Gstaad, Switzerland’s original playboy capital, combines high Alpine fun with bucketfuls of upscale elegance
On a previous trip to Switzerland’s Alps, I visited a mountain dairy farm and attracted the attention of a nanny and her kids. Said goats were running free amid the wild flower meadows in the chocolate-box setting of an upland smallholding. Parental bonds are undoubtedly strong between a mother and her offspring and, to be honest, I should have been aware of this being the proud mum of two cross field/show cocker spaniels (affectionately known as the ‘fockers’). My excuse: I was distracted by my camera in an effort to capture the idyllic setting before me. But as if to press home the point I inexplicably chose to ignore her maternal instincts and, while in the middle of the small paddock on my knees to gain the best vantage point through my lens, suddenly and without warning came a swift, and thankfully, short ramming from behind – mother had clearly taken umbrage to my presence.
They may look cute but they’ll have your wallet in the blink of an eye | Tracey Radnall
To say my fellow travellers found this incident amusing is an understatement. To be fair, they tried to demonstrate appropriate concern, but failed to deliver due to being consumed by guffaws and tears of laughter. Simultaneously, I sprang to my feet as if nothing had happened. This was only going to happen to me once – I learnt my lesson – just not quite quickly enough. Fortunately there was no damage to my backside other than where my viewfinder had nutted my forehead in the follow-through. Eager not to repeat this memorable and bruising experience on my impending visit to Gstaad – lured by the promise of mountain bike trails and glacier hiking – I packed enough technical gear for all eventualities, including padded cycling shorts.
On arrival in Gstaad, I’m told tonight’s dinner is in a cable car. This surely must be the most ingenious use yet for an underemployed ski lift during summer? After an aperitif in the booking office, the starter is loaded into the four-man bubble and I leave the valley floor to sit down to dinner and a very slow ride to the top of the mountain. It’s an utterly unique dining experience.
Typical Swiss views from the Gässilhof , a working farm and authentic place to stay | Tracey Radnall
At the mid-station the plates are cleared and the main course of beef, artichoke pureé and potato dauphinoise are delivered – genius. It occurs to me that this is an ideal concept for a wedding reception. Well, for those who would prefer to isolate the in-laws. At the top station I alight the cable car and pile into the Hamilton Lodge for pud. A new and cosy chalet slightly lacking in authenticity but an ideal and comfortable place to stay in the throng of the ski season.
Peak to peak
After over-nighting in an authentic farm (minus goats) I get kitted up for a hike on the glacier. It’s summer in the valley but feels like mid January at 10,000 feet. Careful foot placement is essential due to several extremely deep crevasses. The Peak Walk is the first and only suspension bridge to connect two mountain peaks and from the top you can see 24 summits, including the Jungfrau. Not for folk who fear heights, though.
See the Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau and Matterhorn from the Peak Walk (well, when the sun’s out) | Tracey Radnall
I walk to the nearby Refuge l’Espace cabin where Inge and Roland have been serving hikers and skiers lunch using local ingredients for over 20 years. Later, back in the valley I check into the Gstaad Palace, stuffed with Swiss timepieces. The spa looks to be the more affordable option. I head straight for the 35º pool – bliss.
The next morning is a windless one and with the promise of a fine, sunny day I head for the bike hire shop in nearby Saanen.
I meet up with Luke, my guide, and following my thorough bike fitting on Scott cycles, we set off for an alpine ride. We head out onto the pristine village roads (no potholes here) before heading off-piste onto the labyrinth of Swiss trails – all well signposted. We make a gradual ascent on gravel tracks – a lung-busting experience at altitude. Luke pauses outside a new chalet made from old timber which he tells us is Madonna’s gaff. It’s difficult to imagine the ‘queen of pop’ (and THAT calendar), hanging out in a town that does not have a hair out of place.
Cycle guide/celeb stalker Luke points the way to Madonna’s pad | Tracey Radnall
We lock our bikes at the top of the Spitzel lift – although I suspect this is unnecessary after a colleague leaves his Canon camera behind and gets it back the next day. We pick up our fondue kit and head for one of the purpose-built picnic areas for an al fresco lunch. After three dunks of bread into melted cheese I’m stuffed!
Where to stay
Gässlihof Pension is a comfortable, authentic working farm run by Walter and Daniela Sumi in Feutersoey. Prices: 60CHF pppn
In the mountains
Hamilton Lodge, located at Rinderberg middle-station, 1600m. Open all year. Prices: 200CHF pppn
Bells and whistles
Gstaad Palace Hotel for five-star luxury, with a choice of restaurants and inclusive spa and tennis courts. Prices: 410CHF pppn