Downhill in an uptown Swiss resort

We escape into the Swiss Alps for a jaunt in summer snow

By Jennifer Lipman, July 7, 2011
The Swiss Alps in the summer.  But you can still plummet down the snowy peaks on the Alpine Coaster - the world's highest bobsleigh ride

The Swiss Alps in the summer. But you can still plummet down the snowy peaks on the Alpine Coaster - the world's highest bobsleigh ride

I don't ski. For many reasons, among them a dislike of sustained periods of cold, a general lack of coordination and an irrational fear of breaking every bone in my body. So how exactly have I got to the point where I am soaring at high speed round a glacier in the Swiss Alps? Without any skis?

It started with a train ride. A hassle-free transfer at Geneva airport and we were off, speeding past ice blue water, luscious green slopes and sweet wooden chalets scattered about the landscape.

Higher up, as we changed trains at Montreux station, the temperature got cooler, the air sharper and the peaks more imposing. A little less than three hours after setting off and we were in Gstaad.

Gstaad brings to mind exclusivity, the ski resort to end all ski resorts. It is a place one imagines will be peopled with billionaire playboys and glamorous, thin-for-a-living women. It is somewhere one tans but never burns, where dining is always fine and the champagne flows late into the night.

If that is the Gstaad you are after, you will have no problem finding it. The town is still the hotspot it was when Elizabeth Taylor partied in the famous GreenGo nightclub and continues to be a favoured destination of everyone from Paris Hilton to Roger Moore.

But as much as it remains a byword for luxury travel, that is not all Gstaad has to offer. Step away from the hotels, and it is the perfect base for a summer Alpine adventure. Visitors can choose from almost every kind of healthy activity imaginable, from golf to horseriding from tennis to mountain biking. You can make like Heidi and scramble high in the mountains for a better view or a swim against a backdrop that was borrowed from an Evian advert.

Equipment and facilities for such athletic pastimes are available at most Gstaad hotels. Although there are some slightly cheaper alternatives and even campsites, this is a town of five star accommodations.

Perhaps the oldest and most famous is the Gstaad Palace, a castle set in the mountains with a private spa built into one of its turrets. Once a convalescent home for the elderly it opened as a hotel in 1913 and was taken over by the Scherz family on the eve of the Second World War.

Ernst Scherz's grandson continues to run it, and many of the staff have been there for decades giving what could be a vast and perhaps soulless place the charm of somewhere half its size and style.

Getting there

Flight: Swiss International Air Lines operates 35 daily flights fromHeathrow, London City, Birmingham, Manchester and Dublin to Switzerland. Fares start from £89 return.
Train: Book a train from Geneva to Gstaad with
Hotel: Staying at Gstaad Palace summer rates: a double standard room at half board starts from £478 per room per night

The Palace is decadent, right down to the high-end toiletries, the quality chocolate on your pillow at night and the endless baskets of fruit dotted about the corridors. It offers a spa, and gorgeous terrace. Rooms range from modern to traditional Swiss kitsch.

There are seven restaurants including a Fromagerie that served as a bank vault during the Second World War, and a wine cellar that must be the envy of sommeliers around the globe. Food, is tricky for non meat-eaters. But hotel staff were helpful and served up delicate fish plates. The Swiss do the basics of bread and cheese to perfection.

Gstaad, and its neighbouring town of Saanen, are sweet enough although not destinations in themselves. The buildings are mostly wooden, with pastel paint and floral designs printed jauntily along windowsills. The shops are high-end - this is not a place you leave with a tacky souvenir- but viewed from a horse and carriage, as I did, they are elegant enough to fit with their magical surroundings. This is Hans Christian Anderson territory, if he had a few spare golden eggs lining his pockets, that is.

Still, as glitzy as Gstaad is, that is not really what makes it wonderful.

It is the clear, fresh air that makes you feel healthier just for breathing, and the sense of absolute removal from the hustle and bustle of normal life. It is waking up to see a landscape of such vivid, breathtaking colours you feel it is a film set, or relaxing in a place that truly is far, far away from reality.

And never fear. Even in summer, the Alps don't let you down. The Diablerets glacier, which Gstaad sits in the shadow of, may be receding but it still makes for a mightily impressive sight. Catch it while you can and go on a snowmobile ride to a fabulous viewpoint, or get the cable car up to the point where everything around you is pure, untouched white.

Oh, and be sure to ride the Alpine Coaster, the world's highest bobsleigh track. At heights of 3,000 metres, this jaunt entails a trim two-seater car, a handheld brake for speed-control and a kilometre track with 10 curves and a 520-degree loop. Exhilaration - for less than £7 each.

Plummeting around this Alpine rollercoaster with only the snow-capped peaks for company could be the closest a ski-phobe like me ever comes to hitting the slopes.

Skiers might consider it a poor alternative, but it was great fun and a thrill not to be sniffed at.

Even better, my frozen experience was followed by an afternoon as warm and sunny as you would want on any beach holiday.

Gstaad will never shake its reputation as a winter wonderland, for good reason. But summer there is not half bad either.

Last updated: 10:50am, July 7 2011