Gstaad is a stop along the mighty GoldenPass train line. We have passed by this village several times on the way to Montreux, yet without getting off. But this time, we will be spending an extended weekend in this glitzy mountain resort in the Bernese Alps.
Our train descends to Gstaad through a picture perfect landscape. We see rolling hills with green meadows, grazing cows and wooden chalets. Lots of wooden chalets, in fact, because this is the only building style the code allows. (Apart from sales rooms for luxury cars or fashion boutiques inside chalets, we would even spot mailboxes made to look like a chalet - or a chalet-style garage for a robotic lawnmower!)
Le Grand Bellevue Gstaad
Excluded from the building code are any existing structures, such as Gstaad's four five-star hotels dating back more than a century. Le Grand Bellevue, our home for the weekend, was built before World War I in 1912. Surrounded by a private park, this Belle Époque hotel looks like a stately palace with a name to fit.
It turns out that we are within walking distance from the train station. Out of habit, we had previously asked the hotel for a pick-up. And so, the limousine pulls into the driveway just a couple minutes after departing from the Gstaad station... We are personally greeted by the owner and director of the hotel, Mr. Daniel Koetser.
For generations, this five-star luxury hotel has attracted the rich and famous from all over the world. And exactly 100 years after its construction, the young and dynamic Koetsers took over and infused the house with fresh vibes.
How else can you explain the life-sized tweed camel "Leo" that calls the hotel lobby his home?
Our journey of discovery continues past the check-in desk to the hotel's lounge.
The place has a country house feel to it, and there seems to be a surprise around every corner. We immediately notice the designer wallpaper and the many armchairs, chaises and couches with lavish upholstery. We try one sofa, and another... Each one is comfortable in its own way, and no two are alike. Not that they are essential for having a good old time here, but the oversized board games and the well-stocked library with fiction and non-fiction books complete the picture.
While sitting underneath an oversized desk lamp, Mamiko realizes that she feels like Alice in Wonderland!
In Switzerland's historic hotels, we always look for a feature staircase.
I believe the staircase is the pulse of a hotel, revealing the age and architecture of the house. No exception here at Le Grand Bellevue where the staircase boasts a five-story chandelier of glittering Murano glass:
The Tower Suite at Le Grand Bellevue Gstaad
Our Tower Suite is vast and with its contemporary design marks a contrast to the playfulness of the common areas. The suite is comprised of an entry hall with seemingly infinite closets, a bath, and a bedroom that opens up to a tower lounge.
There is no balcony in this room class, but we don't miss one for a second. The lounge with its curved sofa is situated inside the hotel's tower, providing a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. If we had to choose a room for our next stay, we would go for the Tower Suite again in a heartbeat.
Mamiko especially likes the bathtub because it has a large window looking out into a lush forest. What better place to wind down and enjoy the beauty of nature?
Inside Le Grand Spa
An extended weekend is not enough time to enjoy everything Le Grand Bellevue has in store. But when it comes to soaking in one of Switzerland's largest spas, we quickly find a way to rearrange our busy schedule...
Because, how could you not when there are 3000 sq meters of spa experiences? In the subterranean sanctuary that is Le Grand Spa, there is a hay sauna, a Himalayan salt cave and a Jacuzzi with views of the charming Finish sauna.
How we found our inner balance on the Wispile mountain top
Granted, the large spa makes it hard to leave the hotel at all. But the following morning, we wake up bright and early. The hotel has arranged a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we do not want to miss: an outdoor yoga session high atop a mountain. This will be the chance to find our inner balance and sync up with nature.
Our personal Yogi, Dario Di Gioia, is meeting us in the hotel lobby. Some 30 minutes later, we find ourselves high above Gstaad atop a grassy knoll. This mountain is called Wispile and it is the starting point for a panoramic hike to Lake Lauenen.
On this early morning, the three of us are all alone but for Mother Nature. Standing barefoot in the grass, feeling the warm wind rise up through the pine trees, hearing the beats of a hawk's wings... What a setting for our first session of Wudang Qigong No Budand and Flow Yoga!
Yogi Dario lives in Gstaad and it is apparent how much he is in tune with his surroundings. He addresses us with his calm and friendly voice, talking us through every step. Wudang Qigong is an age-old Chinese practice of aligning one's senses, movements and breathing. Dario enables us to free our bodies' meridians so that energy can move freely from head to toe. At one point, we are doing the swan and later, we sink into a hypnotic slumber.
Dario's holistic knowledge about the human body encompasses everything from acupuncture to Traditional Chinese Medicine, judo and yoga. Apart from his suggestions about nutrition and lifestyle, Dario is a really cool guy who even joined us to race down the mountain on scooters. As for your author, this session was potentially life-altering and if I lived in Gstaad, I would sign up for more of Dario's sessions without hesitation.
From Saanen to Lake Lauenen on a high-speed electric mountain bike
Another day, another adventure! Having never tried riding an electric mountain bike, the premise of exploring one of the five valleys excited us from the start. Le Grand Bellevue offers guided mountain biking trips through a collaboration with Gstaad Saanenland Tourism. The region has a network of 140 kilometers of mountain bike trails, from brief beginner trips to entire day tours.
After a short transfer, we meet our guide Simon Kunz from Gstaad Saanenland Tourism. He has our bikes charged up and ready to go. But since we are novices when it comes to e-mountain bikes, he takes a moment to point out the differences to a regular bike.
On the way to our destination, Lake Lauenen, we cross the historic center of Saanen. A bit further along, we go off-road and snake along the gushing Louibach creek.
We realize that having a local guide is priceless. The bicycle trails are well marked and we would have likely ended up at Lake Lauenen somehow. But only Simon knows which trails are the most scenic (no pun intended!)
By the time we reach Lake Lauenen, we have effortlessly climbed 370 meters in altitude. We take a moment to gaze at the sheer natural beauty of this waterfall valley. High above us towers the Wildhorn massif at 3248 meters. Simon has stayed in the SAC hut before and he explains how much the glacier has receded over time.
On the way back to Saanen, less of an electric boost is required as it is mostly a (fun!) downhill race. Our advice: be resourceful and keep enough battery power to climb that last slope back to the bike shop...
Gourmet experiences to write home about
How often does an executive chef take time out of his busy day to receive a couple of bloggers? We are very surprised when the hotel's highly decorated Chef Marcus Lindner invited us to blend a healthy smoothie in his kitchen.
From cancer fighting blueberries to potassium rich dates and detoxing spinach, Lindner explains each ingredient in terms of its nutritional value and health benefits. Needless to say, this Michelin-starred smoothie tasted delicious and left a lasting impact.
For dinner, we have a table reservation on the sunny outdoor terrace of Leonard's, the in-house fine dining restaurant with 17 Gault & Millau points. Little do we know that we would meet Chef Lindner again, but the Austrian chef has tailored a gourmet creation just for us! Words cannot describe the honest yet surprising tastes of Lindner's menu, so let's use pictures instead.
Ceviche of sturgeon, avocado, mango and chili:
Peeking out from underneath a mountain cheese cracker is duck liver cream with Österreis (rice from Austria!):
Summer buck, peas and apricots with chanterelle and black truffle:
We would like to sincerely thank the Koetsers, Christian Wagner, head concierge Mr. Olivier and the entire staff for taking care of us during this memorable stay.
Situated at only 1000 meters above sea, Gstaad is an ideal stepping stone for those arriving from abroad. Compared to its sisters, St. Moritz and Zermatt, Gstaad's altitude poses less stress on the system of those who live near sea level.
The five-star Le Grand Bellevue Gstaad is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and Swiss Deluxe Hotels.
Le Grand Bellevue Gstaad
Phone: 033 748 00 00
(For the purpose of this review, Le Grand Bellevue has extended a complimentary stay for two nights, including one gourmet dinner and the Yoga experience. Gstaad Tourism has offered the e-mountain bike tour and the mountain passes to Wispile.)