If you like your accommodation luxurious, your food indulgent and your hobbies include celebrity spotting and carat counting, a stay at Gstaad’s Palace hotel is the winter trip for you
Skiing and I don’t necessarily go hand in hand. I’m more into raclette than a red run, sipping chocolat chaud than schlepping skis, and I’ll take Moncler over mountain descents any day.
But a winter holiday in a charming ski resort spent firmly on foot – or better still, horse and carriage – is something different entirely. A hedonist by nature: a sumptuous hotel, expensive shops and a dreamy spa to retreat to after a long hard day of (not) skiing is my idea of a winter wonderland.
A short SWISS airline flight, a picturesque three-hour train journey through snowy mountains, and my fiancé and I arrive at the Gstaad Palace hotel, where it takes all of two seconds to see that here is where those seeking la dolce vita choose to winter. It is populated by beautiful, immaculately dressed people, all sporting a glamorous tan and incredible jewels.
The Palace is renowned. Opened just before the First World War, its exterior is akin to a Disney fairytale castle, turrets and all; and on the inside, having played host to many celebrities, it is unsurprising that service is flawless and decor traditional and grand.
Our room is on the second floor, with a little suntrap balcony where it is warm enough to sit and read in the morning. The room itself is cosy, decorated in warm beige and red tones with wooden beams along the ceiling and Molton Brown vanity products in the bathroom. Grey cable-knit slippers, freshly baked madeleines and tangerines await us on arrival.
No amenity is overlooked at the Palace. One of my favourite moments of the trip is spent in the latter half of the indoor/outdoor pool, which has the balmy temperature of a bath. With steam gently rising off the water, fresh air on your face and snow-capped mountains as far as the eye can see, it is easy to feel spoiled here.
The spa is spread over 1,800 sq m and comprises eight treatment rooms, a sauna, steam and hammam. Interiors are in a soothing muted palette: slate grey, stone and wood. There is a lovely waiting area centred around a large fireplace, the perfect place to read magazines and snack on dried fruit and tea as you linger post-treatment. I opt for a facial, which includes blasts of oxygen around my eyes and a peel-off mask, leaving me looking utterly, almost unfairly, refreshed.
Everyone knows calories don’t count in the mountains, and we live by that mantra daily, starting with a buffet breakfast. The opulent breakfast room feels somewhat like dining in Versailles: think long red curtains, chandeliers, starched white tablecloths and heavy silver cutlery. The beautifully presented spread begs to be lingered over, and we oblige.
As for dinner at the Palace, options range from the smart and intimate Le Grill to Gildo’s, the Italian restaurant, where we feast on fresh spaghetti with Parmesan, garlic and pesto cooked at our table. Our favourite restaurant is La Fromagerie, the hotel’s cosy, traditional chalet-style Swiss restaurant. Originally used as a vault to store Swiss gold during the Second World War – hence the heavy original armoured door – the restaurant has wooden beams, red chequered tablecloths and red lanterns and candles. Packed to the brim, don’t mistake rustic for basic – the house speciality is truffle and Champagne fondue and the crowd epitomises alpine elegance. Retire to the bar after dinner for excellent Martinis (for which there’s a dedicated menu) and some serious people-watching. You could follow this up with a trip to the Palace’s basement nightclub, GreenGo – expect popping bottles and Euro house music.
If you get sick of cheese and chocolate (although we never reach saturation point), you could try langlaufing, or cross-country skiing. It’s a great alternative for those who enjoy mountain activities but don’t fancy the downwards hurtle of a black run. The Palace provides a guide and we set off, strapped to a pair of skis, covering mile after mile of beautiful, but horizontal rather than vertical, scenery. With no momentum to get you going, it’s heavy work – we’re sweating and are overtaken by 90-year-olds – but it’s an exhilarating and unforgettable experience. Although not a natural on skis (unlike my fiancé, who, to both my pride and irritation, the guide keeps calling ‘professional’), I absolutely love it, particularly when we wind a path through a stunning forest and river.
The rest of our exertions are spent in a more relaxed manner. The small, chocolate box town (reached by an easy seven-minute walk from the hotel) is utterly adorable, helped by being entirely car-free. The dinkiest Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Hermès stores you ever did see are nestled alongside restaurants, independent boutiques (look for the fabulously stocked Trois Pommes) and sweet chocolatiers and patisseries. Be sure to gawp at the ginormous diamonds in Cartier and go to Charly’s for cappuccino and chocolates.
The small, chocolate box town (reached by an easy seven-minute walk from the hotel) is utterly adorable, helped by being entirely car-free
After three days here, I can hardly bear to leave this luxury snow globe of a world. But, I console myself that Gstaad will be no less beautiful in the summer, when you can picnic, shop for bikinis and party with an even more scantily clad jet set. I’ll be back.