Heidi Goes to the Mountains
A few weeks ago, a pretty exciting invite landed in my inbox… Le Grand Bellevue in the Gstaad, Switzerland asked me to come and stay for a few days of skiing, spa-ing and all-round gluttony. After getting my fix of sun and vitamin D in Sri Lanka, I couldn’t resist spending some time around proper snow so dug out my ski stuff and headed for the mountains.
If you haven’t heard of Gstaad, it’s one of those seriously smart resorts that almost smells of money and yet remains incredibly charming. Chocolate box log cabins and chalets hide Prada, Cartier and Louis Vuitton store fronts and while there’s great skiing by way of local pistes and its very own glacier, you could just as happily while away a weekend holed up in the Bellevue Spa. Sadly for everywhere right now, there is just not that much snow. You can still ski thanks to the help of snow cannons, but it was 7 degrees and there were no drifts of snow to be seen on the sides of roads or roofs which is definitely unusual for this time of year. Luckily, Gstaad is just as pretty and welcoming barefaced and unfrosted. The hotel itself is a bit of an institution in Gstaad but has recently been renovated by
a charismatic hotelier and his designer wife to elevate it to a whole new level. Beautiful inside and out, it’s one of those clever places that’s at once homely and luxurious. Think Soho House with a little bit more character and decorative quirks.
After flying to Geneva, we jumped on the Golden Pass train that winds through the mountains, round the vast lake of Montreaux and up into Gstaad. After getting zero, yep nada, hours sleep the night before I pretty much held my eyes open just to soak up the views. Just before we reached the village, a guy from the hotel came aboard and cracked open the champagne which pretty much set the scene for the next two days….
We arrived in time for lunch and got stuck into meatballs, sweet potato chips and courgette fries before heading outside to catch a different kind of ride. We jumped into a horse and sleigh for a trot around Gstaad and the neighbouring town of Sanaan. Covered in blankets and sheepskin rugs, you couldn’t help but feel a bit like Lara from Doctor Zhivago.
We arrived back at the hotel just as I thought my fingers and nose might never return from the cold and settled straight in next to a roaring fire with a pot of hot chocolate that was basically a melted bar of rich dark chocolate and cream. I can safely say Switzerland wins when it comes to hot chocolates…
I loved all the little quirky decor details like this House of Hackney wallpaper, hanging birdcage chairs, kitsch lamps and an enormous selection of well-thumbed books.
My room was right up at the top of the hotel, nestled in the lofty eves with views across to the imposing Gstaad Palace, half Grand Budapest, half Dracula’s lair. As lovely at the bedroom was (must stop staying in these hotel rooms that are the same size as my apartment in London – it’s giving me a size complex), it was the bathroom that stole the show. A starry ceiling and jacuzzi bath had my name all it….
Eventually, I tore myself out of the bath and away from Netflix (a not-so-guilty pleasure when I’m staying in hotel rooms on my own), and headed down to the bar for cocktails and fondue. This was the bartenders’ ‘surprise special’ and you can see why. He was pretty pleased with it too (look at that grin!) which made it even better… I didn’t get many pictures of the fondue itself because I was too busy putting it in my mouth to take photos. The vats of velvety truffled cheese and goats cheese were as heavenly as they sound, even if they did turn me into a mental person come bedtime. Anyone else on board with the crazy cheese dreams?!
The next morning, I woke up from my cheese coma to the most insane blue skies ready for my first day skiing in 7 years. I say ready, but I was actually pretty nervous about getting back on the slopes… I learnt as a kid which makes it kind of like riding a bike but it was still a little daunting. Plus, I’m incredibly competitive with myself so normally end up feeling rubbish at things even when I’m not which used to take the fun out of things when I was younger. Now however, I’m much better at just enjoying myself without being the best at something and loved the whole morning. Once I strapped on the skis and got a couple of pointers from our guide, I totally fell back in love with the feeling of gliding down the slopes and quickly remastered balancing on a T Bar.
We stopped for lunch at the best mountain restaurant I’ve ever been to. Rustic and sweet complete with gingham curtains and napkins, it served just the kind of things you want after a morning’s skiing… Miniature croque monsieur, cups of cabbage and bacon soup, roast lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and a couple of glasses of wine that never fail to make you feel like the best skiier in the world come afternoon.
High winds closed the lifts and cut our day on the pistes short so we headed back to the Le Grand Bellevue and straight down to the spa. I wallowed around reading magazines next to the pool, simmered myself in the hot tub, dipped between the sauna and the ice grotto before chilling out in the Salt Cave which is just a lovely glowy meditation room. I totally get the irony of taking photos inside a meditation cave but I couldn’t not share that big, beautiful crystal could I….
On another note, how great are the hotel’s room keys. Apparently pineapples are the international symbol for hospitality too… But I just like them because of no reason at all.
On our final morning, I ordered a feast for breakfast in bed and took one last turn around sleepy Gstaad. The highlight of my walk was finding these two enormous dogs hanging outside the supermarket. I think they’re Bernese Mountain Dogs but correct me if I’m wrong… Anyway, I cooed over them for longer than’s probably normal and headed back to the hotel for a final massage to soothe all those aching muscles I didn’t know existed before skiing. I have a horrible habit of dosing off in massages and facials and do that embarrassing thing of twitching and jumping awake mumbling weirdness. This was no exception, but I like to think it’s a sign of a really, really good one so I hope the masseuse took it as a compliment! Post-spa, we were treated to a boat load (literally) of the freshest sushi made in front of us by the hotel’s resident sushi chef. After two days of cheese-based greed, it was exactly what I was craving.
After that, it was time to hang up the fluffy white robe once and for all and get back on the train for the airport. Just two nights at the Bellevue, and I felt like I’d been away for a week and got back on the train feeling energised and relaxed at once. That’s mountain air for you….