One of the great year-round destinations in the Alps, Gstaad has long been a hotspot for A-listers. Kathryn Bradley-Hole spent a weekend at Hotel Park Gstaad and came away understanding exactly why they flock here.
Arriving in Geneva airport, it’s the easiest thing to join a train from the airport terminal itself which will whisk you right away into the spectacular Swiss mountains. We were heading for Gstaad and a little weary from our very early start from London, but soon became quite high spirited, for the train that came in on our platform seemed straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.
It was an old-fashioned thing with panelled, polished wood interiors, plush, patterned-velvet seats and the sort of overhead luggage baskets I haven’t seen on British trains for decades: like ox mangers, netted and with super-polished brass fittings. When the train swept around a long, crescent bend, out of the window you could see the rest of the handsome, Pullman-like carriages, dark-grey and cream, pulled by a stylish, electric-powered locomotive. Not all the trains are like this, but apparently this super-smart vintage one does about one in four of the journeys on this single electric line run by the Compagnie du chemin de fer Montreux Oberland Bernois – or MOB.
So, on we trundled, away from the suburbs of Geneva and began our ascent into the mountains, having skirted the deep waters of Lac Leman, with its tree-lined banks and suddenly wide-opening vistas shot through with sunshine. At Montbovon, I was sure I’d never seen a prettier station; a big Swiss chalet, dark-timbered above the ground floor, with intricate carvings and fretwork and the station’s own sign, proudly ornamental, embellished with flourishes and slim, Victorian drop-shadow lettering. No bland corporate branding round here, thank you very much…
Obviously, people go to Gstaad for the skiing, but I hate snow and can see why it also succeeds an anytime resort. The mountain walks are stupendous, and in the summer are often accessed via ski lifts and with footpaths maintained as well as you would expect from the Swiss. Naturally, there are pastures a-plenty; their tipsy slopes are mown and green by this time of year, but will have been ditsy floral and busy with bees earlier in the summer, and, with their pitch-roofed, cosy cattle sheds, promise shelter for the animals when the colder weather returns.
Where to stay
Our suite, on a corner of the building, had a wrap-around balcony, taking in both morning and afternoon sunshine, and furnished with loungers as well as café table and chairs. The interior décor of plain, light-grey wool furnishings and traditional pine walls was very calming and chef’s array of petit fours and macaroons were almost too pretty to tuck into… almost!
Every guest comfort has been anticipated, from the design of the bathroom to the choice of pillows and luxurious variety of lighting options. Those subtle, unseen things that make all the difference to one’s level of ease. With stupendous views across Park Gstaad’s gardens to the tree-clad and snow-tipped mountains from both the bedroom and spacious sitting room, it’s hard to think of somewhere more serenely restful for a few days off, just an hour and 40 minutes’ flight from London.
Rooms at Park Gstaad start from around £580, depending on time of year and exchange rate at the time – call +41 33 748 9800 or see www.parkgstaad.ch for more information. If it’s booked up on your dates, you can find other places to stay in Gstaad here.
Food and drink
Hotel Park Gstaad has four restaurants, including one in a wooden chalet away from the main building and one specialising in Argentine steak. The jewel in the crown, however, is Avenue Montagne, which earned a Michelin star under former executive chef Axel Rudlin, and which takes pride in working up imaginative menus from locally sourced ingredients. This is only right, since the region is gastronomically well served by its lakes full of fish and the herby pastures that feed its cattle.
There’s also a spacious bar with a blazing log fire to take the chill out of the evening while enjoying the superb views, a cigar lounge, snow dome in winter and Caveau, a special wine tasting room where the sommelier will do his best to delight groups of up to 12.
Things to do
One perfect morning we ventured up to Glacier 3000, which, as its name indicates, soars 3,000 metres into the sky. With its panoramic views of the surrounding snow-topped alps and slightly bouncy suspension bridge, connecting two peaks and thus creating a walk for the brave, it’s an exhilarating place to spend a couple of hours and work up an appetite before lunching in its excellent mountain-top restaurant.
Yes, even if it’s snowing. In the bowels of the hotel is an electronic ‘indoor golf club’, with its own golf simulator and a pro on hand to offer guidance. And if you visit outside of skiing season, you can play at the nearby Gstaad-Saanenland golf club.
Not having been in Gstaad before, perhaps the biggest surprise for me was its village centre. I’m not sure where the locals buy their food and everyday boring stuff, because every single shop seems to be dedicated to designer clothes or fine jewellery. Walk down the main (possibly only) street and you will find Hermes, Cartier, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Moncler, Louis Vuitton, Chopard, Graff etc. Lovely in their way, of course. But if you’re resident, where would you buy a plug, a toaster, a light bulb, shampoo? As it happens, we did find one – just one – small supermarket tucked away at one end of town, but that was it. So, does Amazon deliver the ordinary stuff by drone?
But forget the banalities because your staff deal with that. This is beautiful Gstaad, where the film stars set up home, even just temporarily. Historically, it was Taylor and Burton, Roger Moore, David Niven, David Bowie. Today? Anne Hathaway, Madonna, Carey Mulligan and yes, still Julie Andrews, who has honorary citizenship. It’s Hollywood with snow. And the hills are alive – with the sound of money.
Hazel Plush takes a look at the magnificent palaces where guests are welcome.
Kate Green travelled through Switzerland by train, and enjoyed a dramatic and exhilarating holiday.
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