Swiss fantasy in Gstaad Palace
The Disney-esque castle has attracted the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana
Gstaad Palace Hotel. Photograph: LOOK-foto
The men sitting on the terrace of the Gstaad Palace Hotel in Switzerland know how to casually knot a cashmere sweater over their shoulders. It’s a skill not given to many Irish, or indeed British men, though anyone aspiring a certain level of wealthy style could do well to practice. The women are a mixture of fawn-cashmere-glossy, big haired with a hint of bling, and uber healthy in tennis whites, which we’ll come back to later. There are also an awful lot of loafers - the shoes, not the lifestyle, though I suspect some may have both.
Built more than 100 years ago, the Palace has been attracting the quietly rich and the more visibly well-off ever since. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton liked to visit. So, too, did Roger Moore, Princess Diana, Sophia Loren, Prince Rainer and Grace Kelly. Michael Jackson liked it so much he tried to buy it, but the Scherz family, who have been owning and running the place for generations, turned him down.
Built in the style of one of those fairytale Disney-esque castles, that borrows from the German schloss tradition, the hotel sits in a fold of the Swiss Alps. In winter it is obviously a ski destination of distinction, but summer gives you glorious Alpine walks, and enough warmth to enjoy all that people-watching on the terrace; or inside, drowning in one of the huge sofas in the lobby bar, where they’ll serve you a Scherz signature cocktail, but only before dinner.
I tried to order another after, and was politely steered away from the aperitifs towards a rather delicious Pantherita, a tequila-based confection, named for The Return of the Pink Panther, which was filmed here in 1975. I watched it again recently, and it hasn’t aged well. The hotel has, however. They close twice a year to fix everything up, re-styling where necessary, except – rather gloriously – in the Greengo nightclub, which hasn’t been changed, save for a lick of paint, since 1971. On busy nights it opens up to the swimming pool. They’re very discreet at The Palace, but you can guess the rest.
The level of care that knows better than you which cocktail you need at any given moment is also there in the bathrooms. I’ve stayed in places with toothpaste, but never with dental floss too. There’s also a natural sea sponge, and nice cakes. The cakes are in the livingroom of my suite, not the bathroom, obviously.
It’s a sunny morning, and we walk up the mountain to Jardin des Monts, an Alpine organic herb and flower garden, where they grow and dry the ingredients for the signature treatments range at the Palace’s spa. It’s a glorious day, and we swig herbal syrups, admire the sublime views and resolve to live better, healthier lives.
These resolutions don’t survive lunch, where we’re beguiled by excellent Swiss wines, and the sight of one of those uber healthy American women in tennis whites who has either been reacquainting herself with the film Legally Blonde, or simply does the “bend and snap” all by herself. We watch her touch her toes again at the buffet and order more wine.
I nap on my balcony, thinking of how my dreams of health are so quickly trumped by fantastic food, and listen to the plop of balls on the court as the tennis clinic continues. If I had been here in August, I could have watched polo. I could still opt for a helicopter to take me to lunch on the Matterhorn, if I had CHF 2077.50 (€1,812 approx) to spend for two, including two nights at the hotel.
I find I want to start living a life punctuated by natural sea sponges, tennis whites (bend and snap optional), helicopter rides, and occasional bouts of pulling the petals off sunflowers on the top of a mountain. Then I wake up from these daydreams for a trip to the spa to have nice Jardin des Monts things rubbed in to me. Relaxing afterwards I read in a magazine how Russian women like to have wealthy husbands and yet still put their children first. Someone tells me that Harrods used to sell panthers and elephants and only stopped sometime in the 1970s, and I reflect on all the different worlds that coexist.
In the evening, we walk again, to the Walig Hut, an Alpine chalet that was once the summer home of the farmers who cared for the cows, whose bells still ding, like the Angelus, as we stroll up. The Walig Hut is charmingly rustic. There’s no electricity, save for what the solar panels can gather, and the water comes from a nearby stream, which also cools the wine. Nonetheless, there’s full wifi woverage. You can’t expect captains of industry to fully switch off. Wifi notwithstanding, it’s incredibly relaxing, and the food, cooked over a solid wood stove, is delicious.
“It isn’t me, it’s the mountain,” says Maurizio who takes care of everything, of the relaxing – and romantic atmosphere. He tells us of marriage proposals, and of a polo player who came up for dinner with a group of friends. A bet was made: $100 says you can’t ride a cow. Let’s just say the cow came off best.
The Palace may be fancy, but it isn’t stuffy. You can see how its appeal endures. As I leave, to be inserted back into my normal life, I know it will stay with me: some kind of fairytale in the Alps.
The sleep of kings at The Palace
Stay at Gstaad Palace from 650 CHF (approx. €565) per room per night half board. There are 14 different room categories, ranging from single through to deluxe two-room balcony suite at approx. 2,000 CHF (€1,745). A night at the Walig Hut, including dinner starts at 1,600 CHF (€1,395) for two. The winter season runs December 22nd-March 11th 2018. Summer dates are June 23rd- September 9th 2018. You can order Jardin des Monts products online at jardindesmonts.ch.