To ski or not to ski? Your choice in the Swiss Alps

Michelle Lewis enjoys a spot of luxury and a spot of fresh air in Switzerland

Michelle Lewis enjoys a spot of luxury and a spot of fresh air in Switzerland

The 2011-12 Alpine ski season is drawing to a close – but perhaps you won’t be able to make a ski trip to the Swiss Alps this year, or maybe you just don’t ski. No matter: the Swiss Alps are as stunningly beautiful in the summer as they are in winter and there is still plenty to do, but it’s a lot less crowded. My partner and I flew to Geneva for a lazy long weekend in Gstaad in southwest Switzerland last summer. After a flight to Geneva on an early Saturday morning, we caught the train directly underneath the airport and after a short ride switched to the panoramic train at Montreux.

Stunning scenery

One of the best things about visiting Gstaad is the train journey to get there. Swiss trains are clean, spacious and reassuringly punctual. The panoramic train has big picture windows and curved glass ceilings that allow its passengers to experience the glorious mountain scenery as it ascends. The bright blue skies, green grass dotted with grazing cows and haystacks, and snow-capped mountains reflected in lakes seem almost Disney-esque in their perfection – we couldn’t stop taking photos.

Gstaad is a small Swiss town with big international glamour, and Gstaad Palace rises above the traditional wooden chalets like a fairy-tale castle, so our disappointment at having to get off the train quickly disappeared as we made our way to this 104-room hotel that was built in 1913 and has been run by the same family ever since. Although you feel like you’ve stepped into a James Bond film the minute you enter the elegant lobby, the staff are warm and unpretentious.

Plenty to do

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The hotel offers an array of activities, to include tennis and squash, hiking, climbing, golf and both indoor and outdoor swimming. We opted to park ourselves in loungers on an emerald lawn for the afternoon in order to gaze at the stunning scenery and watch the paragliders fling themselves off the mountaintops – and ended up with sunburned faces after dozing off (note to self: pack sunscreen next time). We then put our running gear on, intending to explore the town centre and get some exercise at the same time, but shamefully ended up in an outdoor caf� dipping into a cheese fondue and draining a carafe of white wine.

Apart from walking back up the hill to the hotel, we never did get any exercise – we instead headed for the spa for massages and soaked in the Jacuzzi and lounged in the spa suite in fluffy white bathrobes. The Gstaad Palace Spa is this year introducing organic skincare products and treatments from Jardin des Monts, which are made from locally sourced, handpicked plants such as lavender, edelweiss, Echinacea and lemon balm.

Dining delights

Gstaad Palace takes its food seriously: the hotel has five restaurants that offer Swiss, Italian and “international gourmet” cuisine. We enjoyed tender, locally sourced steaks and some charming Swiss wines at Le Restaurant, which also offered a varied breakfast buffet of eggs, crepes, cheeses, pastry and fruit. As the GreenGo nightclub was closed the weekend we were there (yes, it’s all green, and it was rather Euro-fabulous), we retired to our room with a view with its understated yet classy d�cor of striped and floral fabrics and leather. Sleeping in the Alps is wonderful – the altitude makes you drowsy and you can opt to leave your balcony doors open in order to breathe in the crisp, clean nighttime air. This is no budget holiday – Switzerland isn’t known for its bargains, Gstaad is a luxury Alpine destination, and Gstaad Palace is a five-star hotel, so be prepared for an intake of breath or two if you’re not a Greek shipping magnate – but the atmosphere and the views are priceless.

Try it for yourself

Staying at Gstaad Palace during the summer season (17 June - 13 September 2012) in a double standard room, starts from 650 CHF (�478), per room per night. Price includes half board, all taxes and service.

For more information on Switzerland visit, call Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or e-mail The Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets. For the ultimate Swiss rail specialist call Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or visit