Falling in love with Gstaad
I HAVE never liked the idea of skiing. I was raised strictly on a diet of city breaks and cultural immersion holidays.
I thought that was the noble way forward, holiday-wise, until I went to Gstaad and stayed in the Grand Hotel Park. It might have helped that my baptism of Alpine leisure took place at one of Europe’s most glamorous resorts, where old and new money jostle for the best seats in restaurants, the best rooms and the best, well, time. Having access to the best of them myself, I immediately fell in love with snow.
As we drove in, the sky was bright blue, the snow was thick on the ground and every chalet we passed looked like the lid of a German biscuit tin.
As the car pulled up to the hotel, a small army of old fashioned bell boys rushed out to take the luggage off our hands. This was more of a relief than I imagined it would be, particularly when you consider one of my (many) ski-related concerns involved having to cart around such a bulky suitcase. I wouldn’t have had to carry that much if I were heading to Paris for the week, would I?
I was led up to my room by a charming Swiss man, passing vase after vase of luscious red flowers. These had a tremendous impact against the Scandinavian-style light coloured walls and wood panelling. The room gave out an even stronger Scandinavian impression. The simplicity of the soft grey bed sheets and the robust furniture made the view from the big windows to the balcony all the more impressive. It was as if Gstaad itself was the room’s focal point.
As attractive as the room was, I was conscious of losing out on precious drinking time. I dumped my bag and headed to the bar, where I was met at the door by a waiter – another charming Swiss man, but this one had a cocktail in his hand for me.
The bar’s roaring fire, long shiny black bar and soft lighting was intimate and elegant. It was the sort of place where conversation easily passes between strangers and the wine flows freely.
Unusually, I found myself drinking brandy and smoking a Cuban cigar before the night was through. The hotel keeps a separate room kitted out in plush arm chairs and smart tables for smokers, a shock to the system when you are accustomed to hunching in doorways outside a club in London. Waiters seemed to always be on hand to fetch you a drink, explain the difference between cigars or simply to have a chat. I found myself at the end of the night, cigar and brandy in hand, attempting to tear myself away from a group of Russians who spoke esoterically about foreign policy. It was surreal, but fabulous, in an 18th century kind of way.
Despite waking up the next morning with a taste of smoked meat in my mouth from the cigars, I was just about ready for the part of the holiday I was least looking forward to: the actual skiing. We were driven to Glacier 3,000, a ski run 3,000 feet up. This was not quite what I had in mind for my introduction to the slopes and the ski instructor thought the same. Instead, I got sent to play with the husky dogs and was ridden around on a sleigh. Initially, I thought this sounded lame, but it was enormous fun and the dogs were extremely cute.
It was painfully cold though, so returning to the hotel always proved heavenly. The next day I actually tried skiing. Predictably, I was dreadful. But over the next three days I mastered the glamorous snow plough manoeuvre and even got to the end of a few runs without falling over. It was exhilarating, but seriously challenging and tiring.
The hotel was my respite. I crawled in each day, my legs screaming in pain, to find a new-found appreciation of bathing. And blissfully the rooms seemed to be designed to give you the best bathing experience of your life. Every evening I would get in, turn on the classical music station, channel it through to the bathroom, fill up the bath with Aromatherapy Associates and pop open a bottle of champagne from the mini-bar. It was ecstasy. So every evening, as I sat swimming in soap and champagne bubbles, I thought about what a fool I had been. If all skiing holidays were like this one, then I was very happy to pay for gravity, if it meant I could experience weightlessness in the Grand Park Hotel tubs.
Exosphere (www.exosphere.com) offers three night trips from £1,491 per person including accommodation at Grand Hotel Park on a double occupancy B&B basis plus return flights from London to Geneva and private transfers.