Gstaad must be the inspiration for snow globes, such is the perfection of this stunning Swiss alpine village, with its white-capped mountains, gingerbread ski chalets, charming cobblestone pedestrian town center replete with a central outdoor ice rink and immaculately groomed horse-drawn carriages. Dotted about the village are top designer boutiques (think Chanel and Cartier), sparkly Swiss jewelers, contemporary art galleries and Michelin-star restaurants. No wonder Gstaad has charmed celebrities and royals from Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy to Prince Charles and Madonna, but this is not a place for posers and paparazzi as discretion is the theme in Gstaad, where the uber wealthy come to relax.
Gstaad is also a winter playground for Euro billionaires and their children, many of whom are enrolled at Le Rosey, the most expensive private school in the world (costing about $100,000 a year) that has its winter campus here.
We visited the quintessential place to be seen in Gstaad — the 100-room Gstaad Palace, perched above the village like a fairy-tale castle. We were there to investigate the sumptuous facilities — a 19,000-square-foot spa with indoor and outdoor pools, five restaurants, a legendary bar, the “GreenGo” nightclub, and the new and recently revamped suites.
Gstaad Palace, which celebrated a hundred years in 2013, is a fourth-generation, family- owned property with 80 percent repeat guests and a staff tenure average of 15 years, making it a place for familiar faces and known luxuries. Expect Moncler- clad families on and off the slopes during the day, a buzzing apres ski in the Lobby Bar morphing into fancy dress and fine dining for dinner and, finally, trust-funded heirs swilling champagne and dancing into the wee hours at “GreenGo,” where bottles sell from 150 CHF (around US$152) to up to 40,000 CHF (around US$40,463).
Suite Scene: As the hotel is shut during the off seasons, the Palace rooms are renovated during the annual closures and no room is used for more than four seasons without a complete overhaul including all furniture and fixtures. The focus has been on suites; we loved the nearly 1000-square-foot Corner Suites (Room No. 410 or any ending in No. 10), which have a dining and living room with sofa bed, a large bedroom and even more generous closets with loads of shelving. These can be connected to a 500-square-foot Junior Suite (Room No. 409) and / or a Double Classic (No. 408) for even more sleeping space. This configuration of rooms is also available on the second and third floors, all with stunning alpine views. As most clients come with family and staff, 80 of the hotels 100 rooms are connectable.
With high demand for suites for hosting intimate drinks and dinners, last winter the Palace added four Deluxe Suites (we saw Room No. 416). Made by combining two Classic Rooms, a 1,000-square-foot Deluxe Suite has a bedroom with balcony, living room with dining table, wet bar and wine fridge, a full bath off the bedroom and a half bath off the living area for guests.
In the turrets of the Palace are two Tower Suites (we saw No. 716), with one turret housing a bathtub and the other a games table / office.
The nearly 2,000 square feet suites come with a full living room, dining table for 10, three balconies and jaw-dropping mountain views. For even more grandeur, there is Room No. 800, the Penthouse Suite, renovated in 2014, which has three bedrooms, a kitchen, a 1,500-square-foot terrace with 270-degree views and a Jacuzzi.
Dining: Surrounded by private, multimillion dollar chalets, locals come and enjoy the Palaces fine food and lively scene. Not to be missed: The Lobby Bar, where the hotels plush seats and sofas are pleasantly packed at apres ski with guests sipping Moscow Mules while taking in the mountain views; locals say you’ve not been to Gstaad unless you’ve had a cocktail here. Follow this with a truffle champagne fondue dinner at La Fromagerie, which is housed beneath the hotel in a former bunker for the Swiss National Bank, cozy and delicious after a day on the slopes. Fun Fact: La Fromagerie is the most popular restaurant in Gstaad, though only open in winter, they go through four tons of cheese every season. Top Tip: Book La Fromagerie a month in advance.
Le Grand Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and a four- or five-course dinner. Even more formal is Le Grille for Michelin- star quality food (expect fellow guests in diamonds and long dresses, jacket and tie for men). Those looking for Italian cuisine should dine at Gildo’s that has a rotating roster of chefs from the finest summer resorts in Italy. This winter the chef is from the five-star Forte Village in Sardinia.
Spa: Indulgence is king at Gstaad Palace. After skiing, it is best to take advantage of the spa’s relaxing hammam and a gemology treatment such as an anti-aging and smoothing scrub and massage with ruby cream or “The Precious” facial with malachite, amethyst or smithsonite.
Where to Ski: Gstaad comprises 136 miles of slopes at altitudes between 3,000 and
feet including Glacier 3000, which is the only glacier in the region (well-heeled locals go by helicopter). The Palace offers a Ski Butler service to attend to your skis, transport and any other arrangements. The best areas for families are the Wispile and Eggli, which are connected by blue and red slopes and are about a two-minute shuttle ride from the Palace. There’s a fun, new Family Terrain park on Hornberg in Saanenmoser with jumps, tubes and ice bridges.
Slope-side eats: Insider tip is Restaurant Waldmatte on the mountain at Chalberhoni in the middle of the Eggli skiing area. Enjoy traditional Swiss cuisine in a rustic setting among locals and jet-set.
Off the slopes: The Palace has a Family Winter Package, which includes an excursion to Cailler, the oldest chocolate brand in Switzerland, for a tour of the factory and lesson in tempering chocolate and the chance to make your own chocolate bar.
Maison Cailler chocolate is divine (loads of samples) and the tour includes the history of the company as well as how Swiss chocolate is sourced and produced today — all extremely well done and a highlight of our trip (kids ages 6+ to adults!).
Advisors can get in touch with Melanie Horn, director of sales.