It's easy to forget that Gstaad is just a village. The locals - and there are fewer of them than there are cows - still work to the seasons, taking cattle to pasture in summer and gathering them in when the weather gets cold. They smoke pipes and make their own cheese. By rights, it should be no better known to the outside world than, say, Little Gidding.
But the patronage of Madonna,
So why does the global elite love this place so much? There's the skiing, of course. The village is in a valley at the heart of the Bernese Oberland, surrounded by smooth, sheer slopes. And
Gstaad's image as an enclave for the super-rich means ordinary tourism has been slow to get going. But given that the infrastructure is so heavily skewed towards luxury, is it even possible to have an affordable holiday there?
"They're all mad at me," says
I don't think they need worry. Spitzhorn's stripped-wood minimalism isn't likely to draw hordes of drunken backpackers (a double room in high season costs
Next morning, after a breakfast of birchermuesli, we're ready to hit the slopes. But first we drive the short distance to the centre of Gstaad. Most of the road is buried underground in an effort to pretend nasty things like cars don't exist. This - and the edict that new buildings must be "chalet style" and none can be more than three storeys high - suits the conservative tastes of billionaires but makes for a monotonous architectural experience. A chalet is a chalet, after all, and it's not hard to get bored looking at them.
One building that has escaped the restrictions is the grand old
And then we enter Pernet Comestibles (pernet-comestibles.ch), the local grocer, otherwise known as the-place-with-the-pounds 6,676-bottle-of-champagne; and the walk-in cigar humidor; and the caviar counter. So far, so conforming to stereotypes. But those are then blown away at Michel's Stallbeizli (stallbeizli.ch), a farmer-run cafe where you can sip a cappuccino separated from the large herd of cows only by pane of glass. It's not enough to keep out a distinctly bovine odour, but it's certainly a unique selling point.
Gstaad, we find, is a peculiar mixture of the down-to-earth and the detached-from-reality, the homespun and the
From the cow cafe it's a short walk to the cable car, at the top of which sits Bergrestaurant Eggli (eggli-appenzell.ch), an upmarket pitstop for skiers, where the clean air complements a hearty menu of rosti and fondue, with main courses pricey but worth it, at around pounds 18.50. Gliding out on full stomachs, we find the slopes surprisingly empty. And though the snow isn't fresh (it has been freakishly warm), it's neither icy nor slushy. We spend the afternoon free from the menace of piste-brats, flying across deserted expanses of white, amid jaggedly beautiful scenery.
The experience isn't replicated the following day, though, when we venture 10 miles to Zweisimmen, with its more extensive slope network. Yes, it's the weekend, but it's more crowded and the lack of fresh snow is beginning to tell. Still, a hearty welcome awaits at the
If this seems a bit
At our destination - the family-run Mattestubli restaurant in the Lauenensee valley (+41 77 407 3982) Mrs Brand, a woman so proud of her cows that she has a photo album of them, plies us with fondue and kirsch. If the spirit of this place is anywhere, it's here, among ordinary folk who are bemused to find their little home town in the pages of Vanity Fair or Tatler, and prefer the joys of animal husbandry to celebrity-spotting. That's the kind of Gstaad it would be nice to see more of.
* The trip was provided by the Gstaad Tourism Board (gstaad.ch). Flights were provided by SWISS (swiss.com), which has flights to
Snow me the money . . . the promenade at Gstaad
A room at the the 'bright and unfussy'
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