Why Gstaad is the ski resort for me and for you
September 24, 2015
Admit it: you’ve heard stories about it, you’ve wondered about it, dreamt about it even…
As a skier, can you really go to your grave having never skied Gstaad? Some call it ‘the Marmite of the ski world’ – love it or hate it, you absolutely have to ski there first to form an opinion.
What do I think about skiing in Gstaad?
I say it’s a classic. It sits there up with the greats such as the super-cool Cortina, or other top spots for ski holidays in Switzerland including St Moritz, Murren and Zermatt. Through my eyes (and I reckon yours too, if you gave it a chance), Gstaad stands out to me as a fairytale resort. The iconic Palace Hotel looking down on the resort does a great job of creating that atmosphere, having become the symbol of Gstaad.
I remember so clearly the first time I set foot in the resort. Let me set the scene – it was the late 70s, Christmas time and I was a young skier eager to test out new turf. I can close my eyes and remember racing through beautiful slopes past picturesque farms, chalets and what felt like my own private wonderland. The powder was thick and fresh that year, and there wasn’t an hour during the skiing day that I didn’t soak up as much as possible.
The following year we weren’t as lucky – the snow came late, so in a powder-craving panic we drove 20 minutes to Reusch where we found ourselves with access to a 3000m glacier (now owned by Bernie Ecclestone) with some spectacular skiing and killer vertical drops.
Wind the clock forward more than a few years and I was back in Gstaad at the end of June 2015 to check out Etape Suisse with a view to Momentum Ski running this event in 2016, adding a new sport to our portfolio. Definitely look out for further news on this, as cycling on Swiss mountains roads is an exhilarating and stunning way to spend the summer months and will for sure speed up that countdown to the ski season.
Is your interest piqued? Then read on, because like any ski resort, if you want to have a great time in Gstaad there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it…
10 steps to a perfect ski weekend in Gstaad
So you’ve seen some sense and realised the time has come to visit Gstaad? Thank God for that, I was getting worried about you. Here’s the need-to-know tactics you need to follow.
1. Get there swiftly and smoothly
You’ve only got a limited time in this beautiful place, so I recommend that you make the most of it and cram as much in as possible. The most sensible way to do this is to start by hiring a car at Geneva (roughly a two-hour drive). If you don’t fancy it, then feel free to jump on a train instead.
Prepare yourself for the most breathtaking views of Lake Geneva. I usually spend most of my time swapping seats from one side to the other to take in the views – they never get boring.
2. Chill out and take in the view
So you’ve arrived in the resort – lucky you. You’ll notice the Palace Hotel. Remember that iconic, fairytale palace I mentioned before? Well, it’s certainly worth a visit.
After enjoying countless evening drinks in this beautiful hotel back in the ‘70s, I found myself decades later walking through that famous swivelling Pink Panther door, feeling rather like Peter Sellers in the movie, for Etape Suisse’s event this year…
Never did I think I would return one day and stay there as a guest, and I must admit – it felt pretty cool. In fact, when I was last here all those years ago there was a huge commotion going on in the reception area around Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton visiting the hotel:
The famous couple weren’t on holiday, though – they lived here for 30 years. Other stars of the time Peter Sellers, David Niven and Blake Edwards all lived next to the Palace as well, which is one of the main reasons why the Return of the Pink Panther was filmed in Gstaad.
The Palace itself has a long history of being a magnet for celebrity. Set on a hill overlooking stunning Gstaad, this luxury 5* hotel offers majestic views of the Swiss Alps, 104 gorgeous rooms, 5 gourmet dining restaurants, 2 bars, a nightclub, and a spa with both an indoor and outdoor pool. Over the years it’s hosted cable car loads of famous faces – from Royalty to US Presidents, to John Travolta (who actually got engaged there), and recently Madonna and Valentino.
So whilst in Gstaad, be sure to check out this great hotel to maximise relaxation – immerse yourself in its lovely atmosphere, enjoy its fab facilities, excellent food and impeccable service.
Of course, this is no one hotel town. There are some other beautifully-renovated hotels in Gstaad as well. The Park, for example, is 100 years old and beautifully renovated. Le Grand Bellevue also has five stars, and The Alpina is newly reopened after a €360 million investment and, as a result, is now a match for The Palace in most aspects (except history).
3. Whack on a pair of skis and get exploring
Right – enough about the Palace. The skiing is what you came for, right? Gstaad has a decent amount of fairly varied skiing from rolling hills to high altitude glacier runs but it is spread across a few different areas so to make the most of it you need to pick a different mountain for each day.
You needn’t venture far if groomed pistes are your thing. Eggli and Wispile are are the closest sections with access just on the edge of the main village either side of the road out to Les Diablerets. You can hit both of these on the same day. Eggli is the larger and the one to be on at lunchtime at the Bergrestaurant Eggli. Ski the sweeping 1000m-plus of vertical from La Videmanette down to Rougement:
Wasserngrat is another beautiful hill just 10 minutes from town and even smaller with just one lift, but well worth a mention. There are just three lovely variations down to work through: a blue, a red and a black. It is usually fairy empty and the restaurant of the same name at the top is delicious and once again will provide you with perfect views.
4. Find the best off-piste
Bored of those flat intermediate pistes? Head to Schonreid, a ten minute drive from the centre of Gstaad and by far the most extensive area – so an excellent place to start with beautifully groomed blues and reds winding through the trees in striking scenery.
You are basically skiing on nothing but grassy meadows, so it doesn’t take a huge amount of fresh snow to land yourself in some really fun and accessible off-piste conditions here. You also won’t find yourself up against much competition in this resort where many come to simply relax in luxury, never mind the hardcore skiing.
Here’s a nice selection of photos to give you a feel of the place:
5. Warm yourself with a coffee and an incredible panorama
Start from the Horneggli chairlift at the closest point to town and just work your way right across to St Stephan on the far extremity of the area. Stop for a warming coffee or even lunch at the excellent Chemi Stubbe at Lengebrand (it’s old school so cash only, no cards).
On the way back, head to the highest point at Hornberg where you will find two great restaurants next door to each other, the Hornberg and Hornfluh, both with terraces that share the most spectacular views on the mountain. Be sure to stop for a drink at the Horny Bar apres ski hut on your way back down to Schonreid!
6. Don’t let the not-so-perfect conditions get you down
Face it – there’s always a chance the weather won’t live up to expectations and fresh powder doesn’t settle in mass all year round. Due to the low altitude of Gstaad, snow cover can be somewhat limited.
If you’re on the lookout for something rather different and reliable if conditions are not on your side, head to the high altitude Glacier 3000, 20 minutes away at Col du Pilon on the way to Les Diablerets.
From the summit – which is the top of Gstaad’s glacier – you can see 24 summits over 4,000 metres, including Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and the Bernese Alps.
7. Or alternatively, take a scenic stroll through the mountains
If you don’t feel like skiing, that’s alright too. There’s an abundance of walking paths, the best of which are at Lauenen. The idyllic lake is an ideal destination for hikers and nature lovers – located in a side valley, about 15km, from Gstaad (reachable by bus or car), in the midst of a moorland nature reserve.
8. Recover from the day’s skiing with a top wine and dine experience
After all that skiing/hiking, you’re in the right place to satisfy your growing hunger. If you’re eating in town, besides the myriad of great dining in the many 5* hotels, the Chesery restaurant is the go to gourmet option. The Hotel Olden also has a lovely restaurant and Rialto is a good Italian right on the pedestrianised high street.
If you’re looking for a quick ‘n cheap fix you’re in the wrong place, although the burger hut under the bridge on the main strip does a great trade!
Looking for something a little more romantic? I’d recommend skipping the burgers and heading instead for a sleigh ride to the Lauenensee Restaurant.
9. Hit the dance floor, if you have enough energy
After dinner it is all about the parties at the exclusive GreenGo club at the Palace Hotel, complete with hanging dance floor suspended over the hotel’s swimming pool! I popped down on my recent trip to the resort to revisit this legendary nightclub and I can confirm that very little has changed since the ‘70s, except for the music (shame if you ask me).
Here’s Peter Sellers on the GreenGo dance floor, soaking up the awesome atmosphere…
The locals’ choice is Richi’s Pub – a taste of England in the Alps. Other popular watering holes include Stall-Bar Chlösterli and Rialto-Bar, which has a great atmosphere and sometimes live music.
Sadly I have just received word (thanks Kerstin!) that both Richi’s Pub and Chlösterli are unfortunately no more. But Rialto is still a very good recommendation – so be sure to head there.
10. Extend your trip, or make it cheaper
So that’s about it – you couldn’t possibly squeeze more into a ski weekend in Gstaad. And if you fancy it, why not stretch it out to a week’s holiday to allow for a little more relaxation time?
If you find yourself on a budget, the resort is becoming more and more affordable these days with a growing number of 3* hotels.
Want to try Gstaad for yourself?
No matter where you stay or what you end up doing – I feel pretty confident that you will love this quaint chocolate-box Swiss village with its extensive ski area, gourmet restaurants, and unbelievable scenery.
If you’re interested in going to Gstaad as your next ski holiday in Switzerland, we can make it happen for you. Make an enquiry today and we can start planning your tailor-made trip to this ever-popular, world-class destination.
I’d love to hear your feedback, too. Have you been to Gstaad? Do you agree with my assessment?