There’s so much to do in Gstaad, Switzerland!
My journey to Gstaad, Switzerland began in the ladies’ room at The Boathouse in Central Park, of all places. It happened December 2016 when I made a stop before I left the Switzerland Tourism holiday event, and that’s when I met the lovely Antje Buchs from Gstaad-Saanenland Tourism. With her luggage open wide, she appeared to be changing clothes to get more comfortable (holiday tourism events tend to warrant a fancy outfit which might include a dress, hosiery, and heels) and then whipped out an envelope and handed it to me. I peeled back the crisp enclosure only to discover an invitation to visit Gstaad. And I, of course, said yes!
I knew very little about this area of Switzerland at the time, but I’m so glad that I accepted her invitation. After three nights solo in Bern, I rode the train through tiny villages in the Alps and disembarked in Gstaad where Antje was waiting for me. I spent four nights in this amazing area of the country, and had the time of my life! I was alone my first night, but met up with journalists from Paris, London, and Germany for three nights. Here’s a shout-out to Pippa, Alex, Hannah, Barbara, and Michelle.
I’m excited to share experiences and photos from my trip. Here you can see – there are many things to do in Gstaad, Switzerland!
While Gstaad is the main town and a destination for public figures and celebrities, the Bernese Oberland consists of 10 chalet villages, each offering a unique experience. I was fortunate to visit several of the picturesque Alpine villages that make up Saanenland including Gstaad, Schönried, Saanen, and Lauenen, but there are six that I did not see – I had to save something for the next trip!
My hotels in Gstaad.
I stayed for two nights in a family-owned Hotel Alpenland in Lauenen, and although the rain came when I arrived, I still managed to catch a magnificent view from my room. I felt as if I could reach out and touch the Alps. I couldn’t believe how quiet (and safe) this area is. So quiet, in fact, that I left the balcony door of my room open all night so I could inhale that fresh mountain air while I slept.
Besides being spotless and comfy, Hotel Alpenland has a fantastic restaurant on the premises. I dined there two nights and I couldn’t believe the quality of the food for a small inn. This area of Switzerland boasts one farm after another, so the restaurants feature unbelievably delicious food and local wines. Switzerland might not be the most well-known wine region, but the wines are excellent if you can find them.
Hotel Alpenland is extremely dog-friendly too. Most of the hotel guests were from other areas of Switzerland, and they were traveling with their four-legged friends. All of those pooches in the dining room at one time made for an interesting meal! The owner brings her adorable Bernese Mountain Dog, Yoko, to the hotel too, which was fine by me.
The next two nights I stayed in the five-star Ermitage Wellness Hotel & Spa in Schönried, and I felt like royalty. I was fortunate to have a suite with a private balcony and more beautiful views. The Ermitage’s lobby and great room is spectacular! The space overlooks the lush Alpine scenery. The spacious hotel restaurant is also lovely as there’s a unique theme in each dining room. The breakfast here was the best I’ve had in any hotel to date. With various food stations including cheese, charcuterie, omelets, breads, pastries, yogurt and granola, and more, breakfast became the meal of the day.
A working cheese farm in Gstaad.
I had the pleasure of visiting a working cheese farm in the mountains, and all I can say is what an amazing experience to watch cheese come to life before my eyes. I am a cheese lover (all except goat cheese, I cannot get it past my nose), and since I eat almost every type of cheese, Switzerland was the right country for me. Not only did I witness the process of cheese from start to finish, but I saw the adorable dairy cows and calves on site. Our group sat in the farmhouse and ate just-made cheese, curds, and even tried whey. Meringues and fresh cream were the real treat. Light, sugary, and decadent.
A yodeling lesson in the Swiss Alps!
Yes, yodeling does exist in Switzerland and I participated in a group lesson that was tons of fun. Our teacher, Sara, has a lovely singing and yodeling voice and was patient and didn’t laugh at our attempt to yodel. Watching The Sound of Music (high on a hill was a lonely goatherd. Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo) every year during my childhood gave me a little background on yodeling, but it’s much more challenging than it sounds. I gave it my best shot 🙂 Standing at the foot of the Alps and staring up at those mammoth mountains while yodeling had to be one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever experienced. I’ll never forget it.
The traditional music festival in Saanen.
When I travel I like to spend some of my time doing what locals do. While I enjoy tourist attractions as much as the next person, I think it’s important to mix with the people of the city, state (if I’m traveling domestically), and country, which is why hanging out and listening to bands play in beautiful downtown Saanen was right up my alley. I grabbed a Swiss beer, and as I heard the traditional tunes, it brought back fond memories of the polka music that my grandmother used to blast on Sunday mornings when I was growing up. Sure, on a map, Poland is not too close to Switzerland, but believe it or not, the music that I heard that evening was very similar. I did not embarrass any of my fellow travel-mates by breaking into a polka-esque prance – I think they were relieved.
Hiking the Swiss Alps, including Glacier 3000.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I am not outdoorsy, and much more at home in an urban environment like NYC. But one of the things that I love about travel is that it forces me to step outside my comfort zone. Trips like this one encourage me to try new things and maybe even conquer my fears.
On this trip to Gstaad, Switzerland, I hiked through the Swiss Alps for the first time (with an amazing guide named Stefan). I couldn’t have done it without him. The trek lasted about three hours and I saw many different perspectives of the mountains and got a great workout at the same time. I’d say that this hike was medium difficulty, so it wasn’t too ambitious, but for someone who isn’t a hiker, it was a challenge but still enjoyable. We hiked to Lake Lauenen where the vistas are incredible and almost too picturesque to be real. It rained much of my time in Gstaad, but the weather on the day of this hike was picture-perfect for photos. Thank you, Mother Nature!
I did another hike, but this one was more difficult because the weather didn’t cooperate. After riding two cable cars and then a ski lift for the first time in my life, I trudged through the snow and blizzard-like conditions for nearly an hour at Glacier 3000 (also known as Glacier Diablerets and Tsanfleuron Glacier). I was not prepared for a blizzard in June! I wore a light-weight down jacket (appropriate for 50-degree weather), a pair of cropped jeans, baseball hat, and a light-weight scarf. No gloves. I borrowed a pair of snow boots from the shop at Glacier 3000, and purchased a pair of Swiss socks (I swear, they saved my life), so I could make my way through the snow. My Chucks weren’t going to cut it. 🙂
It was probably about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, so winter, really. The wind was ripping, and the visibility was minimal (thank goodness for that marker to guide us along the path) but I kept pushing through the snow with my guide Selin, who as a local, is accustomed to the frigid weather and hiking in it. (Me, not so much.) In the photos, you’ll notice nothing. No one. No signs of life at all. Selin and I were the only humans making the hike that day. Other visitors rode the snow bus, but we toughed it out. 🙂
At the end of my 45-minute journey on the glacier, I was rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime meal at Refuge l’Espace, a tiny cabin owned by a husband and wife, Inge and Roland Beer. The little spot seats about 20 people and serves regional cuisine while providing magnificent views of the Val Derborence in Valais and the Bernese Alps. My hike from Scex Rouge (the ski lift) to Refuge l’Espace and the meal I enjoyed once I arrived will always be one of the most extraordinary travel experiences of my life. After that day, I knew that I was in love with Switzerland.
Unfortunately, the weather worsened after our lunch, so we returned by snow bus and could not do the Peak Walk by Tissot – a suspension bridge that joins two mountain peaks. I had worked up my nerve to do the walk (ignoring my extreme fear of
heights falling), but it was a no-go this time around. Until we meet again, Gstaad….
Plan to visit Gstaad, Switzerland? Here are the basics.
The weather varies in the Bernese Oberland, so I recommend layers. Lots of layers. It can be sunny and warm in the valley and rainy and cold in the mountains (or snowy!).
Switzerland is incredibly safe, and a terrific country for female travelers. I am not an experienced solo traveler, but I found it very easy to travel alone through Switzerland. The train systems are advanced there, not like anything in the United States. You can move from one village to another or one end of the country to another. And Swiss trains leave on time!
People are helpful, and many speak English, but there are several languages spoken in Switzerland. Swiss-German and German are the most popular in Gstaad, but most everyone speaks French too.
The currency is Swiss Francs and not Euros.
Although Gstaad is a recognized as a resort town for the rich and famous, you do not have to be wealthy to go to this area of Switzerland. Yes, as a whole, if I’m honest, Switzerland is more expensive than other European countries, but there are plenty of accommodations that are affordable (like the Hotel Alpenland where I stayed for two nights), and a slew of places to dine and drink that a cost a lot less than the 5-star hotels. And hiking costs nothing (unless you hire a guide, of course), and neither does taking in that spectacular Alpine scenery. And trust me, there’s a lot of it!
Fly into Geneva and take a train or car to Gstaad. Travel time is roughly two hours. You can also fly into Zurich, but travel time is three-plus hours.
For more about Gstaad-Saanenland, visit the website.
Peak Walk by Tissot photo courtesy of myswitzerland.com.
Also, read about my solo adventures in Bern, the capital city of Switzerland.