Swiss Detour to a Rose

Lechtman, of Thousand Oaks, is travel editor of Shape magazine.

The road here takes you through towns with fairy-tale names such as Dielsdorf, Rumlang, Boppelson and Otelfingen.

Yet with all of these tongue-twisting names and turns along a two-lane road, you are only 20 minutes by car from Zurich's Kloten Airport. But then, if the Rote Rose, the "House of the Red Rose" is on your itinerary, you'll know ahead of time that an afternoon, day or a week in this enchanting village is really worth a detour.

What attracts lovers of roses to this remarkably restored enclave is Lotte Gunthart, or even more, her exquisite paintings of roses. Her ardent love for and fascination with roses seems to give her the stamina and patience to paint them, from sunrise to sunset, barely stopping for a sip of heavily sugared strong black coffee.

Gunthart has repeated that routine for more than 40 years, always trying to capture the beauty and sensitivity of the roses that she picks from her garden.

Her paintings are exhibited from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily, except Sunday and holidays. But that's a mere hint of how Gunthart's passionate affair with roses literally put medieval Regensberg on the map.

When the town council wanted to develop the town by constructing a housing development, a prison and a large parking garage in an area where vineyards were cultivated on the southern slopes of the rolling hillside, Gunthart and her family protested. In a country ruled by neutrality, the Guntharts were anything but. She had thoughts of renovating centuries-old homes in the area in the course of making the town into a "living museum."

Lengthy Battle

Her idea was unpopular and met with hostility from the townspeople and hate mail from unidentified parties. The battle persisted from 1946 to 1978, until a law went into effect protecting Regensberg "for all time."

With the threat of developers' bulldozers at bay, Gunthart put her artistic energy into action to create an oasis of tranquillity, open to the public as an inn, museum and restaurant. For the last few years there has been a truce between the Guntharts and the townspeople, and as the Rote Rose has prospered, so has Regensberg.

Regensberg is at least a day trip; if you decide to stay in one of the Rote Rose's two pretty suites, plan to spend more time. The Rote Rose has an antique-filled entrance. The museum is part of the complex. One floor of the building is devoted to rare books depicting various flowers and plants, along with prints and other works of art of a botanical nature.

The suites--each with a small sitting room, bedroom, kitchenette and bathroom--command a panoramic view of the velvety green countryside, punctuated by well-tended vineyards and pretty gardens. This could be the very place where you write the final chapter of your first best-selling novel or put the finishing touches on a poem that you have been yearning to compose for 20 years.

In the tradition of a Swiss inn, you'll find many surprising and personalized touches, such as your breakfast ingredients left for you in the kitchenette and sprays of beautifully arranged flowers at your bedside. One suite has a wildly romantic four-poster bed, covered with an incredibly thick, soft down comforter.

If it's privacy you're after, this is paradise found; neither room nor answering service will intrude upon you at the Rote Rose. The rate for 1986 is $80 a night double for either suite.

Furnished With Antiques

And there's more to sustain your stay. Consider having lunch or dinner at the Gasthaus Krone, another Gunthart enterprise. This gourmet restaurant is exquisitely furnished with regional antiques and accented by vases of fresh flowers. The perfume of Lotte's roses mixes perfectly with the aroma of perfectly fried trout and cups of cafe au lait.

The Krone serves specialties such as L'emince de filet de veau a la Zurichoise, fresh fish and various side dishes such as rice creole and rosti (Swiss-style roasted potatoes). Hors d'oeuvres come warm and cold, such as the duck salad with avocado and smoked salmon crepe with coulis of tomato.

The desserts have their own artistic merit, and a few could be painted and hung alongside Gunthart's floral creations. There is a raspberry gratinee for two, a velvety chocolate mousse and a scrumptious home-baked cake, decorated with fruits of the season. The menu, with a reproduction of a Gunthart painting on the front, is handsome enough to be framed.

Dinner at the Krone for two is about $70, more if you select an expensive wine from the long list. Dinner at the Krone is a commitment, so plan to spend a few hours enjoying the cuisine and admiring the view.

If you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of Lotte Gunthart or talk with her. She lives in the 700-year-old Engelfried House, the domicile of the Lotte and Willi Gunthart Foundation, an organization formed for the protection of plants. Each year the foundation awards a prize to a person who has made a notable contribution to plant life.

Named in honor of Lotte's father, it is called the Dr. Rudolph Maag Prize and is coveted among botanists. Maag is recognized as being a connoisseur of plants, and Lotte has carried on his work through her exhibitions in London, Paris, the Hunt Botanical Library at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn., and at museums throughout Switzerland.

Bouquet on a Handkerchief

But it is at the Rote Rose where you view a retrospective of her work, and maybe walk away with not an original but one of her bouquets of red, yellow or pink roses reproduced on a handkerchief, calendar or stationery.

Her timbered residence is, as you would expect, surrounded by roses. She cultivates more than 400 different rose plants in a verdant garden stretching from the village square to a cloister-like patio and onto a courtyard. The medieval moat is at the rear, so in a sense she is a mere step away from old Regensberg. Her rose gardens fuse old Regensberg with the new, giving a sense of timelessness to her rose retreat.

The Rote Rose, still off the beaten tourist path, is virtually uncommercialized when compared to some of the really hot tourist spots in Switzerland such as Zermatt or the valleys of Ticino, which are jammed with sightseers on an afternoon coach tour.

You really can pause for a moment to admire the artist's labor of love in Regensberg, and for once, smell the roses.

For reservations at the Rote Rose, write to Christa Schafer (the manager and the Guntharts' daughter), CH-8158 Regensberg, Switzerland.

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