I see a herd of them, regal and proud, bedecked with flower diadems and festive bells, all in a line. They’re coming down the mountain after a summertime of feasting on high altitude grasses and wildflowers.
The idyllic, chalet-village of Gstaad is Switzerland’s summertime secret.
This Jet Setter’s five star winter oasis is just as fetching in summer.
In Gstaad the resident cows wear crowns. I see a herd of them, regal and proud, bedecked with flower diadems and festive bells, all in a line. They’re coming down the mountain after a summertime of feasting on high altitude grasses and wildflowers. They’re plump and pretty, with eyelashes longer than my own.
“Join the parade,” invites a farmer, who leads the cows to the middle of Gstaad from their hilltop pasture. As whimsically dressed as his bovines, the farmer and his family wear traditional Swiss garb—vests, buckles, felt knickers, embroidered shirts and hats. One beats on a drum; another balances a long alpenhorn on the ground; he toots an otherworldly sound from this centuries-old, indigenous instrument. Like a child in a fairytale, I yield to the enchantment, and join the fun. We march from the summit of the mountain, all the way down to the middle of Gstaad, a chalet-filled village, replete with cobbled streets. There, a throng of townsfolk and tourists welcome the cows with delight. The farmers strut proudly, receiving gifts of food and drink from the crowd. It’s end of summer. Soon, Gstaad will be sheathed in snow. So everyone—the farmers, the sophisticates, the visitors, the cheesemakers, the hoteliers—gather together to celebrate the change of seasons and the magic of the mountains in summer in a tradition known as alpine descent —or désalpe or alpabzug, depending on the language you speak. The day feels like a page from a storybook.
Gstaad reigns as an idyllic mountain resort, situated halfway between Geneva and Zurich. Defined by 17th-century chalets, bakeries, cheese shops and tony stores (such as Moncler, Gucci and Louis Vuitton), the village is most famous as a ski town, a place swarmed by global jet setters, who follow a see-and-be-seen approach to free time in snowy months. But, locals and outdoor buffs know a little secret. Gstaad is just as eventful during warmer seasons, when festivals and fetes abound.
With a stellar location in the centre of town, intimate Le Grand Bellevue invokes Art Deco style. Cosy up in the Suite Etoile, with panoramic windows to bring the outside inside. Or, walk right through the hotel’s front door to enjoy some of summer’s best festivals—such as the Menuhin Festival Gstaad, an extravaganza that offers a bevy of musical concerts between July and September—all inspired by one-time resident, and renowned violinist and conductor, Yehudi Menuhin. Likewise, sports enthusiasts can choose from an array of events in July: Consider the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour – Grand Slam Gstaad, or the Crédit Agricole Suisse Open Gstaad (ATP Tennis Tournament). Like polo? Mark your calendar for August, when international teams mount temperamental Arabian horses and compete in the Hublot Polo Gold Cup.
Long the haunt of movie stars and moguls, diplomats and royalty, including Elizabeth Taylor, Prince Ranier of Monaco, Madonna (and more), plus the noble families who send their children to Le Rosey (said to be the worlds’ most expensive and exclusive boarding school), Gstaad has always attracted trendsetters. But, it also emits a cosy, Swiss-no-nonsense appeal that’s as revitalising and soul-feeding as the region’s clean mountain air. Visitors may yearn to rub shoulders with a few glamorous stars, but what really brings most to town is the jaw dropping, undeveloped expanses of the surrounding terrain. Find both at hotspot Alpina Gstaad, which blends old and new for a Swiss fantasia of opulence. It’s a contemporary interpretation of the Swiss chalet concept makes it perfect for families. Choose the three-bedroom Panorama Suite, with its own wellness room.
You’ll see The Palace high on a hill upon arrival to town. Castle-like, complete with turrets and towers, the historic hotel plays up its long established motto: “Every guest is a king, and every king is a guest at the Palace.” And, it has certainly welcomed nobility. But, the hotel knows that its visitors sometimes crave more than impossibly soft sheets, white-gloved service and queenly suites ensconced in towers. That’s why they offer guests the opportunity to glamp for a night in their 18th-century, mountainside Walig Hut, located high above the village at 1,700 metres amid a flower-filled meadow. A painstakingly restored farmer’s home, this rough-hewn cabin includes modern comforts, such as a washroom, duvet-draped bed, and small kitchen.
Park Gstaad (Grand Hotel Park) with 95-rooms was the village’s first luxury hotel, built in 1910. Set apart from the village bustle on a plateau, it lies only five minutes from the shops and popular promenade. Yet, surrounded by pine trees, silver birch and parkland, it manages to evoke an elegant cabin in the woods—albeit a swanky one. White window boxes hold flowers and balconies overlook the ice-capped Diablerets, ensuring sense of place. Refurbished, to blend classic elegance with the region’s rough hewn carpentry, wood carvings and fabrics, it sports leathers, black granite, pine cladding and modern art for a chic mood. Try its Chalet Waldhuss, a hut style restaurant with the best fondue. By Becca Hensley ◼
© This article was first published in June-July 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.
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