SUMMER IN GSTAAD
8th June 2017 | Jane Peel, Swiss Alps
Last modified on February 17th, 2020
The upmarket Swiss ski resort is not just for winter. There’s a lot to keep you busy and active in the hot season too. Here’s our Chief Reporter’s diary of a not entirely problem free four days in Gstaad.
Thursday 8th June
What to do on General Election Day in the UK? Make sure you’re out of the country, of course.
I’ve come to Switzerland for a few days of politics-free summer fun.
I exercised my democratic right before heading to the Alps.
I travel so much that I have a permanent postal vote so my cross was put in place at the beginning of the week and hand delivered to my local council offices.
So I faced a choice:
Should I remain at home in the UK and stay up all night in the company of David Dimbleby, Jeremy Vine and the rest (it would have to be the BBC for me as a former corporation journalist of many years’ standing)?
Or should I fly to Switzerland, take a scenic train ride from Geneva to Montreux and then on Gstaad for a couple of days of cycling and relaxing in the mountains?
Let me think about that for a nanosecond…
OK, decision made.
Rationale: I have never been to Gstaad before, either in summer or winter.
I have been around for a lot of General Elections and the last one was only two years ago, for goodness sake!
So here I am.
The rail journey was indeed scenic in the glorious sunshine.
The Golden Pass train from Montreux was a new experience and a very enjoyable one (and not just because of the delicious chilled Swiss white wine I enjoyed en route).
And now I am in Gstaad where I can confirm that it is hot. Very hot.
The 40-minute walk I was planning this afternoon turned into a 5-minuter to take some photos.
Apologies to those of you “enjoying” flaming June in the UK, but it really is just so hot I’ve had to have a little rest.
Oops… I think I dozed off there. I’d better get moving…. I’m off to a BBQ in my Gstaad garden shortly.
It’s a tough life but the PlanetSKI editor is a hard taskmaster.
Friday 9th June
Here’s the thing.
I am on a cycling trip to Gstaad in Switzerland, which is odd since I am not a cyclist.
I don’t mean that I don’t ride a bike. I mean I can’t ride a bike.
That may be a teeny exaggeration. I can get on a bike (usually) without falling off.
I can ride in a (more or less) straight line. I can change gears. Sometimes, I even change them at the right time.
And that’s about it.
To continue with the General Election theme I am most definitely not a Strong and Stable cyclist.
I am a Weak and Wobbly one.
Forgive me if I Labour the point (pun intended) but, rather like Theresa May, yesterday I was apprehensive though relatively confident and this morning I was wondering why on earth I had agreed to go ahead with it.
The answer, in my case, is James Cove.
PlanetSKI’s head honcho had decided this was good idea.
So, at 9am it was off to the bike shop.
Luckily, we would be riding electric bikes to take the strain up the steep mountain roads and tracks.
Our guide, Louis, was leading us on a 25km round trip from Saanen, near Gstaad, to the lake, Lauenensee, from an altitude of 1000 metres up to 1380 metres and back down again.
Most of the route is “easy”, on tarmac roads.
Easy, that is, unless you have to get off the bike at every road junction because you are incapable of letting go of the handlebars to signal to traffic.
To be honest, on my battery-assisted bike with seriously good suspension, I preferred the steep off-road sections with no vehicles to fret about.
At least, I did prefer them until I skidded on loose stones while attempting to negotiate a left turn…….
How comes the only time in the entire day that I fall off, someone is pointing a camera at me?
Somehow, despite my best efforts to delay things with my incompetence, our group arrived at the scheduled lunch stop early and there was time for a walk around the lake and to the Tungelschuss waterfall.
The smile says it all. Two feet good, two pedals bad:
After lunch, it was all downhill. And that was the problem.
The e-bike had lulled me into a false sense of security. We had come up some serious hills.
I had no idea how terrified I would be riding down mountain roads and tracks with hairpin bends.
An instinct for self-preservation forced me to do a lot of getting off and walking, which was preferable to going over the edge.
There was also a lot of braking going on, which reminds me: why on earth do bikes in mainland Europe have the rear brakes on the right handlebar, rather than the left in the UK?
Is it something to do with driving on the other side of the road?
Or is it because it’s fun to see how close a British novice can come to going over the handlebars head first?
Fortunately, James Cove, you still have a Chief Reporter unscathed but for a small bruise, some dirt-covered cycling tights and a slightly dented pride.
Saturday 10th June
Let’s not beat about the bush. I’ve had my fill of cycling for this trip.
I want to do something less likely to result in personal injury.
Such as walking.
Today was the perfect day for it – sunny and hot but not too hot to be bearable.
I set out from my base at the Huus Gstaad Hotel near Schönreid for the walk down the hill into Gstaad.
It’s about 2.5 miles to the centre by public footpath but I decided to continue on for a wander around the streets of the town.
I can see why the actress, singer and star of The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews, called Gstaad “the last paradise in a crazy world”.
Her husband, the film director Blake Edwards, featured Gstaad in two of his classic Pink Panther films.
After his death, when Andrews was granted honorary citizenship, she gave the town a sculpture he’d created which has pride of place by a fountain in the centre of town.
The couple aren’t the only famous names to fall in love with and spend time in Gstaad, which is known for the privacy it affords the wealthy celebrities who live here or regularly visit.
Another film director, Roman Polanski, came here to escape the media after the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, and three friends in 1969.
He spent his 83rd birthday last August here.
The violinist Yehudi Menuhin lived in Gstaad and founded the annual music festival that takes his name.
The Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone is a local.
“Gstaad is my first home; that is where I want to be laid to rest,” he recently told a local magazine.
He owns a hotel in the town.
Unlike Bernie Ecclestone (personal fortune reportedly $3 billion) I can’t afford the merchandise in the many designer shops here.
Having left Louis Vuitton, Prada, Rolex, Phillipe Patek and the rest behind, the next thing on my agenda was a mountain hike.
I took the Post Bus to Schönreid station (altitude 1268 metres) for a gondola ride up to Rellerli (1833 metres).
You can ski down from here in the winter.
I didn’t have time to hike up as well as down (well, that’s my excuse, anyway), but the well-signposted steep walk down on a trail shared by hikers and mountain bikers took just an hour.
And only once did I feel a pang of guilt at having taken the lift to the top – when I met this chap going up as I went down….
Rather him than me!
Sunday 11th June
Today did not get off to a good start.
I woke to the ringing of the telephone in my hotel room.
“Where are you?”
Sod it (though that’s not quite what I said).
My alarm had failed to go off and our group should have left 10 minutes ago.
So, a little later than scheduled, we set off for our tour of the Cheese Grotto, up on the mountain at Bissen, overlooking Gstaad.
What is a cheese grotto? I had no idea, but I knew there was bound to be a lot of cheese there.
Three thousand individual cheeses, to be precise, worth a total of one million Swiss Francs.
That’s about £800,000.
No wonder they’re locked away down two flights of steps in a circular rock construction that used to be a water reservoir.
It’s baking hot outside in the sun but inside the grotto it’s a 8 to 10 degrees.
The temperature here remains constant in summer and winter.
Every one of these cheese rounds is officially designated Swiss Alpine cheese.
Apparently there is a difference between alpine cheese and mountain cheese.
To be certified as alpine cheese the production must take place above 1450 metres – the cows are milked here and the cheese is made here.
For mountain cheese only the milking has to be done at that altitude.
Our guide is a farmer, Klaus Roman, who tells us that all the cheese in his grotto is from the region around Gstaad.
It is produced by a co-operative of about 75 dairy farmers who sell it to supermarkets.
It’s hard cheese – the type that you often see served sliced in thin slices and it’s stored here for at least 18 months.
This one has been around a bit longer.
It’s 150 years old and is said to be still edible. I’ll take his word for that.
Alpine cheese is also said to be very healthy. It helps lower cholesterol and is high in Omega 3 oil.
I don’t bother to question this claim. It suits me to believe it since I missed breakfast and it’s my first food of the day.
And what goes with cheese?
Wine, of course.
My first drink of the day is usually coffee.
Oh well, needs must, and it’s my fault for sleeping in.
I’d packed a lot into my four days in Gstaad but whenever I am in the mountains – summer or winter – the time to go home always comes round too soon.
Here’s to the next time….
For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com,
Swiss International Airlines operates up to 180 weekly flights to Switzerland from Heathrow, London City, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh (seasonal during summer), and Dublin from £55* one way (hand luggage only). The all-inclusive fares start at £71* one-way, including all airport taxes, one piece of hold luggage, meals and drinks. *Fares subject to change and availability and may not be available on all flights. For information and reservations visit www.swiss.com
Swiss Travel System provides a range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for international visitors. The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round trip between the airport/Swiss border and destination. (£112 second class, £184 first class). The Swiss Travel Pass is an all-inclusive ticket to travel by train, bus, and boat over a period of 3 to 15 days. Prices from £170 in second class. Each ticket offers free entry to more than 500 museums nationwide and half-price travel on most scenic Swiss mountain railways. www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk
Huus Gstaad Hotel guests can take advantage of free activities, including white-water rafting, climbing lessons, family canyoning, via ferrata, rope park, guided biking and hiking tours, and paddleboarding. For more information and to book, see the hotel website.