Sitting in the first class carriage of the Belle Époque train as it winds its way up from Lake Geneva and into the mountains feels like being on the film set of the Grand Hotel Budapest – slightly surreal, a little bizarre but all together a thoroughly pleasant experience. Drinks were served and we were treated to one of the most magnificent views of the Alps as the train gained height and travelled deep into Switzerland.
Gstaad isn’t the easiest ski resort to get to in the Alps, but perhaps that’s part of the appeal – it feels almost like an isolated kingdom, exclusive, charming and picture postcard perfect – untouched by the more demanding pressures of even top Swiss resorts that are sometimes blighted by architectural anomalies. It’s the epitome of a chocolate box village, but with the addition of some of the country’s best hotels and designer shops.
Money is not a subject of discussion here and when I asked Antje Buchs, the representative of the local tourist office, about how Brexit and the descending currency exchange rate might impact the town she simply replied:
“People that come here are not concerned about money, they don’t need to be”, and with so many five star hotels in town and a reputation for having some of the best restaurants in the Alps including a couple of Michelin starred establishments, Gstaad is best avoided if the first conversation when planning your holiday is about your budget.”
One of those Michelin starred restaurants is located within Le Grand Bellevue – a hotel re-opened just three years ago following a major renovation project. Its quietly understated reputation for discrete luxury was enough to tempt me into a visit during January 2017, and I discovered that it is possible to enjoy the benefits of a five star hotel, whilst enjoying the feeling of being at home. Well, almost at home, apart from the fact my home obviously looks nothing like Le Grand Bellevue.
After walking down the driveway and through the front door, the first experience I had in the hotel’s lobby gave me the hump – it was Leonard, the largest, most cuddly and friendliest looking camel you’ve ever seen and he had a glint in his eye that suggested that your time here was going to be rather unique.
After having a good old stroke, the next thing to hit you is the impressive crystal display spiralling up through the central staircase – hand crafted and sparkling even more than the glittering snow outside, it rises up and up to the highest floor, providing a centre piece that kicks off the attention to detail that is found throughout the entire building. The longest Chesterfield sofa in the world that straddles the entire bar area, the Hermes fabrics that wouldn’t be necessary, even in a five star hotel, but add an extra level for people who appreciate those details and the staff who are always there but never fuss over you too much – you don’t notice them and that’s the secret to amazing service. The relaxed atmosphere is apparent right away as a group passes by in the lobby with their bath robes on, heading to the hotels spa, the largest in Gstaad.
The eclectic mix of styles also applied to the people staying in Le Grand Bellevue. There’s no stereotype here at all, a mix of ages from couples in their twenties to their eighties, nationalities from Brits to Brazilians, families and small groups discussing their next worldwide music tour – that would be the rock band then (although they were more Coldplay than Slayer, if you get my drift).
Perhaps this healthy concoction is the product of the Hotels owner Nicholas, an Eton educated Swiss national with a background in hospitality management and property development, who along with his Father in Law, purchased the hotel in 2013. I caught up with him for a coffee and his passion for what he does become quickly apparent – he’s built a reputation for elegant luxury in a town that practically invented it and this is no easy achievement. Yes, clearly there was enormous amounts of money behind the project to take the hotel back to and beyond its former glory, but it takes more than money to breath life and soul into a place and that’s what you get with Le Grand Bellevue, I started calling it the GB effect.
The GB effect also grabbed me in the spa, Gstaad’s largest and newest addition to the town’s second favourite pastime, Wellness, after winter sports – although shopping of course comes close. I don’t enjoy spas, I’d rather be on a mountain, outside in fresh air or sitting at the bar with a coffee or cold beer. I have never understood the reasons why anyone wants to be in a dark, damp place, sweating and struggling to breathe for more than five minutes. I lasted for over an hour here, easily a record for me – just getting me down there required much persuasion, but once I was there that GB effect took hold, unexplained and mercurial perhaps, but enjoyable all the same. I wouldn’t review a spa for the reasons I give above, but if you’re like me and you’d rather be dragged through a holly bush backwards than don a robe and sweat for an hour, you still just might enjoy it here.
You know the rooms are elegant, stylish, luxurious and calm – you can see that on the hotel’s website. What you can’t get across on a screen is the feeling of the bubble that is Le Grand Bellevue – I go to ski resorts to ski, here, I look out on the mountains and wonder whether my time is better spent indoors. Of course I come to my senses and force myself out the door and explore the small, but quiet and relaxed ski area of Gstaad – there are several ski areas around Gstaad but I chose the Eggli area for my days skiing – the piste skiing is good here, but it’s relatively low and off-piste is very limited, although the ‘Glacier 3000’ area is a short journey away and provides more extensive slopes and off-piste possibilities for more advanced skiers and snowboarders.
I enjoyed the skiing, but I’ve got to be honest, I cut it short early afternoon to head back, to the spa. The GB effect was starting to take hold, but I didn’t seem concerned, I had clearly just discovered another side to me I didn’t know existed – I’ll reserve especially for Gstaad and Le Grand Bellevue.
Winter rates at Le Grand Bellevue start from CHF 650 per night on a half board basis, based on double occupancy www.bellevue-gstaad.ch.
For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com or call the Switzerland Travel Centre on the International freephone number 00800 100 200 30 or e-mail, for information email@example.com; for packages, trains and air tickets firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and destination. Prices are £112 in second class and £182 in first class.
The Swiss Travel Pass is the all-in-one ticket to travel by train, bus and boat on an all-inclusive basis from 3-15 days. Prices from £172 in second class.