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Gstaad

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Skiing (with all its accompanied expenses) is a luxury sport. But going to a ski resort to *not* ski is an even more luxurious endeavour. It is also the default position of many Gstaadians (incidentally, the G is almost gnomic, a mere whisper prefixing the brusque shtttttttard that follows) as we found out when we visited the tiny German-speaking village in Southwestern Switzerland. On the Monday morning before we flew home from a long weekend, my husband saw just 20 people on the slopes. (When you have an entire chair lift to yourself every single time, you do wonder about the financial ramifications for the lift company.)

“You ski for leisure in Gstaad” says Daniel Koetser, Manager and Co-Owner of Le Grand Bellevue hotel (which of course, means sometimes not skiing at all.) An affable story-teller, Koetser has the rounded vowels of a well-travelled Euro (educated at Eton, lived in New York and Vienna), taking over Le Grand Bellevue in 2014 with his wife, Davia, the interior smarts behind the hotel’s instuffy elegance. And when you encounter the buttermilk-hued Bellevue, set back in a pretty, snow-laden drive, you can see why those ski-lifts might be sparsely populated.

It is a relatively lengthy journey from London to Gstaad. The flight from Geneva from Gatwick is a mere 1 hr and 20 mins, but it takes a further 3-4 hours to reach the resort via two trains. If I went again I would hire a car, as it takes half the time to drive and then once there, you can drive to slopes further afar should you wish. That said, if you did that, you’d be missing the second leg of the journey – the infamous Golden Pass, from Montreux to Gstaad, which allows you a spectacular, panoramic view of the Alps.

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The village of Gstaad is tiny and ruled by two hotels: The Palace, a sprawlingly ritzy iconic hotel and the recently renovated Bellevue (though of course, neither of these are cheap.) The Palace is mandatory if only for the people-watching – the fondue at one of their restaurants, La Fromagerie, is as delicious as it is ruinously expensive; I went with friends Monica and Alexandra, who happened to be there at the same time – but bling of The Palace aside (they even have a thickly-papered in-house publication with a print run of 7,500 for g’nus sake!) it is the 57-room Le Grand Bellevue, located right next to the promenade, that will steal any design-led heart. Indeed, it stole mine. Right out of my throat and into my mouth where it devoured everything hungrily, at least twice.

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Every review of the hotel that I’ve read (hashtag background research, hashtag journo) has touched upon the 16 metre leather Chesterfield sofa by George Smith (imported from London in bits and then stitched on site) and the 1962 Rolls Royce that picks you up from the train station (once owned by Gstaad regular, Roger Moore). But for me it was the charming and often unusual furniture options – human sized gently swinging birdcages for reading respite, velvet ‘octopouffes’ (think a pouffe with multiple seats) and Siamese-twin style double backed sofas – that appealed strongly to me and will do to anyone who has a penchant for Soho House.

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In fact, “we think of it as like an uber luxe Soho House” says Koetser. “You may not notice all the details, but it feels expensive.” Trust me, we noticed the details: the blue double banker lamps (I’ve only ever seen bottle green); the fringed, ombré lampshades (sound revolting, but custom-made in Italy they are quite the coolest things I’ve seen); the mini bell-jars of biscuits; the gigantic tweed camel; the music piped into the bathroom during the turn-down service. The bedrooms are simple but sumptuous and very spacious even at their cheapest tier. There is a long checkered headboard with matching checkered curtains; a balcony complete with wooden sun loungers; soft pine floorboards and a big bath and separate shower. (Pet hate: when an expensive hotel doesn’t have a bath. Let me wallow in my own filth; it’s all I ask of you.)

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In Gstaad, Le Grand Bellevue is most famous for its exceptional spa – a 3,000 square metre underground haven, with sprawling massage rooms and a dizzying variety of sauna, steam and ice rooms (experienced multiply by my over-excited husband.) I had a wonderfully relaxing, if a little too oily massage in one of the many warren-like massage rooms and there’s nothing quite like looking out of this ‘the chalet du wellness’ (unofficial name) to see the snowy scape outside, whilst sitting in a swimsuit in a deck chair by the indoor pool, reading a book. Koetser has plans to make the spa even more impressive; to make it feel “less Asiatic and more ‘alpine luxe'”. If, like me, you like to feel an almost overwhelming amount of Alpine cliché when you are in the Alps, then you’ll undoubtedly be on board with this.

There are two things, aside from the pitch-perfect interior decor, that wholly impressed: the incredible service and the food. Efficient and friendly service is not unusual in a 5-star hotel (even at 1.30am, when we arrived on the Friday night or rather, Saturday morning) but the speed of service was brilliantly welcome. More often than not a breakfast may take half an hour to come, or courses between dinner might drag. Le Grand Bellevue was almost improbably swift and even better, you can buy ski passes and sort your ski, boot and helmet hire from their own shop downstairs. The bed to slope process is seamless, thanks to that. (Sidenote: remember the days when no one wore helmets? Or even gloves? I wore a head scarf and a pair of Oakleys as a teenager. It seems mad, now that you think about it. But then it also seems quite mad that I got consistently served at a bar in Val d’Isere when I was 13 years old. If you could see over the bar, you were permitted to drink at it – so the rule went. Which seems scary when you think that there are some very tall 9 years olds out there.)

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The food is some of the best I’ve ever had. I’m not resorting to platitudes, here (I was recently lambasted on Instagram for one less than scintillating caption about how much I hated Dry January) but the eggs Benedict was something to write home a post about. Instead of overwhelming your gob with a spongy bap, the toast component was made up of two perfectly rounded and adorably small discs of bread; the Benedict, meanwhile, creamy and tart. I could write 800 words on Le Grand Bellevue’s breakfast, but I won’t for both your sake and mine. All I will say is that there is a reason that the French Toast has scored legendary status on Trip Advisor. Dinner at the hotel restaurant, Leonard’s, also surpassed expectations. The Michelin starred restaurant – soft lighting and piano playing, yet nothing pretentious or formal – served tuna tartare and black lobster spaghetti that again, felt improbably well-pitched. Even the bread (cheese twists and olive rolled) was spectacular. We finished with a trio of sorbets and New York cheesecake and I would like to say that I resisted breakfast the next day, or even the miniature biscuits placed by our pillow by the turn-down service, but I did not. My only regret is that we did not have time to try the hotel’s sushi bar, or the weeny fondue hut at the end of the drive, Le Petit Chalet, which Koetser calls “the hottest ticket in town.”

On the subject of food, there are some very good albeit fairly pricy restaurants up on those less-than-saturated slopes. (“We could take a packed lunch?” suggested my husband on the Sunday. “We could not” I replied, settling the matter.) Restaurant Eggli and Hotel Hornhof both serve delicious variations of the Swiss potato dish, rosti (both rosti and fondue are two of my favourite meals, so I always do well in Switzerland.) I preferred the rosti at the Hornhof, but I preferred the skiing itself at Eggli. It is not quite as steep and as the skiing is decent, but not brilliant (there was a lot of ice and what I like to call ‘wooly mammoth’ patches of brown grass ready to yank your skis to a holt) I liked its more ponderous nature. Eggli is super close to the Le Grand Bellevue and transfers are free (although you may have to call a taxi if you are skiing a little further away; and do note that in Gstaadian tradition they are horrendously expensive.) If hot chocolate is your poison, then the tourist friendly Charly’s tea room next to the ice rink (before you get to the requisite ski resort boutique offerings like Hermes and Louis Vuitton) is a good shout. And if you want to know my favourite German word that I learnt on this trip, it would be ‘PistenBully’, which means ‘peace basher.’

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My relationship with skiing has waxed and waned in the more recent years of my life. I skied every year from the age of 4 to 15 and then – to refer back to skiing as a luxury activity – once I begun to foot my own bills, incredibly intermittently: I have been skiing 3 times in the last 14 years and all 3 times have been with my ski-mad husband. Our approaches to skiing are radically different. His ideal day would consist of an 8.30am lift start, a 5pm dusk denouement and barely a lunch stop between. Mine begins around 11am, punctuated by a long lunch and hourly loo stops, accompanied with frequent remarks from me about how cold my bottom is, or how foggy my goggles are. I ski fast, but without any style and I spend as much time trying not to skid on the ice as I do checking out the ski apparel around me.

My husband dresses like a ski bum (or, a Canadian) in a jacket 4 sizes too big and a helmet covered in stickers, thanks to a quarter life epiphany / crisis (lite) that saw him do a ski season 5 years ago. Meanwhile I yearn to be the sartorial approximation of a woman I once saw in Verbier (where we got engaged) whose pencil-thin frame was clad in a black Chanel ski suit. Thankfully she was humanised by her screaming 6 year old – who cried about everything from the temperature of his fries to the position of his chair – but she was memorable. My own duds, should you be interested, are from Sweaty Betty. They make superlative thermals and natty ski gear (I got mine 2 years ago, 50% off in the sale) with zips and fleece inserts in all the right places.

Don’t go to Gstaad for the ‘fresh pow’ or après apple shots. Plunder your savings and go to Le Grand Bellevue to eat delicious food, an amazing spa and maybe, just maybe, enjoy a spot of skiing.

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I went on a press trip to Le Grand Bellevue with Bird Travel PR. Many thanks to the hotel for hosting us.

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