HOTEL REVIEW: Alpina Gstaad
The Swiss village of Gstaad, surrounded by the splendor of the Bernese Alps, is considered by many to be the “top of the food chain” among Switzerland’s historic, story-book mountain villages, and its newest hotel, the Alpina Gstaad, the first deluxe property to open in the village in 100 years, has been receiving accolades from guests and travel media since it opened in December, 2012, including being named to Conde Nast Traveler’s “Hot List” in 2013.
The hotel is the brainchild of local Swiss developers and investors Marcel Bach and his partner, Jean-Claude Mimran, who razed the former Grand Hotel Alpina, and constructed a stunning $337 million chalet-style building with 56 guest rooms and suites, private apartments within the hotel, and three über deluxe private chalets. The adjacent chalets were sold to private individuals, including a billionaire Russian entrepreneur, even before the hotel opened.
The luxurious Alpina Gstaad, with its spectacular views of the mountains and pristine countryside of the Saanen region, is perched on a five-acre hillside in the exclusive Oberbort neighborhood above Gstaad. The new property has been attracting European and North American visitors (including many celebrities) who can afford to pay the hefty room rates and restaurant tabs for the privilege of experiencing one of Switzerland’s most exclusive winter and summer mountain locations. The hotel is a member of the Preferred Hotels™ & Resorts collection.
Switzerland seems to have more tunnels per capita that any country in the world. Hundreds of rail and road tunnels burrow through mountains; others were built to store weapons and as a defensive measure against potential invaders; short tunnels protect skiers through high terrain; and summer bicycle trail tunnels zip under roads, streams and railroad tracks. In wealthy towns and villages in the Alps (Gstaad real estate is the most expensive in Switzerland), where weather and zoning regulations play a big role in housing design, home owners construct driveway tunnels that dip underneath million-dollar chalets, with BMW’s and Porsches safely parked in heated garages. Gstaad is a very traditional Swiss mountain village, where strict preservation laws and building codes forbid new housing that does not conform to chalet-style architecture, but many residents who can afford to let their imaginations run wild create eclectic interiors, including swimming pools, saunas and posh game rooms several stories below their chalets, all legal under local code.
Still, even knowing about the prevalence of Swiss tunnels, I wasn’t prepared for the Alpina’s automobile entrance, a massive stone tunnel complex, with side tunnels leading to various areas of the hotel’s underground garage. Although my arrival was during summer, when the air in Gstaad is warm and flowery, and the last thing a hotel guest wants is to go underground, I knew the Swiss were too smart to build a tunnel for no reason. For guests arriving between November and April, when snow is a beautiful but sometimes messy companion, having a dry and heated tunnel leading to the underground porte cochere, and having a valet park your car in space so clean you can eat off the cement floor, was a no-brainer for the hotel’s designers, and is symbolic of what the Alpina Gstaad is all about – comfort and service.
The lobby offers the perfect introduction to the hotel. The high-end contemporary European furniture, including a B&B Italia piece, side tables by Lindley, lighting fixtures by Pinto Paris and Lorenzo Tondelli; and hand-woven Tibetan carpets is nicely contrasted with the large piece of polished wood, cut from a single fir tree, that serves as the reception desk, and the grand wooden staircase with anthracite steel railings that leads up to the bar lounge and restaurants on first floor (rememmber, the lobby entrance is underground). Throughout winter, and during cold summer nights, a fire burns in the huge stone lobby fireplace, made of local river boulders.
My room, on the fifth floor, had a large terrace overlooking snow-capped mountains and the village of Gstaad. It offered traditional Swiss-style carved wood and beam ceilings and walls, a farmhouse-style cupboard, antique chest, and a hand-painted wooden armoire, along with modern amenities including a large, plasma flat-screen TV, complimentary high-speed internet access, various multi-media devices, electronic curtains, and a gas fireplace. The owners were determined to use as much local materials as possible, and incorporated into the design and construction of the hotel are blocks of Ringgenberg limestone from the surrounding mountains, weathered timber gathered from old Alpine farm houses, and natural slate.
Each of the 56 rooms and suites has a slightly different layout and interior design, with the duplex Panorama suite, at 4,305 square-feet, the largest and most expensive guest accommodations in the hotel. Butler services, a private chef and kitchen, fitness center and steam room, and an elevated hot-tub balcony that overlooks the Alps through a creatively placed open window space are included in the Panorama suite price.
Restaurant options at the Alpina Gstaad include the first European outpost of the beautifully designed Japanese restaurant, Megu, with an extensive selection of high quality sushi, sashimi, and Wagyu Chateaubriand. The restaurant Sommet offers European fine dining by Executive Chef Marcus Lindner, who earned two Michelin stars at his previous restaurant, Mesa, in Zurich. Sommet serves breakfast and lunch as well, with many diners using the outdoor terrace in good weather. The traditional Stübli offers typical Swiss cuisine like fondue and raclette.
In addition to targeting vacationing individuals and families, the new property is going after small to mid-size corporate meetings, from Swiss firms to multinationals.Its location between Geneva (2:10 hours) and Zurich (2:40 hours) appeals to UN groups and other international organizations, as well as financial institutions, high-tech firms, and manufacturers. The 2,600 square-foot Salle Sarine can be configured into five different seating arrangements for banquets and meetings, with three high-tech boardrooms available for smaller executive meetings and seminars.
I enjoyed using the facilities of the Six Senses Spa, a 21,500 square-foot health and fitness center that includes sauna and steam rooms, 12 treatment rooms, and an 25-meter lap pool. A heated, outdoor pool and sun terrace is located in the garden area behind the property. Other unique venues within the hotel include a cigar lounge, decorated in pre-Castro Havana style with dark wood, 1930’s design elements and fabrics, and offers Montecristo Cuban cigars; a wine room, for reserved wine tastings; a private wide-screen cinema room, where guests can watch movies of their choice from 14 oversized leather armchairs; and a children’s playroom with a tree house, slide and their own media center.
The Alpina Gstaad, a seven minute walk from the village, is located in Saanenland, a district in Switzerland known for its scenic mountain villages and 500 year-old wooden chalets lining cobble-stone streets. In the winter the region offers downhill, glacier and cross-country ski trails, heli-skiing, ice skating, and toboggan runs, with summer bringing mountain climbing, biking and hiking, river rafting, and para-gliding from the mountain tops. Gstaad is a farming village as much as a ski resort, and most of the village’s 800 cows are moved to higher pastures in the beginning of summer, making a trip to the picturesque mountain huts to see (and taste!) the area’s delicious Alps cheese being made is a must experience.
In the 1960’s, when Time magazine called Gstaad “The place to be seen,” it was not uncommon to glimpse Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, along with film stars Brigitte Bardot, Julie Andrews, Peter Sellers, Audrey Hepburn and other celebrities on the ski slopes or walking in the village. Other notables, including Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain followed in later decades. In 2013 Madonna, Anne Hathaway, Valentino and the trendy adult children of American and European billionaires and Russian oligarchs have enjoyed the natural surroundings and ambience of Gstaad.
Local residents like to say that Gstaad is just a small agricultural village with nearby ski slopes. So, if the modest Swiss prefer understatements, let’s just call the new Alpina Gstaad a hotel that offers comfortable and unassuming accommodations in a small mountain village.
Reviewer: Ron Bernthal
The Alpina Gstaad
3780 Gstaad, Switzerland