Mountain style in Gstaad, Switzerland

From cheese to designer chic, there’s more to Gstaad than skiing


When you pass Louis Vuitton, Prada and Ralph Lauren shops on the main street of a ski resort before spotting anywhere to hire ski equipment, you know you’re somewhere out of the ordinary.

In fact, almost nothing in Gstaad is ordinary. With its first luxury hotel opening in 1913, a host of celebrity regulars and the most expensive private school in the world, this Swiss mountain town has long been the glamorous winter playground of the jet set from across the world.

And while there’s plenty to keep skiers of all levels happy, thanks to around 125 miles of ski slopes between 1,000 and 3,000 metres, skiing is far from the only attraction here.

Early in the season when most of the slopes aren’t yet open, the cable car up to Glacier 3000 is nonetheless busy — mainly with people in walking boots going up to enjoy the view, the Glacier Walk, husky-drawn sled rides, play on the sledging slope or have lunch in the panoramic restaurant.

The two short slopes which were open in early December offered a welcome chance to rediscover my ski legs but it was perhaps the view and the clear air which were most exciting — free sunglasses are handed out at the bottom of the lift because the effect of the blue skies and fresh snow is so dazzling.

There are also almost 90 miles of cross-country ski slopes, sled runs, 115 miles of hiking and 50 miles of snow-shoe trails, plus plenty of off-piste opportunities, snow parks, winter fat biking and even heli-skiing for the more adventurous.

And the three separate ski areas do feature slopes of all levels, though 80% are easy to moderate — perfect especially if you’re a beginner or an intermediate looking for slopes to enjoy rather than to tax your skills.

The longest piste, La Videmanette, offers a six-mile run, the small Wasserngrat area is home to the exclusive private-members Eagle Club restaurant, as well as the resort’s steepest piste, the Tiger Run, while the Wispile lift takes you to some easy, family-friendly slopes.

And close by sits Gstaad’s newest luxury hotel, the Ultima Gstaad, with its own ski school — where all the instructors speak English and at least one other language and offer everything from an hour’s private lesson to a full-day’s ski guiding.

Opened at the end of 2016 with just 11 suites and six residences set across three linked chalets, the interior is reminiscent of a glitzy yacht with a glass chandelier in the atrium and ‘Alec Monopoly’ artworks everywhere — several pieces by Banksy were due to arrive just after my visit.

Almost nothing is too much trouble for the attentive staff (who often outnumber the guests).

Choosing the kind of pillow you’d like in the 11 suites, with their generous cloud-like beds, is only the start of its personalised, boutique experience; you can also pick your preferred type of Baobab candles to light your room and the Hermes toiletries to stock your enormous bathroom.

The skilled mixologists in the cosy lobby bar will also concoct something just for you.

An iPad on the wall controls the lights, and in many rooms the TV discreetly raises and lowers itself into the bedstead at the touch of the button, and then slowly swivels so you can watch from your bed or the sofa as you choose.

Or you can just relax by the cosy ‘bio fire’ (which looks like a fire but is made of steam for safety).

Add in a large dressing room with more storage than you could possibly need, a sitting area, desk and a well-sized balcony, while the residences feature similar upscale-cosy décor with plenty of wood and tactile fabrics, plus living rooms, full kitchens and up to four bedrooms.

At this luxurious home-from-home option, the hotel will arrange a chef for you if you wish, including ones to serve kosher food.

The hotel’s Italian restaurant Duchessa can also arrange kosher dishes with enough notice, or the beautifully presented Italian food includes several vegetarian and fish options, not least the house speciality La Pasta Duchessa. Truffle spaghetti with a truffle sauce, dramatically flambéed in front of the table, was pretty special.

At breakfast, as at the bar, there is no fixed menu, you simply ask for what you feel like and chances are, it can be arranged, adding to the bespoke, personalised and ‘nothing is too much trouble’ feeling of service throughout the hotel.

Other highlights include a fabulous cinema room with comfy daybeds where you can watch films or simply log on to your Netflix account on the large screen — and order drinks and popcorn — along with the 800 metre squared La Prairie spa.

As well as a 15-metre pool there’s an enormous outdoor jacuzzi with ‘bubble beds’ — relaxing in the warm water with the steam rising around me in the cold air was the perfect antidote to a chilly, yet beautiful horse-drawn carriage ride.

There’s also a large indoor jacuzzi, generous sauna and steam rooms, plus five treatment rooms, a hairdresser and juice/smoothie bar, alongside a medispa for treatments such as botox, with a doctor on site.

But there’s another side to the resort too. Between the five-star hotels and designer boutiques, you can find around 200 agricultural businesses — including around 80 farms looking after 7,000 cows, resulting in traditional cheese galore.

Cheese shop Molkerei offers backpacks filled with everything you need for a fondue — head off on skis or on foot to several wooden pan-shaped tables dotted around the resort for lunch in the open air.

You can also visit its cheese cave which is deep underground in an old water reservoir and now contains over 3,000 wheels of cheese.

And how many ski resorts can offer that? While there’s everything that skiers and snowboarders could wish for in Gstaad, this slice of Switzerland has far more to offer for a holiday that’s out of the ordinary.


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