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September 15, 2011

Top Ten List For Gstaad, Switzerland

by Anne Paddock

Gstaad, Switzerland is located approximately 90 miles (150 kilometers) from Geneva or 110 miles (180 kilometers) from Zürich in southwest Switzerland. Easily accessible by auto or train, Gstaad conjures up thoughts of a “scene” and the town can be quite the happening place, but it’s also possible to go to Gstaad and have a low-key stay. There are choices galore to fill your day and the best place to start is at www.gstaad.ch or go to the Gstaad Information office, located in the center of the village at Promenade 41.   The Gstaad Information office is a one-stop information resource – either on-line or in person.

Below are ten recommendations that include where to stay, what to do, where to eat, and where to ski, snowshoe, ice skate, and hike in the Gstaad area. Narrowing a list down to ten recommendations is difficult in a resort where the choices are virtually unlimited. Gstaad appeals to both the sports enthusiast and the person in search of relaxation which is why the resort is so popular. My preferences combine a bit of both with a balance of comfort, sports, good food, and relaxation:
  1. Stay at the Grand Hotel Bellevue
  2. Go Ice Skating and Warm up at Charly’s Tea Room
  3. Walk the Promenade
  4. Have Lunch or Dinner at Rialto
  5. See a movie at the Gstaad Cine Theater
  6. Ski Schonried-Rellerli or Schonried-Saanenmoser
  7. Visit the Molkerei in Schonried
  8. Cross Country Ski in Schonried
  9. Winter Hike or Snow Shoe the Trails
  10. Have Dinner at Restaurant Sonnenhof
Stay at the Grand Hotel Bellevue

My favorite place to stay in Gstaad is the Grand Hotel Bellevue.  Located at the entrance of the village and next to the town ice skating rink, this hotel is not your typical alpine lodge. Built nearly 100 years ago, the Bellevue is a yellow and white 5-story building with 57 rooms. Beautiful but not pretentious, the Bellevue has a more casual atmosphere than other hotels in town. In addition, there is a 27,000 square foot Wellness Center that includes a gym, pool, sauna, spa bar with fresh fruit and juices, and more. Rates start at 390 Swiss Francs (CHF) which equates to approximately $440 per night based on current exchange rates (the weak dollar doesn’t help – two years ago that same 390 CHF equated to approximately $330 but that’s another story).

grandhotel_bellevue_02
Grand Hotel Bellevue
Haupstrasse
3780 Gstaad
41 33 748 00 00 (from outside of Switzerland)

www.bellevue-gstaad.ch

Go Ice Skating and Warm Up at Charly’s Tea Room

Within walking distance (one block away) of the Bellevue Hotel is an ice skating rink.  Rent a pair of ice skates at the small building in the back of the rink and skate on a well maintained ice rink. Then, go next door to Charly’s Tea Room (at right) which is known around town as Charly’s and have a hot chocolate and a pastry.

Gstaad in Switzerland - world famous ski resort
Walk the Promenade
Gstaad – the village – is at 1,050 meters (3,444 feet) which makes for easy altitude adjustments and milder temperatures.  The village is a traffic free zone with automobiles and buses diverted to a loop and a tunnel around the town.  The main road through the village is simply referred to as the Promenade – the main shopping district with a mix of restaurants, shops, hotels, banks, and offices. The architecture is best described as classic alpine.
Switzerland PolanskiThe Promenade is only 4-5 blocks long and Gstaad has the typical luxury brand stores seen in resorts and metropolitan areas.  But, there are a few shops that are different and worth a visit:
  • Cadonau at Promenade 68 (www.cadonau-gstaad.ch) for books (in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian), stationary and toys (lower level);
  • Von Siebenthal (www.vonsiebenthal.ch) at Promenade 21, a 3-level store primarily devoted to the kitchen and dining room;
  • Pernet (www.pernet-comestibles.ch), at Promenade 75  – a gourmet supermarket with a vast selection of wine, cheese, fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, and more;
  • Edelweiss-Sports (www.edelweisssport.ch) at Chalet Les Arcades, Lauenenstrasse 18 – one block from the Promenade with a wide variety of sports clothing and equipment;
  • Pure Street (www.pure-snowboard.ch) at Promenade 8, a haven for teens and young adults with a good selection of clothing, shoes, sneakers, boots, and more. Not just for snowboarders.

Most kids and teens love Wally’s – a little “chalet” in the middle of the village and a virtual institution that serves hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries to order. Wally’s is the high-end fast food locale of Gstaad.

Have Lunch or Dinner at Rialto

Rialto (www.rialto-gstaad.ch) is my daughter’s favorite restaurant in Gstaad. An Italian restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating, Rialto serves the best carpaccio (with greens, fresh parmesan, lemon, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar) according to my daughter. My preferences run more to the pasta dishes served with freshly grated parmesan cheese or the pizza made in a wood burning oven.  On a sunny, mild day the outdoor dining terrace is the best place to have lunch and people watch as the restaurant is located in the center of the village at Promenade 54 (see photo below).

rialtosterasse
See a Movie at Gstaad Cine Theater

The Gstaad Cine Theater is hands down the nicest, cleanest and most comfortable movie theater I’ve ever been in. Located in the center of the village on Suterstrasse (no number), the theater is one block off the promenade directly behind La Caveau de Bacchus (wine and spirits store) at Promenade 38, across from the town parking lot. The theater has seating for approximately 200 people and reservations can be made by calling 41 (0) 33 744 14 74. Go to www.cine-theater.ch for complete movie listings and show times.

large-1Ski Schonried-Rellerli or Schonried-Saananmoser

There are an abundance of mountains to ski in the Gstaad area and the Gstaad Information office is the best resource for maps and descriptions.  In Gstaad, there are three ski areas: Wispile, Wasserngrat, and Saanen-Rougemont. Just up the road from Gstaad are two towns called Schonried and Saananmoser which have two ski areas: Schonried-Rellerli and Schonried-Saananmoser (with the Zweisimmen-St. Stephan connected), with the Schonried ski areas being the largest (61 miles or 105 kilometers of piste) in the region. There are also ski slopes in the area that include the Glacier 3000, Lauenen, Gsteig, and Chateau d’Oex.

????????????????????????????????????????In Schonried, the Rellerli is the smaller of the two ski areas but Rellerli has lots of sunshine in the morning which makes the mountain an attractive destination for early morning skiers.  The ski areas have an abundance of mountain side dining options including the Mountain Hut Horneggli (41 0 33 744 2757) and the Mountain Hut Rellerli (41 0 33 748 8722) both of which take lunch reservations.

Visit the Molkerei in Schonried

The best yogurt and milk I’ve ever tasted is made at the Molkerei (a dairy store) in Schonried. My daughter refers to the milk as “milk with extra deliciousness added” and according to the owner, the creamy flavor of the milk and yogurt is attributable to the cows, who are treated gently in Switzerland.  The strawberry, raspberry, mixed berry, or lemon yogurt topped with homemade granola is the perfect afternoon snack.  The Molkerei in Schonried is located at Dorfstrasse (no number) in the center of the village next to Saanan Bank.  The phone number is 41 0 33 744 1282 and the website iswww.bergmolkerei.ch..

Cross Country Ski in Schonried-Saananmoser

In Schonried, just past the center of the town on the way to Saananmoser, there is a large parcel of land dedicated to cross country (classic), skate skiers, and skiers with dogs. Beautifully groomed and vast (6 cross country trails totaling 18 kilometers or 12 miles), there is no better way to spend an afternoon.

There are also 12 trails dedicated to cross country and skate skiers in Saanen, Gstaad, Lauenen, Turbach, and Zweisimmen-Sparenoss that total  74 kilometers or 44 miles.  Go to www.gstaad.ch for complete trail information or stop by the Gstaad Information office for maps, passes and detailed information.

In the Gstaad area, there are 18 trails totaling 92 kilometers or 56 miles for cross country and skate skiers.

Winter Hike or Snow Shoe

Hiking is a big part of Swiss culture and there are 34 winter hiking trails that provide 180 kilometers or 108 miles of trails in the Gstaad area.  For a complete list of trails, go to www.gstaad.ch or obtain maps at the Gstaad Information office on the Promenade.  All trails are marked with pink or yellow signposts with a snowman logo for hikers. I remember being surprised at the number of hikers with trekking poles on a ski mountain and although hikers and skiers share the mountains, each has clearly defined designated areas for safety.

There are 14 winter trails (97 kilometers or 59 miles) for snow shoeing in the Gstaad area, a list of which can also be obtained by going to www.gstaad.ch or the Gstaad Information office.  There is an especially wonderful 8 kilometer (5 mile) trail for winter hiking or 5 kilometer (3 miles) trail for snow shoeing that begins and ends at the Hotel Alpenland in Lauenen, which is about 7 kilometers or 4 miles from Gstaad. There is a large parking lot to accommodate vehicles at the beginning of the trail.  Stop in at the hotel’s restaurant for a hot cup of chocolate or a typical Swiss lunch.

Dinner at Restaurant Sonnenhof

Restaurant Sonnenhof is my favorite restaurant in the area.  The menu changes often and the cuisine is french influenced but not over the top, with the emphasis is on freshness and quality. Owned and managed by Louise and Erich Baumer, the Restaurant Sonnenhof only seats 70 people and reservations are highly recommended.

sonnenhofThe restaurant has a lovely outdoor seating area on a terrace which provides spectacular views on a sunny afternoon. Located above Gstaad and a bit of a challenge to find, follow signs towards Schonried, turn left across the street from the Hotel Steinenberger and then follow signs to “Sonnenhof.” Finding the restaurant is not as easy as the map below makes the journey look but the meal is worth the effort.

Restaurant Sonnenhof
3792 Saanen-Gstaad (no street address)
41 0 33 744 1023

www.restaurantsonnenhof.ch

Finally, some helpful hints:

  • Gstaad is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland but most people speak English.
  • Street names come before street numbers.
  • 41 is the country code for Switzerland. 33 is the region code for the Gstaad area. If dialing from outside the country dial 0 11 41 33 and then the 7 digit phone number. If calling from within Switzerland, dial 0 33 and then the 7 digit phone number.
  • CHF stands for Swiss Francs (CH stands for Switzerland and the F for Francs)
  • Most stores are closed from 12:00 – 1:30 for lunch.
  • Most stores are closed on Sundays.
  • To explore Gstaad, park by the ice skating rink. There is an underground parking garage beneath the ice rink that is very convenient.  Take your parking ticket with you and pay at the machine by the stairs before your departure. Insert your card into the machine, pay the designated amount, retrieve the ticket, drive to the exit and insert the ticket at the exit to open the gate.
  • Switzerland, in general does not have parking attendants at exit gates. Parking fees are paid for at machines close to stairs or pedestrian exits.
  • To use cross country and other trails in the Gstaad area, a pass is needed and can be obtained from the Tourist Information office or any ski ticket office. Daily passes are 8 CHF, weekly passes are 70 CHF and annual passes are 120 CHF.
  • Don’t idle your car if waiting for someone as locals view this as polluting the air unnecessarily.
  • Don’t exceed the speed limit as the Swiss are keen on giving tickets for 5 kilometers over the limit.
  • Gstaad has a relatively low elevation with all but one mountain (Glacier 3000) below 7,500 feet.
  • Tipping is not necessary in Switzerland as taxes and tips are included in the price of the meal.
  • The price of products and services in Switzerland already includes the taxes (VAT).
  • The Swiss are rule oriented and can be quite rigid at times.  The country is not the most kid-friendly place I’ve ever been in, recalling a notice:  “Children may swim and play to their heart’s content from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm at a hotel pool”.  Adults have access to the pool for the other 22 hours.
  • For parking, look for a sign with a large blue “P.”

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