren landscape. Rain, sun, the sea, lonely roads – and me alone behind the wheel.” He runs his hand over the lines of the BMW 8 Series Gran Coupé. “Of course, I would love to take this car with me. But I have the luxury of memory now. Because a journey is measured in memories, not miles.”
Photos: Robert Grischek; Author: Markus Löblein