Nestled comfortably in the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps is a lavish wonderland characterized by its soaring mountains and its village of luxury.
Gstaad, Switzerland has a population of 9,200 and rests at 1,050 meters (3,445 ft) in elevation. While it may seem quirky and comfortable at first, Gstaad is most notably characterized as the winter playground to high society and the international jet set. The village is nestled between two of the richest cities in the world, Zurich and Geneva, so it is no question why the visitors are only the best of the best. Some of Gstaad’s most renowned residents have included Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews, and Sir Roger Moore. Other famous visitors include Madonna, Princess Diana, Elton John, and Paul McCartney.
During the Middle Ages, Gstaad was primarily characterized by agriculture and cattle farming. Around 1402, the St. Nicholas Chapel was built here, although the murals are from the later part of the 15th century. Devastatingly, in 1898, a large portion of Gstaad was destroyed in a great fire. The people of Gstaad, however, took this devastation in a positive light, deciding to rebuild their village with the growing tourism industry in mind.
Following the construction of the Montreux-Oberland Bernois railroad in 1905, Gstaad opened its first ski club, the Ski Club of Saanen. Gstaad was no longer isolated from the rest of Switzerland. Gstaad thrived under the constant tourist attention. It’s first ski lifts were opened between the late 1930s and early 1940s. Gondolas and chair lifts followed these openings, and in 1942, an airlift was constructed for use by both civilians and the military population.
Gstaad now has more than 137 miles of ski slopes, as well as many miles of hiking and walking trails- with varying ranges of difficulty. For those not as interested in hiking or skiing, the downtown section of the village is overflowing with designer label stores, such as Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Prada, and Cartier. A few smaller boutiques also offer selections of Burberry, Dior, and Marc Jacobs.
Gstaad is also known for a few of its regular events held by its residents, such as the “New Year Festival of Gstaad”, which is held by Princess Caroline Murat, also known as Caroline Haffner, the musical performer. There is a biking event held in the winter snow, the “Snow Bike Festival”. There are also a few classical music series, such as the “Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad” and the “Menuhin Festival Gstaad”. The residents also take part in the tennis tournaments, the “Swiss Open Gstaad” and the “Ladies Championship Gstaad”. Gstaad hosts over a thousand cultural and/or sporting events every year for its residents and visitors. Of course, if a visitor is coming to experience the prestigious ambiance of Gstaad, the places they can choose from to stay at are nothing short of extraordinary.
Gstaad’s restaurant of choice is as distinguished as one would expect from such a village of affluence. Founded in 1957, the ultra exclusive, private members only, Eagle Ski Club is the restaurant of choice for royal visitors and international jetsetters, boasting a three-year, invitation-only, waiting list and a £25,000 (approximately $34,600) bill just to gain access to the restaurant. The Eagle Ski Club is supposedly the main source of flirting and social endeavors throughout Gstaad, since the village is not known for its nightlife or excessive debauchery as its rich counterparts may be (the Hamptons, St Barts, St Moritz, etc).
The Gstaad Palace opened in 1913 as the village’s first luxury hotel, boasting over two hundred beds. Today, it is one of the only family owned and operated hotels in Switzerland, and its accommodations are superb. Apart from live music, afternoon tea, late-night champagne, and its high dining at Le Restaurant, Le Grill Rôtisserie, and Italian Gildo’s Ristorante, the hotel also has a rich history. During World War II, the Swiss government stashed a large portion of the country’s gold reserves in the two-story bunker beneath the hotel. The Gstaad Palace is open, on average, from December to March, and June to September every year. In 2013, the hotel celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Another excellent place to stay in Gstaad is the Alpina Gstaad, which, in their own words has “single-handedly defined luxury and Alpine chic”. The hotel claims to be buried in Swiss and Alpine authenticity, and is highly regarded in the travel world, granted awards by Tripadvisor, Travel + Leisure and Tatler Travel Guide 2017. The Alpina Gstaad offers character as well as prestige, boasting numerous private and luxurious suites, as well as a “living art room” in which the residents can add their own voice and art to the walls with provided art supplies and canvases.
While the Gstaad region has more than 40 hotels, the alternative option for booking a place to stay in Gstaad is the exceptionally extraordinary ski chalet rentals. In 2015, Gstaad was awarded the Holiday Home Award for its chalet and apartment rentals, perfect for families, couples, singles, and groups. Potential visitors can research the region’s dozens of chalet rentals through the tourism website, Gstaad, as well as using Airbnb if that method is preferable.
Gstaad is nothing short of a luxurious, lavish, winter wonderland. While it is a prime destination for high society and the international jet set, it is also an Alpine marvel hidden from the masses.