Nick Leech stays at the recently opened, five-star Alpina Gstaad and discovers contemporary Swiss hospitality that was eighteen years in the making.
The Swiss have a reputation for a rather measured sort of perfection. Change happens here at a considered pace and so it is that Gstaad, a ski resort where the well-heeled have always gone to party and avoid paying taxes rather than plough the slopes from sunrise to sunset, has another world class, five-star hotel; the first to be newly built for a century. The project has taken some 18 years to reach completion, thanks to the same tight planning regulations that have protected the village and preserved its rather old fashioned, Alpine appeal.The Alpina Gstaad won’t immediately set the pulses racing.
The architecture is necessarily traditional; a rather grandiose chalet with wooden balconies and four towers flying the national red and white flag. Inside too, the hotel delivers what you might expect but for a different and rather more gratifying reason: the thoughtful (and expensive) detailing. From the theatrical sweeping staircase in the lobby, to the perfectly cooked Kobe beef served kagero-style on a hot stone in Megu, the first European outpost of the Japanese restaurant chain that once wowed Manhattan, nothing has been left to chance or to lower the highest expectations.
The best address in Gstaad: the Oberbort. The Alpina Gstaad perches on a hillside with views of the Bernese Alps and the village down below, just a 10-minute walk away. Its neighbour is the better-known Gstaad Palace hotel, which opened in 1913, attracting the international jet set by the 1950s, when Hollywood stars famously enjoyed getting together.
The new hotel is part of a luxury property development that includes two private chalets, eleven private apartments within the hotel and a further three within another chalet. The hotel’s private owners will no doubt be relieved that the canton of Berne recently voted to tighten (but not abolish) the expatriate tax breaks that encouraged Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, French musician Johnny Hallyday, and Victor Emmanuel of Savoy, the son of Italy’s last king, to buy property here.
Contemporary Alpine chic.The wider resort is proud of its authentic Alpine lifestyle and elements of the hotel reflect this fantasy. The heart shaped cut-outs on the backs of chairs in the Swiss Stübli restaurant, the reclaimed rustic timber lining the walls, the cosy wood burning fireplaces and giant cowbell-style lights are all designed to charm.
Discretion will get you noticed in Gstaad. Here, unlike its showgirl cousin St Moritz, the clientele is wealthy but the dress code is simple: cashmere sweaters in muted shades of Armani and designer denim a la Mr Porter. Being seen to try too hard is a definite no-no; leave your Chanel ski poles at home. Shopping is very much part of the après-ski, as many guests have no sporting intentions, preferring instead to browse the one-off boutiques along the Promenade that sell a mix of designer labels. The resulting look may be casual but it’s never accidental.
There’s an impressive 2,000 square-metre Six Senses Spa with 12 treatment rooms, including a floatation room, hammam, colonics treatment room, colour therapy room and Ayurveda treatment room, a beautiful indoor and outdoor pool,
a yoga studio, gym and juice bar. The salt room deserves particular attention: the floor and walls are covered with bricks and crystals of Himalayan rock salt, so the air has a higher concentration of micro particles of salt, iodine and trace elements. Relaxing in a salt room reportedly helps to improve the immune and breathing systems. The treatment menu is comprehensive, embracing many different therapy styles.
The hotel has three restaurants, not to mention a cigar lounge with an aficionado’s selection of over 50 cigars and a meticulously stocked wine cellar.
An all-day dining menu is served at Sommet, along with 400 wines to help patrons wash down their excellent steaks and drink in the view. Reinterpretations of traditional Swiss dishes such as raclette and fondue ring true at Swiss Stübli but the star is definitely Megu, the modern Japanese chain of restaurants known for its complex and considered cuisine. Fans will be pleased to find its signature dishes on the menu – silver cod with yuzu miso, crispy asparagus and, of course, Kobe beef – along with Swiss ingredients like Belper Knolle cheese. Hotel guests receive a daily, non-refundable credit of 150 Swiss francs if they opt to eat in-house.
The 56 rooms and suites are designed to feel luxurious but snug, with carved ceilings, timber-clad walls, Swiss farmhouse furniture and cosy upholstery fabrics and leather trimmings. Touches of bright colour relieve a rather predictable off-white colour palette. There are five room categories in all: the deluxe rooms have private balconies and the suite categories have local stone fireplaces and expansive windows for more dramatic views over Les Diablerets, private terraces and separate living and sleeping areas. Bathrooms are well appointed and marble-clad, with the usual suite of technical gadgets.
The three-bedroom Panorama Suite is beautifully designed; a 400 square-metre duplex apartment with large terraces, open fireplaces, its own kitchen and a private spa and jacuzzi.
Low-lying Gstaad may not attract diehards but there’s decent winter skiing in neighbouring resorts, including Saanen, St Stephan and Zweisimmen. Some 220 kilometres of runs are accessible by cable car or lift, up to an altitude of 3,000 metres, and the white stuff is guaranteed on 60 per cent of the slopes, thanks to artificial snow, while the Glacier 3000 area promises skiing from November to early May. Cross-country skiers are well served by 170 kilometres of trails – some of which are in the glacier area – making Gstaad one of the top cross-country destinations in Switzerland.
Those who prefer a more leisurely pursuit can walk the marked snowshoe trails or hiking paths. Half of Gstaad’s visitors descend in the summer months to enjoy hiking in the surrounding valleys, or spa treatments in any one of its five top-rated hotels.
A number of headline events also draw the crowds, particularly sports and music fans. Highlights include the Credit Agricole Suisse Open Gstaad, which attracts the top 10 tennis players on the ATP Tour every July, followed by the Hublot Polo Gold Cup, a tournament on the Polo World Tour, and September’s car rally, the AP Gstaad Classic Audemars Piguet. The Menuhin Festival Gstaad sets the stage for 40 classical concerts from July to September every year.
Stay the night
A deluxe room at The Alpina Gstaad costs from 833 Swiss francs per night, which includes a buffet breakfast, a non-refundable daily credit of 150 Swiss francs per person for use in the hotel bar, restaurants or room service, and taxes. The room rate also includes entrance to the Six Senses Spa, complimentary Wi-Fi and wired Internet access, and a shuttle service to and from Gstaad train station. Geneva International Airport is about two hours away by car, and private jets and helicopters are served by Saanen airport, a 15-minute drive from the hotel. The hotel has complimentary underground parking.
To book, visit www.thealpinagstaad.ch, or call, 0041 33 888 9888.
A version of this article originally appeared in Road Book, Singapore. For more on Road Book, see here.