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July 24, 2013

Swiss Summer: Celebrating 100 Years at Gstaad Palace

By Chris Boyle

Gstaad Palace

Gstaad Palace


Newly Renovated Suite, Gtsaad Palace

Newly Renovated Suite, Gtsaad Palace


Spa Lounge, Gstaad Palace

Spa Lounge, Gstaad Palace


Walig Hut, Gstaad Palace

Walig Hut, Gstaad Palace

By Tova Syrowicz

While the opening of The Alpina has brought new interest to the alpine village that is part 700-year-old farming community, part winter playground to the ultra-rich and famous, Gstaad’s elegant Palace hotel continues to hum pleasantly this summer with the seamless service that has made its myriad amenities, beautiful grounds, and carefree luxury a hit for a century.

Towering above the petite town in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps, the Gstaad Palace, with its iconic cream façade, crenellated and peaked towers, and proud flags, seems a castle out of a fairytale—but if this brings “kitsch” to mind, rest assured it is anything but. The interiors are the epitome of understated elegance, with subtle mountain motifs that are never heavy-handed.

We especially like the newly renovated suites in the “10” line, unveiled just four weeks ago—light and fresh with bleached woods and neutral tones. Of course, the 2,583-square-foot, three-bedroom Penthouse, built to crown the castle in 2001, and featuring private elevator access, a huge wraparound Jacuzzi terrace, and a private sauna, is still a showstopper. 

Winter guests, especially those who visit during the season’s Christmas and New Year’s super-peak, will experience a convivial energy and cumulative affluence beyond compare, not to mention a bevy of winter wonderland activities from skiing to snowshoeing to mountain hiking (Gstaad is perhaps most famously the winter campus of Switzerland’s most exclusive finishing school).

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At the Palace, where it is not unusual to spot the likes of Madonna partying at ‘70s-cool nightclub GreenGo on New Year’s Eve, or enjoying a fondue at the Fromagerie, a converted bunker built upon the request of the Swiss National Bank during WWII, the guests might be A-list, but the vibe is far from haughty—it’s luxurious but laid-back, celebratory but easy-going, endearingly old-school, but never old-fashioned.

In the summer season, the ambience is even more relaxed, offering a real chance to recoup and recharge, though you might find yourself traversing the three miles from neighboring Saanen’s jetport in a gleaming white, vintage Rolls-Royce.

Fill your days with clay-court tennis (the Palace has four courts and instructors par excellence), invigorating laps in Switzerland’s first outdoor Olympic-sized swimming pool (complete with diving boards), and bike rides along the region’s windy, chalet-dotted roads. If you’re a beach volleyball, pro tennis, or polo fan, you might time your visit with the high-profile events that come to town during the summer.

Not the sporting type? Spend some quality time at the award-winning spa, where brand new oxygen treatments courtesy of Brazil’s Ivo Pitanguy (who opened the world’s first plastic surgery clinic) debuted this summer, employing products that do medical-caliber wonders for your skin sans scalpel.  (If you happen to be on babymoon, the “Mommy & Me” treatment with therapist Piera is heaven). After, pop into town, a five-minute walk, and enjoy retail therapy at the likes of Prada, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Chopard, or simply unwind on your balcony, taking in the wide valley views and snowcapped peaks off in the distance.

Come evening, enjoy drinks, dinner, and live music on the restaurant terrace—it’ll remain light past 9 p.m., and you can watch as a velvety night slowly envelops the verdant slopes. Cuisine-wise, the kitchen operates with military precision (would you expect anything less of the Swiss?), turning out beautifully styled, aromatic, and flavorful dishes, many employing the region’s very best produce.

For a truly authentic experience completely unique to the Palace, go up farther into the mountains some 2,000 feet to Walig Hut, built in 1783 and until recently the summer home of a Gstaad farming family and their herd of grazing dairy cows (they’ve since moved up the road to larger, but still very rustic digs).

While it can be completely submerged beneath snow and inadvertently skied-over in winter, in summer, the wooden home offers the opportunity to truly unplug, and experience the natural grandeur of the locale without the modern trappings that can sometimes detract from the luxury of authenticity. An overnight (or three) will suit the outdoorsy, as well as eternal romantics (there’s room for a couple plus two kids, but you’ll have to do without Wi-Fi and electricity). Not ready to be that at one with nature? Opt instead for a sunny lunch or cozy dinner of Swiss specialties up in this peaceful haven—a must during a summer stay at the Palace.

December 1, 2013 marks the centennial of the Gstaad Palace, which has been family owned and operated for the last 75 years. Its current general manager, Andrea Scherz, is the grandson of the first Scherz owner, who, the story goes, fell under the property’s spell from a distance at the age of 13, while on a scouts trip in the region. Grandfather Scherz studied banking to appease his father, but then followed his heart into hospitality, working his way up at the Palace from waiter to GM. When the owning corporation offered to sell him the hotel, he was given 48 hours to come up with the cash. He borrowed furiously from family, friends, and loyal hotel patrons, and though he missed the deadline, was still able to make the purchase—a boyhood dream come true.

The family’s only hospitality holding, it is a true labor of love. Winter or summer (or even in between, should you choose to “Rent-a-Palace” during the off-season), the 104-room Gstaad Palace has a home-away-from-home feel about it. The staff is cohesive and genuinely warm; they welcome guests back year after year (average employee tenure is 15 years…some mainstays, like the first maître d’hotel Gildo, after whom the seasonal Italian restaurant was named, have been with the hotel for decades). Each off-season, hundreds of thousands go into upkeep and renovations, updates that refresh the hotel without changing the old-world alpine ambience, so that even after 100 years, it remains a treasured, true-to-its-roots destination that attracts jetsetters from around the world.

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