It Gstaaded with a Kiss – The Gstaad Palace, Switzerland
Lusso’s resident priapus, Donald Twain, takes the slow train to arguably the finest Alpine resort in Switzerland and the white wet stuff gets everywhere. Etc.
Of course you’ve been skiing before. Loads, I imagine. So why bother reading about some odd-named nobody going to Switzerland and falling down a mountain? Well, because skiing done this way is not, I’d venture, something many of you have experienced. By which I mean, marrying consummate luxury with experiences so god-damn quaint, you’ll wonder whether you’ve fallen directly into a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. ‘But I’m a man, I don’t want a fairy tale,’ you assert. Fine, but whatever stunner you happen to be courting at the time will fucking melt into a unrecognisable fondue of quixotic sentimentalism when you go. And which of you don’t want that, eh? Yeah, thought so. Read on, and think of me as your ticket to the brownie-point factory.
Train tickets, in fact, are a good place to start. The Swiss railway is cap-doffing material if ever I’ve ridden it: never late, never not immaculate. But the real USP, if you’re heading up into the mountains as we did from Geneva to Gstaad, are its vintage 1900s Belle Epoque viewing carriages. Upholstered in dark-wood and green velour, the whole thing felt like a slow-mo ride at Disney. Only, when you see the ‘Golden Pass’ and its implausibly pretty views, you’re reminded that things like this actually exist in Switzerland.
Then, two hours up the tracks, there’s Gstaad and its famous Palace hotel. There are a few five-star properties in this small town (the Grand Bellevue is impossible to ignore), but only one on a hill-top. And one with a Hogwarts turret on it. The family-run 102-year-old, 104-room hotel is visible from just about anywhere in the town. And from its Lobby Bar you can wave back. We meet the GM (lovely fella) over negronis and take in the postcard view in a state of excitation.
The dimly lit spa where I get facialised to nirvana is one of the property’s most handsome assets. The blurb says 130 sq m, but it feels bigger. I spend a good portion of my visit in the outdoor part of the pool staring at a hatefully happy couple entwined in each other. ‘When’s it my turn,’ played on repeat in my mind. Still, you get the picture: take a woman to Gstaad, win at life.
But hang on, it doesn’t stop there, does it? We haven’t even been skiing yet. You’ve fought your way on to the lifts in Val d’Isère before, I’m sure. Last time I went I became an over-night expert in muay thai. Survival of the kickiest. In Switzerland, they’re so bloody polite and well organised that going up the mountain is as painful as sashaying from starter to main in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Despite it being peak season, there also seems to be just the right amount of people up there. Enough to feel like a gate keeper somewhere was making sure not to exceed the magic number on their clicker. Now, I know I’m starting to sound all unctuous and fawning, but the bloody pistes were like albino bowling lawns. Gliding down them – who can really be bothered with a black run – reminds me of the last time I did acid. A five-star flashback, if you will.
Though at one juncture, I do break with my proclivity for languid swooping to fly off a snowy ramp into an enormous inflatable landing pad. If it wasn’t for Christian Sandfeldt, our charming ski instructor, I would’t have had the balls, either. I pulled a fat 360, though, didn’t I? I got to know Christian properly at our preceding lunch at Saanwald Lodge. First things first: if you do come here and have an instructor, find this man. Appearing brilliantly unprofessional, it wasn’t long before we were talking like old friends, insulting people we didn’t know, and knocking back too much glühwein. Like many of the local boys, in summer he’s a farmer; in the winter, a dashing ski instructor. With my new-found bromance firmly set – any port in a snow storm, eh? – we headed for the area’s new board park, which is where cool people go to do jumping. I tried, and landed on my head. That’ll teach me for trying to impress on a mountain. Always save it for the chalet. Christian’s legacy was to teach me how to pirouette while descending – and to make me question my sexuality. After sharing platters of naturally herbaceous Swiss antipasto, he was gone.
Then, when you think it can’t possibly get any more weapons-grade hearts-and-flowers, we get on a sleigh. Yep, a horse-drawn sleigh that led our group along a mountain pass to Mattestübli: a pop-up fondue den an hour or so up the track. Most of the time, this chalet is someone’s home. But now and again Veronica Brand opens her doors to ooze hunters, hungry for Bern canton’s finest. Cured meats and pickles to start, followed by locally produced home-made fondue. Jugs of fennel and lemon tea helped to cut through the goo. Our dinner at the Palace’s Grill restaurant, with its sophisticated tasting menu, could not have been more contrasting.
I guess ending up in someone else’s bed was inevitable. We had no choice in the matter. It Gstaaded with a kiss. I imagine she woke, as Shakespeare’s Titania did, realising she’d lain with the ass-headed Bottom. I – still blissfully under this strange place’s spell – didn’t come to until she’d gone. I missed the train, and my flight.
Eventually, I got back on the Mucha express, and within minutes met what must be the most beautiful Norwegian woman I’ve ever seen. I wondered whether eating that much fondue had an hallucinogenic effect. The stewardess asked whether we were married, so I knew she was real. I held her hand, made promises I knew I couldn’t keep, and quietly thought: ‘Wait till the Lusso readers hear about this.’
Geneva Economy Light return fares with SWISS start at £86 from London City, £80 London Heathrow and £58 London Gatwick. www.swiss.com.
Winter rates at the five-star Gstaad Palace start from 490 CHF (approximately £362) per room per night and include half board at ‘Le Grand Restaurant’, service and all taxes. www.palace.ch.
For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com or e-mail the Switzerland Travel Centre: email@example.com. For packages, trains and air tickets: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad. Visit www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk.