The Swiss village of Gstaad is a luxurious getaway for celebrities and Hollywood A-listers.
In the 1960s, TIME magazine summed it up when describing it as “the place to be”. Gstaad, a small settlement in the municipality of Saanen, south-western Switzerland, had already attracted personalities such as Grace Kelly and Roger Moore. Others included David Niven, Peter Sellers and Elizabeth Taylor. They fled to the Alps to escape busy lives.
Half a century later, little has changed. The village’s high-life society today includes people such as Roman Polanski, Mick Flick and Bernie Ecclestone. One writer called it ‘Monaco with snow’ which is entirely appropriate. In the pedestrian-only city centre, luxury boutiques display hyper-expensive merchandise by brands such as Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren and Brunello Cucinelli. Top-class skiing facilities and miles of cross-country slopes provide worn-out celebrities with a reenergising playground.
Why has Gstaad become so popular with famous people? The answers are of historical origin. In 1905 the bypassing Montreux-Oberland Bernois railway improved access to the village. The year after, the region’s first tourism association was established. In 1916 and 1917, Le Rosey, one of Switzerland’s most prestigious international boarding schools, started the tradition of spending ten weeks per year at its winter campus in Gstaad. Promising students, reputable teachers and well-off families effectively became ambassadors for the village, and the high-class reputation stuck.
Despite the Hollywood-factor, Gstaad has held firm on its Alpine identity. Chalets still reside in the mountainside and a town church remains active. A reported 200 farmers live here, determined not to sell their family land. “In spite of the brand’s enormous prestigious value, Gstaad has remained down-to-earth,” says Martin Bachofner, director of Gstaad Saanenland Tourism. “Discretion and understatement underline the exceptional charm for which Gstaad is so valued.”
The international schools reflect some of the region’s exclusivity. They include Le Rosey, John F. Kennedy International School, and Gstaad International School. The latter charges its students an annual fee of 97,995 CHF – the equivalent of £67,000 or $101,000.
Guests of Gstaad can choose between four five-star hotels: the Grand Hotel Bellevue, the Grand Hotel Park, and the Gstaad Palace. The Gstaad Palace is the most symbolic: a white fairy-tale castle that has overlooked the village since 1913. Here a single suit in the winter season costs 870 CHP per night – £600 or $915. A night in the three-person ‘Penthouse Suite’ costs 15,900 CHF – £10,950 or $16,700. Its nightclub, GreenGo, offers a 6.0lt Cristal Mathusalem Millenium “Limited Edition 2000” champagne bottle for 48,000 CHF – the same as £33,050 or $50,400. Elsewhere, staff tell stories of guests such as Naomi Campbell, Paris Hilton, Robbie Williams and the late Michael Jackson.
There are more than a hundred restaurants in Gstaad. The most exclusive is the Eagle Ski Club, which is known to have charged £25,000 for a membership. The guest list includes celebrities, kings and queens.
What to do in Gstaad? In the surrounding winter wonderland, signposted hiking trails stretch for 300 kilometres (186 miles) past wild terrain and mountain restaurants. In summer, biking routes covering 150 kilometres (93 miles) offer adventures of varying difficulty. They are supplemented by mountain- and electric bike rentals and service stations. The skiing slopes range from altitudes of 1,000 to 3,000 metres and include 220 kilometres (136 miles) of pistes. There are 53 cableways, nearly 50 lifts and 10 skiing schools.
The region also boasts of green credentials. Among other projects, the Saanen district heating plant runs on wood and saves tonnes of CO2 emissions. It is connected to houses and hotels. The Saanenland district features hydroelectric power stations and aims for these to serve 4,000 households. Even the ski-slope machines run on a special ecological fuel named ‘eco speed’ which reduces grime and other emissions.
And so all in all, Gstaad probably is the place to be. If you can afford it.
Photos: Phillip Minnis/Shutterstock.com, Gstaad Saanenland Tourisme.