After my late-twenties epiphany that struggling up the corporate ladder wasn’t working for me, I took a step back from logical employment choices (and having any savings) and started working part-time at a vintage-style travel poster gallery. Being in Pimlico, London the destinations on these posters were, let’s say, a little out of reach for free-spirited me but one of the places depicted took me away in daydreams of faux fur coats, 70s fondues and martinis, shaken not stirred: the famous mountain town of Gstaad. When the opportunity came up to travel to this place of dreams, how could I have said no?
Arriving into Gstaad is like being transported to a theme park. Not least as you will have likely arrived via one of the most scenic train routes you’ll ever take – the town is incredibly easy to access by train from both Geneva and Zurich. Just a few hours winding round mountains or Lake Geneva will transport you to the crisp air of the town, surrounded by impossibly beautiful people. After all, since the iconic Gstaad Palace hotel was built in 1913, the town has welcomed A list celebrity visitors such as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Roger Moore and made the excellent Dame Julie Andrews an honorary citizen in 2014.
There’s no doubting that this is a place to treat yourself, the area’s slogan is ‘Come Up, Slow Down’ so what more else do you need? But there’s much more here than the perfect, shiny veneer would have you believe. The hotels are one of the main draws and the newest hotel in town, The Alpina Gstaad (thealpinagstaad.ch), is the one to aim for. Being picked up in a Tesla from the station fulfilled many of my Tony Stark dreams and pulling into the covered entrance to the hotel past a revamped icecream van piqued my interest that there was more going on here than first meets the eyes. And this is the foodie issue isn’t it, so what’s that ice-cream van all about…
The Alpina Gstaad was the first hotel to be built in Gstaad for a century and overcoming local opposition for the hotel took 13 years alone so you’d expect the final result to be spectacular and you wouldn’t be wrong. While the bedrooms have uniquely Swiss touches, with wood panelling, decorative cowbells and scherenschnitte (paper cutting art) the hotel is a mesmerising mix of luxury charm and the eclectic private art collection. The collection here ranges from Margate’s finest Tracey Emin to work by The Bruce High Quality Foundation presiding over the common spaces. Unlike the often cold shared spaces in other luxury properties, The Alpina Gstaad begs you to explore and get cosy.
Much of the art and the icecream van mentioned earlier is the influence of one of the owner’s sons Nachson Mimran, one of the founders of To: (to.org) a platform that collaborates with artists and non-for-profits on projects like creating replicas of the icecream van, named ‘Shadowman’, as community centres in refugee camps in Bangladesh and Uganda. Sure, so it’s not a functioning ice-cream van, hungry readers, but so much more.
If you did nothing but eat in Gstaad, I wouldn’t judge you one bit. The Alpina Gstaad with their incredible in-house restaurants is the perfect place to let go and indulge. On our first evening we dug into their World Championship Fondue blend (yes friends, there is a Fondue World Championship) with boiled potatoes and hunks of bread in the hotel’s traditional Swiss Stubli. Surrounded by the carved wood panels, red and white table cloths and traditional swiss music you can experience the true mountain experience without having to put your skiwear back on to waddle back to your chalet. The hotel is also home to an outpost of cult New York Japanese restaurant MEGU where fresh platters of sashimi and sparkling sake help you to repent for your cheese-based sins – and signature fine dining at Sommet, under the care of Michelin-starred chef Martin Göschel.
It’s no wonder with these treats available that The Alpina Gstaad balances out this luxe gluttony with their breathtaking The Six Senses Spa which offers not only wellness treatments but technological advanced fitness programmes which can be personalised to your needs – if you must go on a five day ‘Cleanse and Detox’ programme, this would be the place to do it.
Peeling yourself away from the hotel, depending on the season, you’ll find 200km of excellent ski slopes or green and inviting hiking and camping sites. Whatever the weather, a mountain lodge restaurant like Berghaus Wasserngrat (wasserngrat.ch) will provide all the instagrammable sights you’ll need, including a huge wheel of locally made meringues and cream. Once fuelled there’s more to explore in this seemingly cosy town: a walk with a local guide will uncover tales of the secret army training base part of P-26, when the cows come down from the mountains decorated with flowers and how there are six different types of bell toll, all with different meanings.
For thrill seekers in the warmer months, head up to Glacier 3000 (glacier3000.ch) for world’s highest bobsleigh track, the ‘Alpine Coaster’ which takes you on a 1 km descent through a loop, ten curves, six waves, three jumps and two bridges and the only suspension bridge in the world that goes between two peaks, the ‘Peak Walk by Tissot’. Around the town of Gstaad are a number of wierd and wonderful sights to help you work off all that indulgence. If you hire a car a scenic 1 hour drive will take you to Chaplin’s World (chaplinsworld.com) in Corsier-sur-Vevey, a museum in Charlie’s manoir complete with set recreations from some of his most famous films.
Alternatively, if you like your entertainment a bit more macabre, head for the gothic Chateau St Germain in cheesy Gruyères which houses the HR Giger Museum (hrgigermuseum.com) filled with art from Giger’s various creative projects including the film Alien . Don’t miss a drink in the astonishing bar under the vertebra of an alien civilisation following the arches of the castle ceiling. Yes, that’s a thing.
What you need to know:
Thanks to Switzerland’s excellent train system, it’s easy to get to Gstaad from any of the country’s international airports. I chose to cross the country by flying into Zurich and out of Geneva.
Be sure to stay for a night or two in Zurich at the cosy, city centre Hotel Continental Zurich – MGallery by Sofitel (continental-zurich.hotels-zurich.org) which is the perfect location to dash to from the train station and dump your bag and go and explore. Rooms here start from £200 a night and include a sumptuous breakfast buffet. Check out our guide to Zurich over at houseofcoco.net
Rooms at The Alpina Gstaad (thealpinagstaad.ch) start at £674 per room in double use occupancy including breakfast, daily credit of £80 per person and day for food and beverage consumption in our 3 restaurants (Sommet, Megu & Siwss Stübli), free access to pools, saunas, steam-baths and relaxation areas at the Six Senses Spa, parking as well as service charge, all taxes and VAT.