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Winter Wonderland: Discovering Gstaad, Switzerland

by Matthew Wexler
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Feb 9, 2018

For winter travelers - skiers, snowboarders, or those who simply like to imbibe during après ski regardless of whether or not they've made it onto the slopes - there is no place more picturesque and luxurious than Gstaad, Switzerland.

Tourists have been flocking to the alpine town since the early 20th century when the Montreux-Oberland railway's completion in 1905 connected the region to the rest of the world. Cable cars and chair lifts followed (as did plenty of athletes fond of the pristine skiing conditions and glorious landscape) and today, the region boasts an arsenal of winter activities, including:

  • 47 mountain railway facilities
  • 124 miles of slopes
  • 10 winter bike trails
  • 87 miles of cross-country trails
  • Glacier 3000 - the only glacier ski area in the Bernese Oberland

    After a day on the slopes, Gstaad's array of luxury five-star accommodations are full of pampering and unique features, along with plenty of culinary options and local libations to keep the blood circulating.


    Mountain High

    Winter is perhaps Gstaad's most iconic season and with good reason. Rinderberg, Lengebrand, Saanerslochgrat, Hornberg and Horneggli each offer plentiful slopes for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Night owls can also take advantage of Rinderberg's night skiing on various dates throughout the season. Gstaad Tourism offers detailed pricing, but the exceptional hotel staff at any of the luxury properties can also assist and advise on arrangements.

    In addition to the slopes mentioned above, one of Gstaad's greatest draws is Glacier 3000. Head to the top of Gstaad's glacier for views of 24 summits. Winter enthusiasts will discover more than 15 miles of runs soaring from an altitude of up to 9,800 feet. But don't let that intimidate you. There are offerings for all levels, including the newly opened Les Diablerets (a red run equivalent to a blue square intermediate slope in the U.S.), a five-mile run that took three years to plan in consideration of the varying weather conditions.


    Be sure to kick off the skis or snowboard for some Instagram-worthy photos at Glacier 3000's Peak Walk by Tissot - the only suspension bridge to connect two mountain peaks. For those interested in a view without the frigid winds, duck inside Restaurant Botta in a building designed by architect Mario Botta to indulge in Swiss delicacies, or the rustic Refuge l'Espace with views of the Bernese Alps and freshly baked apple tarte tatin.

    Sparenmoos is the place to go for winter biking, which has been gaining popularity both domestically and abroad. You'll burn enough calories to enjoy an evening's worth of guilt-free fondue on mountain bikes that have been outfitted with fat tires to handle the snowy terrain. The views are spectacular but keep your eyes on the trail as things can quickly turn precarious when riding if you're not careful. For a more low-key option, consider snowshoeing in the same region.


    Pick Your Pleasure

    Gstaad's glorious accommodations are one of the region's trademarks, and while budget-friendly options are available, there are several eye-catching properties worthy of any winter bucket list.

    The Alpina Gstaad
    Celebrating its fifth anniversary, The Alpina Gstaad is the region's most contemporary five-star property and offers a tampering respite from a day spent on the mountain. Its 56 rooms and suites are the epitome of luxury, featuring Alpine touches such as leather headboards, farmhouse-style chests, modern amenities, and an art collection that rivals some of the best contemporary exhibits around the world including works by Ann Carrington, Dan Colen, Futura, and others.

    Head Chef Takumi Murase and Head Sushi Chef Tsutomu Kugota oversee western Europe's first MEGU outpost, which offers refined Japanese delights - one of several on-site culinary offerings. Alpina Gstaad is also hosting a pop-up of London's famous Harry's Bar through February 24.

    The real crown jewel at The Alpina Gstaad is the Six Senses Spa. Designed by P49 Bangkok, the 12,000-square-foot spa features 12 treatment rooms, indoor pool, color therapy, floatation room, Turkish-style hamam, and a year-round outdoor garden pool kept at a muscle-soothing temperature. The men's rejuvenation facial uses ila skincare products and plant extracts to refresh and rejuvenate after a day on the slopes.


    Gstaad Palace
    Dating back more than 100 years (1913 to be exact), Gstaad Palace has welcomed luminaries from Louis Armstrong to Marlene Dietrich. But don't think for a moment that Gstaad Palace is stuck in the past.

    The GreenGo Club has been spinning tunes and throwing down the nightlife gauntlet since its opening in 1971. Princess Diana, Tina Turner and Madonna have all strutted their stuff on the dance floor (or taken a dip in the club's indoor pool), while live music can be heard in the Lobby Bar and Bar du Grill.


    Hearty Italian fare can be found at Gildo's Ristorante, named after Maître d'hôtel Gildo Bocchini, while Le Grill's show kitchen will entertain with a flourish and finesse.

    Gstaad Palace continues to create "wow factor" experiences to experience Switzerland in a way unlike any other. Guests this season can have lunch by helicopter, with in-air champagne aperitifs and a gourmet lunch at Refuge l'espace on Glacier 3000.


    Ermitage Wellness & Spa Hotel
    For a more classic Swiss chalet experience, the Ermitage boasts an array of rooms and suites with traditional furnishings and plenty of pine-planked walls to remind you of your mountain surroundings. But the real gem here is the hotel's "water and sauna world." The beautifully maintained facilities feature an indoor/outdoor saltwater pool, saunas at various temperatures, quartzite saltwater steam grotto, Roman-style thermal loungers, aromatic steam bath, and more.

    For a glitzy flash that feels somewhat out of place amid Ermitage's laid-back setting but eye-catching, be sure to have a cocktail at One Million Stars Bar by Swarovski. Adorned with a million crystals and kaleidoscope lighting, the bar offers a chance to sample hard-to-find Swiss wines from the hotel's curated collection.


    Gstaad Essentials

    Don't miss these activities when planning your itinerary:

    Carriage Ride - There's no better way to take in Gstaad's dramatic landscape than by a horse-drawn carriage. Additional amenities offered may include a stop for mulled wine or a traditional fondue dinner at a secluded mountain chalet.

    Luxury Shopping - Gstaad's pedestrian-only promenade is brimming with art galleries and luxury brands. Be sure to stop in Maison Lorenz Bach for international brands as well as in-house labels Lorenz Bach and Maison LB.

    When the Snow Melts - Gstaad's summer season offers a special draw. Classical music fans flock to the destination for The Gstaad Menuhin Festival & Academy. This year's programming takes place July 13 - September 1, 2018, and will feature several world premieres including Peter Eötvös "Now, Miss!" Duo for Violin and Violoncello.

    Tennis fans flock to Gstaad for the annual J. Safra Sarasin Swiss Open Gstaad -- the only ATP clay tournament played in Switzerland. This year's competition is July 21-20, 2018.

    Getting There
    SWISS is Switzerland's national airline and offers direct flights to Geneva or Zurich, from which you can easily transfer by rail to Gstaad, or connect through Bern. The airline offers exemplary service and has longstanding partnerships with some of the country's greatest chefs to showcase regional cuisine. Chef Franck Reynaud is currently highlighting dishes from the canton of Valais. SWISS also recently launched a new line of Business Class amenity kits for long-haul service in collaboration with renowned Swiss pocketknife manufacturer Victorinox.


    Matthew Wexler is EDGE's National Style and Travel Editor. More of his writing can be found at www.wexlerwrites.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.


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