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October 2017 / Travel / by Penny Clements

Peak perfection

With its spectacular ski slopes and attractive Swiss tax regime, Gstaad has become a magnet for the A-list. We took a whistle-stop tour of the winter wonderland

Julie Andrews is said to have proclaimed Gstaad “the last paradise in a crazy world.” And I’d have to agree that Alpine villages don’t come more charming than Gstaad: think 18th-century chalets surrounded by rolling farmlands, all nestled in a valley at the heart of the breathtakingly beautiful Bernese Oberland. Of course, when your clientele includes the likes of George Clooney and Madonna, it goes without saying that for all its homespun charm, this particular village has glitz by the bucket load, too. There’s even a grocer selling truffle pasta and Champagne for over £6,000 a bottle, and, unsurprisingly, a host of upscale luxury hotels to boot; more than enough to tempt me to a whistle-stop winter break.

While the global elite probably choose to charter a helicopter to jettison them into the heart of the action, I decide to take a train to Gstaad, where I am collected by Antonio. He escorts me to my first port of call, the five star Le Grand Bellevue Hotel, in a gleaming 1962 Bentley S3. Not just any Bentley, Antonio tells me: this beauty is a hand-me-down from the late James Bond star Roger Moore, who used to have a home here. It is all part of the service at Le Grand Bellevue. Husband and wife team Daniel and Davia Koetser have successfully combined their British-Swiss flair to create a brilliantly eccentric Soho House-styled retreat. I discover reassuringly soft sofas, bespoke furniture and an abundance of artistic touches that make me feel completely at home (even the bonkers life-size tweed camel in the lobby).

And, come the morning, I am equally enamoured with the fully-equipped ski room, complete with underground garage so that guests can be directly chauffeured to the slopes. But I’m giving skiing a miss today to try out fat biking, a phenomenon that’s been taking the winter sports scene by storm. The fat tyres on these mountain bikes make easier work of the snow, though it is still very much a test of my fitness levels. But at 1,800m above sea level, as the panoramic views of the valley open up before me, I soon forget the pain of the ascent.

Back at the hotel, with aching muscles, I make my weary way to the vast subterranean spa – a labyrinth of interconnecting aromatic saunas, salt rooms and ice caves. The perfect restorative before dinner at the hotel’s Michelin-starred Leonard’s restaurant, which I follow up with drinks in the atmospheric bar (boasting Switzerland’s longest Chesterfield sofa) and a boogie at the nightclub, complete with world renowned live pianist.

All of which puts me in mind for a slightly more laid back schedule on day two. The cable car ascent to Glacier 3000 fits the bill, and, at the top, feeling brave (or foolhardy) I sample the views from The Peak Walk. This 351 feet-long walkway is 9,800 feet above sea level, and is the world’s first suspension bridge connecting two mountain peaks. It is quite something. As is the fondue I tuck into that evening at Michel’s Stallbeizli – well worth the scenic hour’s trek in a horse and carriage.

It seems unlikely that I can better the Bellevue, but after a few nights here I am ready to move on. And a little outside Gstaad, perched high up in the small town of Schonreid, I discover the Ermitage Wellness & Spa Hotel. Perfectly placed for both the Saanenmoser Hornberg and Schonried Horneggli ski resorts, the hotel is a pleasing blend of old and new, and feels typically Swiss. Making the most of its dramatic setting, it boasts not only floor-to-ceiling windows, but also a large panoramic terrace with a heated open-air salt water pool – and a cold water one for those who are braver than me. I think I’m in heaven, not least because my spacious room is kitted out with a whirlpool tub and steam shower. There’s surely no better place to relax after making the most of the host of winter activities on offer in and around Gstaad.

Not content with simply skiing, during my short stay, I’ve managed to tick a snowmobile ride, tobogganing, dog sledding, hiking and snowshoeing off my bucket list. And on my last evening, raising a toast in the hotel’s One Million Stars bar (fashioned from one million sparkling Swarovski stones, dahling) I can’t help reflecting that those
A-listers are definitely on to something.

For inspiration planning your trip, see gstaad.ch and myswitzerland.com