Discover the bastion of Swiss chic in snowy Saanenland.
At the Gobeli Berghaus, a rustic mountain restaurant hut in the vast Swiss ski wonderland of Gstaad, the pea soup arrives steaming and topped with an unexpected mountain of whipped cream. Like a mini white-capped alpine peak, it mirrors the surrounding landscape. Here, in southwestern, German-speaking Switzerland, above the river Saane in an area known as Saanenland, mountains lined with stately snow-dusted pines stretch to the sky. I loosen my ski boots, seize a spoon, and dig in — it’s a warm, welcome refueling, after a romp down the mountain.
“You’ll need your energy,” says my affable ski guide, Heinz. It’s our third day of exploring Gstaad’s nearly 150 miles of slopes, and we still have plenty to cover. We slurp up the last bit of soup and set out to whoosh our way from the quaint villages of Schonreid to Zweisimmen, and back again. That evening, when I take my seat before a pot of fondue, I figure I’ve earned my cheese.
Saanersloch Terrace. (Photo: Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus)Gstaad, popular as a winter-time celebrity playground encompasses multiple mountain holding vast expanses of varying terrain, ideal for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. With its network of chairlifts, gondolas, and t-bars, the resort region, known collectively as Gstaad Mountain Rides, ensures that intrepid winter sports enthusiasts can uniquely glide from Gstaad to nearby villages, and back again. In summer, the same mountain pathways – dotted with wildflowers and bell-collared cows – welcome hikers and mountain bikers, too.
The iconic Gstaad Palace hotel. (Photo: Getty Images/Phillip Minnis)Composed of classic chalets, shadowed by peaks, Gstaad retains a cozy simplicity, despite its extravagant offerings, well-heeled visitors, and reputation as an aristocratic hotspot. Cheese shops join Michelin-starred restaurants; global name-brand stores stand parallel to resident-owned bars; and centuries-old, wooden houses wedge between lavish new homes, strategically built to conform to the region’s traditional, slope-roofed, artisan-crafted architectural style. Window boxes (planted in warmer months with colorful flowers), the occasional Bernese Mountain dog, horse-drawn carriages equipped with fur blankets, and snow-carpeted, cobbled streets complete the picture. Along the town’s see-and-be-seen main promenade, the children of royalty and superstars (many students enrolled at prestigious boarding schools in the area) mingle with Swiss farmers, ski instructors, and warmly clad visitors, resplendent in designer duds.
Strolling on Gstaad’s promenade. (Photo: Christof Sonderegger, Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus)Nearly equidistant from either Zurich or Geneva, Gstaad may be Switzerland’s most characteristic ski village. It offers myriad opportunities for winter pleasure, from glacier skiing to tobogganing, from raclette to hot pea soup. You can traipse the town in voluminous fur coats or snowshoe the frozen mountain meadows.
Whatever you do, refuel on the fondue. You’ve earned it.
WHERE TO STAY:
Regal 95-room Gstaad Palace crowns a hill visible everywhere to the town below. For a celebratory weekend, check into one of the tony tower suites with bathtub views of the Alps, dip into truffle fondue at rustic La Fromagerie, and dance the night away at GreenGo, the hotel’s legendary disco. Providing an onsite sports equipment rental store, the Palace looms just a five minute drive from the main gondola. After a day on the slopes, luxuriate in its state-of-the-art spa or soak in its heated outdoor pool.
The Alpina Gstaad takes the famous ski hamlet’s chalet motif up a notch. Composed of reclaimed wood and local limestone, the 56-room hotel re-interprets mountain chic with the air of a contemporary grande dame. Regional decorative elements (such as hand-carved, hand-painted furniture) combine with borrowed global features (Asia’s Six Senses Spa and Manhattan’s Megu restaurant) to achieve a trendy, sophisticated —yet very Swiss—vibe. Expect classic activities from yodeling to dog sledding. Opt for the bi-level, three bedroom, Panorama Suite, which includes its own spa, gym and al fresco hot tub.
Says Virtuoso travel advisor Hadiel Erskine, “The Six Senses spa is reason enough to visit, and you can combine your trip to the Alps with a custom-tailored wellness program.”
A room at the Alpina Gstaad.
“Need some last-minute gear for the slopes? Visit nearby Moncler on Gstaad’s suitably luxurious shopping promenade. While exploring the town center, shop at Trois Pommes for a fantastically curated selection of designer retail. The staff is knowledgeable about the area and happy to share local tips with visitors.” ~Austin-based Virtuoso advisor Hadiel Erskine
Top photo: Eggli Berghaus, courtesy of Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus