I will admit that until I actually visited I had not thought of Gstaad in Switzerland as a place for anyone but people with large bank accounts. Somehow I pictured it with old ladies wearing expensive furs and ageing gentlemen smoking cigars. Mind you, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I found Gstaad to be a lovely mountain destination which is beautiful year-round and which manages to walk the fine balance between tradition and modern lifestyle. Locals take pride in the upkeep of their beautifully crafted houses and their traditions that have been in place for many years. That said, one can find an array of modern hotels, classy restaurants and wonderful little shops, all while boasting a wealth of outdoor activities that guarantee you will never have a boring minute.
So without further ado, these are our top 10 tips for having an unforgettable time in Gstaad…
1 Stay, eat, or drink at Huus
For my visit to Gstaad I stayed at Huus, a gorgeous new design hotel with a wonderfully modern yet cosy aesthetic. Whilst I love the traditional atmosphere of Alpine lodges, all folk art and rustic timber, it’s really unusual to stay somewhere with such a contemporary feel when you’re in this part of the world. My room was super cosy and comfortable, the Livingroom lounge (stocked with 500 books and a telescope for observing the mountains) is a chic yet welcoming space. The spa continues this theme, with a pool, gym and Finnish sauna that somehow manages to be both ultra-minimalist and super luxurious; there’s even a kids’ spa section. In fact, one of the big draws for me was also how child-friendly this place is in general; there’s a beautiful play area with experienced caregivers for smaller children, and organised outdoor activities for older kids and teens, so that parents who want to get a little me-time either to relax or get active can do just that.
If you don’t have the budget to room here, then dinner or drinks at least is a must. The food at Huus’s La Vue restaurant is exquisite, and the main bar area, which overlooks a beautiful vista of mountain peaks and is stocked with some 450 types of spirits, is a triumph of modern design.
2 Explore a sports paradise
Sure, Gstaad is mainly a ski resort, but it’s also so much more than that. As well as 220 km of pistes for skiers and snowboarders, you can take your pick from a huge range of activities: in summer, try hiking, cycling or swimming in pure mountain lakes; in winter, go tobogganing, snow biking and ice-climbing, as well as paragliding, animal trekking, horse riding and hot air ballooning. Or you can try the next item on this list…
3 Join the huskies for some dog sledding
No, you don’t have to head all the way north to Iceland or Lapland to enjoy the magic of dog sledding – you can do it right in the middle of Europe! Huskies and Greenland dogs love the exercise they get from pulling a sleigh across the glistening snow, and their enthusiasm is as infectious as it is delightful. Head up to the picturesque little village of Lauenen for a scenic passenger ride across a nature reserve, courtesy of the Huskyman.
4 Go village-hopping
Gstaad is not actually just one town, but a collection of ten charming chalet villages, each with its own unique focus and character. Visit Gstaad for shopping, eating and drinking, Saanen for its gorgeous old alpine buildings (some of which date back the the 15th century) and Lauenen for its beautiful lake and nature reserve. Each little town has something different to offer, and you can travel easily between them using the MOB train system or a variety of local bus routes.
5 Relax and unwind at a spa
As sports are such a huge part of the alpine experience in Gstaad (more on that later), it follows that it’s also a premier destination for wellness and spa culture. Everybody knows that the really fun part of skiing is peeling off all your gear after a hard day on the slopes and heading to a sauna or spa for a massage or swim, and Gstaad is no exception.
Most of the larger hotels have their own spas which are free to use for guests, but if you’re not staying in one of these (or if you are but want a little variety) most spas are open to non-guests for a fee. As mentioned above, I can personally recommend the spa at Huus; or for a hit of indulgent relaxation that has the added benefit of being family-friendly, try the Alpina Gstaad hotel, which boasts exercise classes, saunas, a hammam, an unbelievably luxurious indoor pool, an outdoor pool with alpine peak views, and a special kids’ pool with a mini water slide for smaller guests.
6 Indulge in some fine dining
One of the high points of any visit to Gstaad is the food. There are so many opportunities for fine dining in this resort that foodies will be spoiled for choice; in total there are 15 eateries with Gault & Millau points or Michelin stars, which is a high proportion by any standard! Try Restaurant Chesery, which takes a simple but luxurious approach to meat, fish and vegetarian dishes, often with an Asian twist; or Leonard’s, located at Le Grand Bellevue hotel, all starched tablecloths and sumptuous classical decor, in stark contrast to the rustic alpine interiors of most of the restaurants and bistros in the region.
Of course, the super fancy dining scene isn’t for everyone, or indeed suitable for every meal. For something a little less formal but no less tasty, try Rialto’s Bistro Bar, which combines a casual atmosphere and fresh, high-quality traditional cuisine with a Mediterranean touch; or Restaurant Muli at the Gstaaderhof Hotel, which serves delicious, unpretentious fare in a cosy and welcoming ambience.
7 Attend one of the many festivals or sports events
Obviously this depends on when you visit, but given the sheer number of festivals that take place in this cultural hotspot, chances are there’ll be something on to keep you entertained during your stay. The Menuhin Festival is a classical music series that takes place during the summer, whilst the “Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad” is its winter counterpart. There’s a hot air ballooning festival in January, a Christmas Market Circus in December, and the Gstaad Promenade Party, described as “the biggest cocktail party of the Alps” takes place in September.
As if the plethora of festivals wasn’t enough, Gstaad is a sports events hub too! The Swiss Open tennis tournament takes place in July, as does the Swatch Beach Volleyball major series, whilst the Hublot Polo Gold Cup tournament is the following month, in August. In January, head to the Snow Bike Festival to watch cyclists race across the pistes, or the Gstaad Mountain Rides Open to see top snowboarders from 6 countries perform eye-watering stunts as they compete for the regional title.
8 Take a walk in the clouds
Ever wanted to take a stroll in the sky? The Peak Walk at the top of Glacier 3000 is a 100 m long suspension bridge that connects two peaks together. Walk from peak to peak, breathe in the mountain air, marvel at the incredible views, take some snaps – then enjoy lunch at the highly commended Botta restaurant, along with some equally spectacular views.
9 Have a fun-filled fondue experience
Okay, so I know that everywhere else in the world fondue went out of fashion some time in the early nineties, but in Switzerland that has never been the case, and after experiencing it you’ll wonder why it’s not more of a thing elsewhere. Fondue and raclette aren’t just delicious, they’re also a whole lot of fun; how can you not enjoy yourself friends, a glass of wine and a cauldron of melted cheese plus exciting things to dip in it? I recommend heading to Saagi Stubli for a range of delicious fondue options served in a cosy, friendly and fun atmosphere.
10 Enjoy a decadent shopping trip
Gstaad’s Promenade is your best bet for a fruitful shopping trip. A pedestrianised walkway with a great mix of restaurants, bars, shops and hotels, the Promenade is as picturesque and traditionally alpine as it is full of modern boutiques and eateries. Typical alpine timber buildings line the wide paved avenue, in winter bedecked with twinkling fairy lights and in spring/summer with brightly colored baskets of flowers, all overlooked by the fairytale-esque Gstaad Palace. Here you’ll find a variety of sports retailers, high-end fashion outlets, jewelry shops, and smaller local businesses selling regional produce. It’s a beautiful, relaxing place to take a stroll and pick up a couple of mementos of your stay.
Do you feel like booking that trip already? To find out more about what Gstaad has to offer, head to their official website.