Gstaad: Stay chic in the snow

Enjoy a more sedate style of ski holiday in the smart Swiss village of Gstaad, says Leslie Woit

Frau Lupi, a charming ski instructor of a certain age, is a scion of a family that has lived in Gstaad for centuries. She is, therefore, the ideal guide for a walking tour of the village.

As luminous strains of a classical concert waft from the tiny village chapel, Frau Lupi and I stroll through the car-free, living Alpine museum that is Gstaad. Prettily painted doors are lined with lace curtains. Ancient weatherworn pine chalets stand solid and proud. Boutiques are filled with glittering prizes. Yet not a speck, gram nor whiff of dirt is to be spied – not bad for a farming community surrounded by fat cows and thoroughbred horses.

In genteel Gstaad, skiing is more of a pastime than sport. With a menu of pleasant diversions from sleigh rides to ballooning to internationally renowned music festivals, skiing is another way to top up the tan between cocktails and multicourse dinners. And, if you want a decent underground pool in your chalet, Gstaad is the place. Since 1957, a law has enforced a three-storey limit on chalets, so instead, they build below decks. “The deepest chalets we hear of,” Frau Lupi shares, “are ones that go five levels down.”

OK, so when you have an eight-floor chalet, going outside may not be a priority.

But first things first. Gstaad skiing is divided into five separate zones across 220km of pistes. To maximise your time on the slopes (or make it down in time for your spa appointment) it’s best to choose one for the day. The largest, sector one, includes Schönried, Saanenmöser, Zweisimmen and St Stephan, with 105km of flattering pistes speckled with inns and snow bars. But Frau Lupi and I head instead to the zone closest to town – Gstaad-Saanen-Rougemont –where we practically have the place to ourselves.

We schuss along the Röstigraben – the border between German- and French-speaking Switzerland running through the heart of the ski area. Aided at the bottom onto the Chalberhöni chairlift with a “Danke”, we rise from fried potatoes to fondue in one short sweep. By the time we reach the top, its name has changed to Les Gouilles and off we slide with a “Merci et bon ski”.

This bijou resort boasts undulating, intermediate terrain with gentle runs that tilt pleasantly this way and that. But being a resort of low, safe pistes comes at a price. Most of the runs top out around 2,000m, vulnerable territory when only 60 per cent are covered with snow cannons. But a 10-year investment programme that began in 2008 promises to spend £113m on lifts and snow making. The ace in the hole is the snow-sure Glacier 3000, a 20-minute drive away. It guarantees spectacular views and one of the longest downhills in the region. Not to be missed is one of the loveliest – and scariest – mountain restaurants in the Alps, Refuge L’Espace: a tiny cabin nailed to the rock at 2,890m. Who knows who your fellow diners might be?

Nearby, you can dance the night away in the louche basement cave at the Olden, and the yodelling club still meets every week at the stammtisch of the Posthotel Rössli. But Frau Lupi assures me that Gstaad is understated, reserved, Swisser than Swiss. If new money never sleeps, old money never talks: when Roman Polanski lived in exile in Gstaad, I’m told that not one resident blabbed to the press about his whereabouts.

Visit the Palace Hotel today and the management are equally discreet about their celebrity guests (although they do confirm that Maurice Chevalier, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald were here in the past).

This landmark hotel is a Sleeping Beauty confection of turrets, towers and dedicated lift attendants. “The social crossroads of Gstaad” is how third-generation proprietor Andrea Scherz describes it. “Our guests want the snow, but they don’t necessarily ski,” he admits. “It is like going to the sea and not swimming but…” He waves his hand about the scented air to indicate countless competing amusements.

To see Gstaad in all its dimensions though, you need to meet a parapente pilot such as Thomas, and persuade him to take you to the peak of Wispile. Together we ran off the side of the mountain, sailing silently over a valley full of handsome rooftops. The only sound was the gentle flap of our sail and a reassuring pop as he poured me a mid-air flute of champagne. Forget the shopping trip where Roman Abramovich tried to buy up all the property in Corchevel from the confines of a helicopter thundering above it, my aerial tour of billionaire- clad Gstaad was unbeatable.

Thomas executed a jaunty swing to zoom in on Johnny Hallyday’s house, followed by a swift-angled slide to glimpse Chez Ecclestone. Risking a slosh of champagne across my fur collar (my small effort to blend in – a girl’s gotta try), I asked “What about that one?” as we whooshed over a shingled hideaway. That, revealed Thomas, was the hideaway of Gstaad’s most elusive resident, Polanski.

As I waited at the station to leave this playground of the rich and farmland of the blessed, I recalled a story about another Gstaad devotee, Field Marshal Montgomery.

On the day when Monty was called to war, he took one last run, unstrapped his skis, and propped them in a rack at the station. A few years later returning victorious from battle at El Alamein, he picked up the skis from the rack and hit the slopes. I bet he skied straight to lunch.

Travel essentials

Getting there

The nearest airport to Gstaad is Bern, which is served from London City by SkyWork (00 413 1960 2194; flyskywork.com).

Many more flights are available to Geneva, which is about two hours away by train. The main airline is easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com), although flights are also available on Swiss (0845 601 0956; swiss.com), British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), Bmibaby (0844 2450055; bmibaby.com) and Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com).

Staying there

The writer stayed at Gstaad Palace Hotel (00 413 3748 5000; palace.ch), where doubles start from Sfr720 (£509) half board. It opens for the winter season on 16 December 2011 until 13 March 2012.

Seeing there

Time To Fly Paragliding (00 417 6470 1010; timetofly.ch). Guided parapente flights costs Sfr170 (£120).

More information

gstaad.ch; myswitzerland.com

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk