Gstaad’s the Way to Do It
It happens when I look down. The life-flashing-before-eyes moment. I always thought it would be more impressive, but turns out my prominent memories are all the inane ones. I’m 6, losing the egg race at school and I’m crying. I try to focus instead on clawing myself over this last ledge and lying, face-down, on gloriously flat terrafirma.
Somehow, scaling the Hornberg had sounded a lot easier from my living room. Me, clinging limpet-like to an iron rung, is not exactly what I had in mind. My guide – a real life Action Man – is coaxing me closer to the summit (in an accent that’s less than soothing, and much more Schwarzenegger, but who cares it’s helping). It’s an air-punching moment when I finally get up there; I try not to fling myself on his genetically-gifted self.
I’m in the Swiss Alps, near Gstaad, and being mid-June it’s sunless and a bit clammy but the scene before me is unerringly beautiful. Fresh mountain air is coursing through my soot-filled city lungs. Just yesterday I was complaining about a lack of excitement in my life, now I’ve got wild thrills and near-death.
“Now you jump” says The (non)Terminator, staring into a large abyss.
Alarmed, I realise he’s attached my waist to a rope. It stretches between our mountain and the one opposite, a distance that looks too far to be feasible. I gaze as the rope swings listlessly in the breeze. I thought we were only climbing.
“I thought we were only climbing?” I say, to no one in particular because I’m being ushered towards the edge. We’re dispatched swiftly, one by one, to the sound of our own echoing screams. It’s awesome.
Gstaad has long been en vogue amongst high-class society and the international Jet Set; it became known without elaboration as ‘The Place’ in the 1960s. You might say the village has become more Vogue of late, given that Madonna’s rumoured to have descended (I want to use the word muscled) all of her and her leotarded entourage into the Alpina’s Panoramic Suite.
Part-time residents and vacationers favour the village for its exquisitely manicured Alpine setting, its cosy exclusivity and a faultless execution of Swiss efficiency that indulges your every whim. Roger Moore, Liz Taylor, Grace Kelly were residents; Princess Di and King of Pop Michael Jackson would drop by regularly (by private jet into Saanen no doubt).
The money here isn’t like other places. It doesn’t look crass, it is tasteful. What you’re really seeing is the best side of the banknotes. The Promenade in the village is made up of three small but perfectly designed streets that cater only for the diamond-dripped types who frequent its local stores (Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Prada… I could go on but I’m just lengthening your shopping list). Everyone here is comfortable in their own fur-draped skin, thank you very much. Perhaps because there’s nothing drab or poor to bring out the guilt in you.
The Alpina is the newest hotel in town, it’s the only 5* to have opened for over a century and you can tell they’ve put some thought into it. An elegant entrance has been carved almost nonchalantly into the mountainside yet the effect is more spectacular than any superhero’s lair. Lighting is soft and low, expensively flattering. Local materials and knowledge can be seen in every turn of the chisel, in the hewing of stone, the wood carving and authentic work that runs throughout the leathery foyer and onwards, towards the rustic wine cellar and handsome 1930s cigar room.
You could probably float on the sheer lightness of your own anticipation – straight into your oversized suite. It’s stately. I can live here in this bourgeois bliss, amongst the elegantly draping fabrics and flickering fireplace, the oversized rain shower and marble-clad bathroom. After absorbing this level of luxury, I can’t see how I will ever cope without my two flat screen TV’s or either one of my bathrooms. Definitely not these tiny blue lights that helpfully illuminate and guide my sleepy feet toward the loo at night.
But then dawn breaks and the view that greets me is temptation enough for me to decamp. The sun has joined us today and it lightly dapples the green mountains. It looks almost fake, like it’s about to be swept up by a giant hand and put back in the play box for later. The glacier hoves into view through the early morning mist, it’s stomach-jolting. Anyway, breakfast and yoga await.
We meet with our yoga guru, Julian. We’re encouraged to shed our negative energy. If you’re stressed (or teetering on a cliff of your own existential crisis), he’s like a full-body shot of calm. That morning I meditate as obsessively as I had been monitoring my email the previous morning. We unfurl our tense muscles and downward-dog our way into a trance-like state until I can hear nothing but my own slow breathing (there’s an occasional snore from an unidentified body, somewhere on my right).
Thankfully at dinner, I get a chance to retoxify in the best possible way. The Japanese restaurant, Megu, should be made a place of pilgrimage for foodies. Two expert Japanese chefs prepare specially imported rarities. Platters of maguro tuna carpaccio and yellowtail with “kanzuri” sauce are followed by crispy asparagus and tatsuta chicken. The delicate subtleties of flavours are head-spinning. The silver cod with Yuzu miso is Nobu-beating incredible. We’re introduced to the local wine which is a well kept secret (the Swiss like to keep it all for themselves). I’m here to tell the world that it exists and needs to be consumed in vast, expensive quantities.
Gstaad in summer is a place to stir the senses every bit as much as when it wears its winter coat. There’s much more than the rightly-celebrated ski slopes and snowy sleigh rides through the village. Hiking, biking, and a prodigious summer roster of music festivals, car rallies and polo matches mean that the savviest travellers come here all year round to take in the luscious scenery and rehydrate their inner beings in the Six Senses Spa. This is definitely the best place to discover all six of them. Even if one of them happens to be, initially, your sense of ‘AAARRGHHHHHH.’
For more info on the Alpina Hotel Gstaad, visit www.thealpinagstaad.ch.