The word ‘Gstaad’ resonates. It’s where Madonna chooses to ski, after all. Located in Bern, southwest Switzerland, the chic resort is compact enough to feel exclusive but has a diverse offering of ski runs to satisfy all levels…
Gstaad’s alpine landscape isn’t just pretty, it’s also authentic, with some 200 agricultural businesses still in operation and chalet-style homes dominating the villages. But it also has a touch of sparkle, with artisan cheese shops, bars and galleries sitting alongside brands like Prada, Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren in the picturesque town centre.
What were once typical sights during alpine winters have, of course, been recreated for tourists’ pleasure, including traditional horse-and-carriage rides on offer from Gstaad to Lauenen (accompanied by the trap’s resident Bernese mountain dog, Nico) and husky-sleigh rides up in Lauenen Rohr.
Alp Horneneggli’s alpine cheese experience is not to be missed. A whimsical traditional wooden chalet high up in the mountains, Alp Horneneggli is an old school cheese manufacturer, complete with stone cheese rooms and cows on site. Watch in fascination as the lovely couple who own Alp Horneneggli take you through each stage of the cheese making process, ending with a huge cheese, meringue and yoghurt feast like no other.
Where traditional mountain life perhaps gets a little muddled with tourism is at Michel’s Stallbeizli fondue restaurant in a working cattle barn. Here you sit right opposite the cows as they feed. Thankfully, the sturdy glass windows shield you from the smell, but not, sadly, the sight of cattle doing, you know, what it does, as you try to enjoy your molten cheese…
As well as 220 km of slopes, Gstaad has the only glacier ski area in the Bernese Oberland
It’s a popular restaurant, but if the thought fills you with horror, Gstaad’s eateries have chalked up a total of 270 GaultMillau points (the prestigious guide to fine dining in Switzerland that rates restaurants on a scale of 1 to 20) and 3 Michelin stars between them, ranging from cosy raclette stübli to top-end gourmet and cosy mountainside terraces. Take your pick.
In terms of skiing, it’s a deceptively large resort with 220 km of slopes between 1,000 and 3,000 metres, the highest point being Wildhorn, 3,247m above sea level, plus the only glacier ski area in the Bernese Oberland.
Gstaad is one of the top cross-country ski areas in the Alps and is also popular with hikers, but the hipsters are into snow biking, where you head up to dedicated tracks to tackle the snow on fat-tired mountain bikes. It’s hard work on the uphills, but fun on the downs and the scenery is beautiful.
While up on the snow-biking trails of Sparenmoos, we also rediscovered a childhood winter pastime that had us all in stitches – sledging. Carved out around the snow biking tracks is a fast, winding sledge run. Getting to grips with steering and breaking takes a while, so there were a few wipe outs, but much hilarity.
Gstaad is also a great late-season resort – you can ski until May, when the wide slopes are quiet, sunny and lovely.
And you can still make the most of the mountains without going to the trouble of skiing down them. Visit Glacier 3000 for a bird’s eye views of the land below, ferried up there in the comfort of a cable car. Make the thrilling journey across the bridge before stopping at the highest point of the glacier for far-reaching views of the Alps.
And where to stay? Assuming Madonna isn’t up for visitors, there are four 5-star superior hotels to choose from, including the famous Gstaad Palace, Le Grand Bellevue and Park Gstaad, as well as 4-star and an increasing number of good 3-star options that are hoping to increase Gstaad’s across-the-board appeal.
Take the contemporary 4-star Arc-En-Ciel, for example. Located right at the foot of the Eggli ski lift, this family-run chalet-hotel is great for swift, easy access to the slopes. The attic suites are fabulous and there’s also a spa and pizzeria (double rooms from CHF 255).
Up the road in Lauenen is the 3-star Hotel Alpenland with rustically furnished rooms and a charmingly retro Alpine restaurant that serves great food and local wines (double rooms from CHF 185). Located beside a nature reserve and a 10-minute drive from the centre of Gstaad, this place is favoured by those who like quieter surrounds and long winter hikes with their dogs, which are more than welcome at the hotel.
Fly Swiss Air from Heathrow to Zurich or Geneva from £108 return, from where Gstaad is a two-to-three hour journey by rail (the train from Geneva Airport to Gstaad is priced at £164 return) or road. For further information on ski passes, accommodation and travel, see gstaad.ch and swisstravelsystem.co.uk.