If your idea of the Swiss Alps involves wintry scenes of snowy ski slopes, wooden chalets and log fires, you might not have considered what happens once the snow melts and there’s no longer an excuse to drink copious amounts of hot chocolate. Yet during summer the village of Gstaad is transformed into a destination for hiking, fine dining and relaxation. We sent writer Rosie to stay at Gstaad’s hottest new hotel, Le Grand Bellevue, to investigate the region’s summertime charm.
I must confess: I’d never considered the Swiss Alps to be anything other than a snowy destination where wealthy skiers clad in Moncler jackets and Bogner salopettes would spend the season in their luxury chalets. I hadn’t given a moment’s thought to what happens to the resorts once these well-heeled (sorry, booted) folk up sticks (sorry, poles) and head off to St Tropez for the summer.
As it turns out, the Swiss village of Gstaad, known for being the winter high society hotspot, gets a new lease of life during the summer months, when it becomes a paradise for hikers, gourmands, and spa junkies alike. And hotel Le Grand Bellevue caters to all of these impulses under one rather palatial roof.
Photo: Le Grand Bellevue Gstaad
In terms of location, you can’t get much better than this: Le Grand Bellevue is right in the centre of Gstaad, a stone’s throw away from the train station, bus station, and major ski lifts. This gives easy access to some of the most incredible hikes in Switzerland. The hotel arranged mountain bikes for us to explore the gorgeous Lake Lauenen, described by the Swiss Tourism Board as “the epitome of a perfect mountain idyll”, where all that can be heard is the ringing of cow bells and water flowing from the nearby waterfall. Bliss.
Thrill seekers will rejoice at Glacier 3000, where the world’s highest suspension bridge connecting two peaks offers breathtaking panoramic views – if you’re brave enough to look up from your feet, that is. If that’s not enough, there’s also the Alpine Coaster, the highest toboggan run in the world, where riders are in control of speeds of up to 40km/hour – so pick your partner carefully. If all the excitement leaves you in need of a pick-me-up, the hotel can provide a packed lunch in an ever-so-cute insulated bag decorated with the Swiss flag, the perfect accessory for photos at the summit.
The best way to recover from all the walking is with a trip to Le Grand Spa, which extends over a surface area of 3,000m² and boasts 17 different wellness and experience zones, from a Hay Sauna containing dried organic Alpine grasses from nearby pastures, to steam rooms infused with the essence of local Alpine botanicals. We indulged in a Herbal Aromatherapy Massage to soothe our aching legs, and topped it off with a yoga and meditation class that left us the most relaxed we had felt in weeks.
For those wanting to challenge their bodies even further, there are reformer Pilates classes and a state-of-the-art gym to boost your hiking training. And when the food at the hotel is this good, you’ll be thankful you’ve made room for it. Michelin-starred LEONARD’S elevates modern bistro classics to fine dining standards, resulting in dishes such as classic veal ragout in a lusciously creamy mushroom sauce, accompanied with traditional rösti (and they won’t bat an eyelid if you ask for a second helping). Lighter options include a beautifully-presented quinoa salad with zucchini, mint and green apple, though we couldn’t possibly exercise the self-control to forgo all the carby goodness to try it. Next time…
There’s also the appropriately named Le Petit Chalet, a tiny mountain log cabin that lures guests in with the smell of melting Vacherin and Gruyère cheeses that are combined to make its signature fondues. We took the indulgent experience a step further and opted for the truffle option, made with champagne instead of white wine. When in Gstaad…
Photo: Le Petit Chalet, Le Grand Bellevue Gstaad
Rooms at Le Grand Bellevue are light-filled and chic, and provided all the comfort we needed to recover from our cheese marathon. Every evening a different naughty treat is left out to tempt you, which we somehow managed to find room for once we’d changed into the cosy bathrobes and collapsed into bed. And every morning you’re greeted with breathtaking views as you open the curtains to a sweeping panorama of the mountainous landscape.
These hills are alive with the sound of cow bells – and after a stay at Le Grand Bellevue you’d be hard pushed not to share Maria von Trapp’s enthusiasm for this stunning Alpine region. Especially when you’ve a place this majestic to call home, and renowned Swiss hospitality to cater to your every need. The only thing that makes leaving the hotel less disheartening is the stunning journey to Geneva airport on the Panoramic Express train. If only trips to Heathrow were so awe-inspiring.
Photo: Le Grand Bellevue Gstaad
Rooms at Le Grand Bellevue start at £296 per night.