The Alpina Gstaad, situated opposite Gstaad’s iconic Palace Hotel, has been one of the most hotly anticipated openings of this year. Strict planning regulations mean that it is the first new five-star in the town for 100 years. The old hotel was blown up 19 years ago, and it took 14 years of legal appeals before the supreme court finally gave it the go-ahead.
In true Swiss efficiency it opened its doors on the date set when building began four years ago – December 1, 2012. I arrived 12 days later and the excitement was still palpable. The entrance was pure stage-set – a fir tree under an open skylight was covered in snow and fairy lights, with two Christmas trees on each side of the “Busby Berkeley” staircase. Angela in reception took me straight up to the room – no forms, no show of passports. Once there, she explained how everything worked.
Sitting on top of the hill, a two-minute drive from the centre, the small district of Oberbort probably has more billionaires living here than anywhere else in the world. Elsewhere in Gstaad, restrictions on selling land and property have meant most properties remain as farm houses for local families but this is one of the pockets where foreigners have been able to buy large chalets. The train from Geneva takes less than three hours, with one easy change on to the mountain railway. Saanen airport, for private jets and helicopters, is 10 minutes away.
The hotel’s interior is made up almost entirely of centuries-old reclaimed wood – 13,000 square metres of pine from old farm houses – and limestone from the Basel region. The 56 bedrooms differ in size, layout and furnishings but all have balconies. The coffee machine, mini bar and the safe are hidden behind antique furniture. Cowbell bedside lights underline the traditional while a TV incorporated into the bathroom glass espouses the new.
Superb. Two of the main drivers behind this project, Onno Poortier and the managing director Niklaus Leuenberger, have worked extensively with the Peninsula Hotels group, and they know how to employ the best staff. From the concierge to the spa staff, everyone seemed to love their job and the guests.
There are three restaurants: the à la carte Sommet, with a tasting menu; Stubli, which serves traditional Alpine food; and the first European outpost of Megu, offering the Japanese dishes so beloved by Manhattan’s celebrities. The signature dish – crispy asparagus with rice crackers, chilli and lemon (22 Swiss francs; Dh88) was excellent. So, too, said my husband, was the Kagero Wagyu beef, regarded as the best in the world and sold almost exclusively to the group, which explains the 90 francs (Dh360) price tag. It is served on a hot stone, allowing you to let it cook longer according to taste.
Gstaad is one of the most famous ski playgrounds for the rich and famous but skiing is not high on the agenda, and takes its place alongside partying, shopping and fine dining. Unlike its main competitor, St Moritz, where celebrity guests like to be seen, the reputation here is for discretion. “We are quite casual here,” said one of the staff. “People wear jeans a lot, but they are Gucci and the jumpers are Armani.”
The attention to detail, from the copies of the Japanese emperors’ plates in Megu to the stylish waterproof bags left on the bed (perfect for my iPad and for the spa). There is an explanation for everything – even the spa walls are curved for better karma.
Deciding what to pack. Fur coat or ski jacket? Louboutins or trainers? There isn’t room for everything.
The hotel set out to provide Swiss tradition with thoughtful luxury. The result puts them firmly among the top hotels of the world.
The bottom line
Double rooms cost from 850 francs (Dh3,400) per night, including 300 francs (Dh1,200) worth of food and beverages. The Alpina Gstaad, Promenade 54, Gstaad, Switzerland (www.thealpinagstaad.ch; 00 41 33 888 98 88).