A well-heeled set frequents Gstaad, but the resort destination in southwest Switzerland promises more than five-star hotels and luxury boutiques. Merely one village in a larger district known as Saanenland, nine other chalet villages and their surrounds present a trove of outdoor activities and exquisite restaurants, not to mention a magnificent Alpine setting.
Situated in the heart of the Bernese Oberland, Gstaad is a charming Swiss village that stands against as picturesque a backdrop as you’ll find anywhere in the country. Gstaad is one of ten alpine villages in the region, each unique and all minutes from one another by car or by train.
Yes, upscale shops such as Hermes, Moncler, Prada, and Louis Vuitton have outposts here, but the mood remains relaxed and far removed from pretense. Of course, it’s no secret that it’s a sophisticated choice for a holiday, but you’ll be inclined to kick off your shoes and unwind whether you dine in one of its Michelin-starred restaurants or savor a picnic lunch and soak up the mountain landscape.
Part of the appeal is the down-to-earth demeanor and friendliness of the locals here. In Gstaad, it’s evident that visitors do indeed “come up and slow down,” as the tourism board’s slogan states. It’s not uncommon to discover the few year-round residents and an international mix of tourists strolling casually on the promenade. Some could be movie-star famous and choosing to remain off the grid, while others are undoubtedly regular folk escaping life and all its stresses for a few days of bliss.
As you’ll see, taste, and smell in Gstaad, Swiss tradition endures. With 200 farms (80 still use Alpine pastures) and 7,000 cows in the region, the villages afford an authentic Alpine experience for all ages. If you’re a cheese lover, a trip to a mountain farm in summertime provides an opportunity to witness cheese making from start to finish, as well as a chance to taste the fresh, creamy hand-crafted goodness and pet the cows from which the very cheese you’re tasting was made.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Gstaad promises more activities than any adventurer can accomplish in a day or an extended stay, with skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and hiking taking center stage. Ski season usually begins in October and extends through early May. With 200 kilometers of bright powdery slopes waiting for skiers and snowboarders, the winter sports region boasts three main ski areas as well as several smaller sections. Altitudes range from 1,000 to 3,000 meters, and slopes are suitable for novices to pros.
Beginners can hang out on the nursery slopes and practice nice and easy runs. Rinderberg, Lengebrand, Saanerslochgrat, Hornberg, and Horneggli provide a plethora of space, and the Tiger Run – Sannenland’s steepest slope, located on the Wasserngrat – will challenge seasoned skiers with its average gradient of 45 degrees. Wasserngrat has two easier routes for newbie skiers including those with children. Night skiing and snowboarding are possible on the floodlit Wilspile and Rinderberg slopes, making for an adventurous and potentially romantic outing ahead of a late-night meal. In addition to downhill, Gstaad boasts 60 kilometers of trails for cross-country skiing.
Glacier 3000, also known as Les Diablerets or “The Abode of Devils” shouldn’t be missed. The massive glacier offers 25 kilometers of ski runs and ten installations. Meanwhile, non-skiers should expect several hiking trails, an alpine toboggan, a snow bus, dog-sleigh trips and the renowned Peak Walk by Tissot. This 107-meter bridge connects two peaks – the View Point to Scex Rouge – where, on a clear day, panoramic views encompass Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, Eiger, Monch, and Jungrau. For the ultimate afternoon outing, opt for the Glacier Walk, a marked trail that stretches from Scex Rouge to Quille du Diable. Finish your Glacier 3000 adventure with a meal at the rustic restaurant, Refuge l’Espace.
While traffic isn’t allowed in the villages of Gstaad and Saanen, a fair amount of parking is available just outside, and a walk into the center usually takes less than five minutes. To explore the area best, consider hiring a car so you’ll be able to skip easily from village to village. If driving isn’t on your short list, however, buses and trains are available.
For a pampered stay at what resembles a castle, try the storied Gstaad Palace (Palacestrasse 28, 3780 Gstaad), which sits high above the village of Gstaad. The family-owned five-star luxury resort and spa is loaded with services and amenities including indoor and outdoor pools, a spacious terrace and garden, four restaurants, and two bars that feature live music. This award-winning resort is a member of Luxury Hotels of the World, and once you step inside and set your sights on the grand interiors, you’ll understand why.
For more subtle luxury, The Ermitage (Dorfstrasse 46, 3778 Schönried ob Gstaad) is an excellent choice. Located in the village of Schönried just minutes from Gstaad, this property is deemed one of the best wellness hotels in Switzerland. Expect eight restaurant parlors, each with its own design theme and mood, two salt-water pools, 10 saunas, not to mention sumptuous accommodations, some of which are suites with private outdoor spaces.
Situated at the edge of a nature reserve, the family-owned and dog-friendly Hotel Alpenland (Hinterseestrasse 5, 3782 Lauenen b. Gstaad) provides sweeping views of the Alps combined with spacious quarters and super-comfy beds. Yoko, the resident Swiss Bernese Mountain Dog, hangs out in the lobby in search of snuggles. The Alpenland is an affordable and pleasant spot to stay when hiking is at the top of your itinerary because Lake Lauenen is about two miles away. The excellent on-site restaurant serves local cuisine in a laid-back atmosphere, Meanwhile, the spacious terrace affords stunning views of the Alps, looming in the distance.
Eat and Drink
For Swiss dishes like rosti and fondue served in a cozy atmosphere, head to Restaurant Kernen (Dorfstrasse 58, CH-3778 Schönried-Gstaad). Healthful salad plates work well for a nutritious bite, and for a heartier meal, the local tenderloin of beef or breaded pork are sure to satisfy. Pair your food with a nice glass or bottle – the wine collection hails from Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland, among other regions.
Known as “the coffee shop in town,” Charly’s (Promenade 76, 780 Gstaad) purveys breads, sandwiches, patisserie, as well as beverages. Many of the ingredients used in this Alpine-inspired shop’s recipes are grown at home in Saanenland. While java is the focus, Charly’s hot chocolate warms the bones on a chilly day, and the raspberry tart ranks as one of the shop’s tastiest dessert choices.
A cheesery turned chalet-style restaurant, The Chesery (Alte Lauenenstrasse 6, CH-3780 Gstaad), offers an ever-changing menu filled with meat, seafood, and vegetarian delicacies. Earning a Michelin Star in 2005, Chef Robert Speth and his team continue to put out some of the finest dishes in Gstaad. Must-tries range from the tuna tataki and truffle gnocchi to rack of lamb, whole sea bass, and veal steak from Saanenland. If your sweet tooth beckons, be sure to save space for the apple tart or warm dark chocolate cake.
From the Glacier 3000 mountain station Scex Rouge, the hour-long trek is arduous but worth it for a plate of comfort food and a cup of warm wine at Refuge l’Espace (Waldmattenstrasse 5, 3778, Schönried). Inge and Roland Beer’s restaurant sits more than 2,800 meters above sea level at the edge of the glacier, guaranteeing phenomenal views into Val Derborence in the Valais and the Bernese Alps. The eatery specializes in regional cuisine with dishes like Tasty “Soup du châlet“ (traditional barley soup) and Schüblig“ (sausage with Saanen mustard & roasted potatoes). Hours vary depending on season and weather, so check the website or call ahead.
Fashionistas will feel right at home at Maison Lorenz Bach (Promenade 81, 3780 Gstaad), a curated collection of top designer fashions from the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Tory Burch, Bogner, Marc Jacobs, and others. Shop sophisticated pieces for men and women, and while you’re perusing on the promenade, stop by the well-merchandised and on-trend sister store, Bach Sign (Promenade 47, 3780 Gstaad).
For a hodgepodge of tchotchkes, utensils, and souvenirs crafted by Swiss artisans, pop into GyBi(Dorfstrasse 63, 3792 Saanen). Textile, glass, and wood items are for sale beside unique pieces from Ticino, Switzerland. GyBi stocks decorative objects and local gifts ideal for packing in luggage to take home to friends or family.
Find top-notch shoe brands like UGG Australia, Paul Green, and Aldo Bruè at Schuhaus Romang (Promenade 53, 3780 Gstaad). The sprawling footwear shop can accommodate 10,000 pairs of shoes as well as backpacks, handbags, socks, and shoe accessories. A fixture in Gstaad for more than a century, the store caters to both locals and visitors, selling labels that focus on quality, wearability, and comfort.
A cache of home furnishings, accessories, and incredible finds, Marti Interiors (Untergstaadstrasse 24, 3780 Gstaad), is an appropriate place to let your imagination run wild. Decor fiends won’t be able to resist the showroom’s stockpile of unique items, from linens to photo frames to fragrant candles as well as entire room settings for inspiration. The nest egg is not only an interior design destination but a terrific spot for retail therapy whether you’re browsing or buying.