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« Season's best | Main | Living the life »
Tuesday
Jan182011

Avant Gstaad

If Gstaad is a pillar of the Swiss Alpine establishment, along with St Moritz and Mürren, the century-old Grand Hotel Park is one of the resort’s grande dames.

Bar at the Grand Hotel ParkHowever, the hotel which provided a holiday base for the likes of Princess Grace and Field Marshal Montgomery, is celebrating its 100th birthday with the hospitality industry's equivalent of a skydive.

The Park was acquired in 2003 by Dona Bertarelli, of the Serono biotech family and co-founder of the Alinghi America’s Cup team. Having already added a spa to the hotel in 2006, she closed the hotel in March 2010 for a complete redesign. The result, unvelied in December –created by interior designer Federica Palacios (who has previously redesigned Zermatt’s Hotel Post) – has the feel of a young, contemporary hotel housed in a classic five-star chalet.

If the 84-room, 10-suite hotel is too grand to be ‘boutique’, the hotel’s actual boutiques (Audemars Piguet, Loro Piana, Louis Vuitton) sum up the balance of long-established reputation and contemporary style. The rooms reject the chintzy, cluttered old style in favour of unvarnished wooden walls and a more masculine palate, with black leather desktops, grey flannel headboards and bold red highlights, with natural touches of slate and stools made from logs. The Bang & Olufsen entertainment system (with connections for laptop, camera and MP3 player) also tends to get a nod of respect from guests.

The design scheme continues into the lobby bar, with the addition of comfy leather sofas which encourage lingering over après ski or late-night cocktails mixed by the creative head barman, Fabrizio Contu, to an unobtrusive soundtrack mixed by Shazz, a DJ from the laid-back Nineties Parisian house scene. If you prefer wine to spirits, you can reserve the private Caveau; and there's also the option of the three ‘C’s – Cuban, Cognac and conversation – in the elegant Fumidor room. There are four restaurants – including the idyllic Waldhaus, a little chalet hidden in the hotel gardens for the clichéd but irresistible fondue or raclette. Post-cheese detox can be had in the extensive spa (with Aromatherapy Associates products) and the gym.

Talking of clichés, the well-established one about Gstaad is that it’s not a ski resort you go to for skiing. OK, it’s no Verbier and experts need to head off-piste for any type of challenge, but its four areas (including the snow-sure Glacier 3000 and the pretty, fun Saanenmöser slopes) provide 250km of intermediate and family skiing. Gstaad is more about the winter wonderland experience. The Grand Hotel Park boasts its own hot air balloon and pilot. On a flight above the valley, you can see as far as Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc, in one direction, and the Jungfrau in the other. The hotel also has an ice rink and can organise dog sledding.

With its radical redesign, the centenarian may put off some of old guard Gstaad, but the Grand Hotel Park should attract a new generation of guests who appreciate the best in Swiss hospitality.

Tailor-made travel consultancy Exosphere (exosphere.com) can organise a three-night trip 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. grandhotelpark.ch