Global, Gentile and Oh-So Grand for a Girlfriend Getaway :: Gstaad, Switzerland

Think summertime in Gstaad, where the living is easy. Glitterati on the slopes give way to verdant mountains, field flowers galore and a low-key quiet glamour. Some say that to holiday in Gstaad one must “be rich-but also discreet.”

Poppycock.

Gstaad is to Switzerland like Montauk is to the Hamptons. It has something for everyone to enjoy and is a gem of a destination for all who want to take advantage of the many outdoor activities and festivals. The local people working in agricultural pursuits keep Gstaad “authentic” and contribute to its lack of pretense. Not to say that Gstaad is anything but sophisticated: food and lodging here are top of the line. It’s just to confirm that you do not have to be a high roller to participate in the fun.

EAT: Glorious Food
My sister and I arrived in Gstaad just after the finish of the ATP Tennis Open, but we still managed to score some Swiss chocolates, in the shape of small tennis racquets, for souvenirs. We were just in time, according to Gstaad’s ambitious summer calendar, to enjoy the annual 10-Day Davidoff Saveurs Festival which turned out to be a highlight of our stay. (I admit I had previously never heard of this exclusive festival, which I guarantee will raise the heart rate of even the most jaded bon vivant.)

This world-class gourmet festival features a changing roster of top international chefs offering delicacies from the kitchen, wine cellar, and humidor. We were lucky enough to reserve two coveted seats at the Hotel Le Grand Chalet dinner which featured the culinary expertise of Patrick Henriroux, owner and chef of the renowned Michelin two-star “La Pyaramide,” in Vienne, France.

The evening began with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres served on the panoramic terrace, which yielded a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains and village below. Davidoff, the esteemed cigar company, flew in their master cigar maker who demonstrated his skill and technique as he patiently hand-rolled made-to-order cigars.

As the only Americans among the 50 guests we appreciated the warm and gracious welcome we received. Our food-loving companions consisted of a Swiss restaurateur/hotelier and his vivacious wife who had closed their lodge and restaurant a few hours away in order to attend the Saveur Festival, a jovial cheese maker, a fine wine importer, and a bevy of other international foodies.

Chef Henriroux produced a dinner that merited every cent of the $250 tab. Dinner stand-outs included:
A Fois gras millefeuille topped with sweet & sour rhubarb sauce with petite raison toasts nestled alongside. A local fish, Omble Chevalier, similar to Char, presented on a bed of lentils long-simmered with truffles, wine and smoked bacon was sheer perfection. And, the fragrance….c’est magnifique!

Dessert ended on a high note,quite literally, as each guest was served his very own chocolate piano complete with a white chocolate keyboard, filled with hazelnut praline topped with a toasty coffee sauce.

SLEEP: Sweet Dreams
After this fabulous evening of fine wines, delicious food and engaging conversation we were ready to sleep. Our room at the five-star Relais & Chateaux, Hotel Grand Bellevue, was spacious and modern. Each room offered flat-screen notebook computers with wireless Internet, a private patio and huge bathrooms. Hands down, the Grand Bellevue was our favorite hotel in Gstaad. Chic, yet comfortable, grand, but not overly formal.

As we entered the hip black-and-white striped furnished lobby to register, we were graciously led to the seating area and offered a glass of champagne, while the paper work was brought to us. How civilized!

Downstairs, the Bellevue’s luxurious, newly built 27,000 square foot spa provided the ultimate in relaxation with serene treatment rooms with a variety of services, a full-service beauty center, fully equipped fitness room and even an indoor pool.

*Word to all: To avoid disappointment be sure to book your Spa treatments prior to arrival, because the word is out.

EAT- More Delicious Food!
There are two excellent dining choices at the Grand. Restaurant Coelho, bright and casual was where enjoyed our alfresco breakfast. Sitting in the early morning sun we happily nibbled on croissants, a wide variety of assorted local cheeses, meats and fruits, and made-to-order egg dishes.

Our second evening we dined at the more formal award-winning Prado restaurant, aptly named for the artistic masterpieces that graced the walls.Uncertain how the meal would hold up next to the Saveurs extravaganza we opted for the Chef’s Choice prix-fixe menu. This proved to be the right choice as it offered a sampling of several of Michelin-starred chef Richard Mebkhout dishes. We got off to an excellent start with a trio of amuse-bouche, followed by yet another stellar fois gras dish. This time the fois was layered with peach marmalade and paired with an intriguing bacon brioche. A generously portioned lobster dish, sea bass with farm-fresh tomato chutney, and cherry duckling sided by the lightest of walnut gnocchi, rounded out the gourmet dinner.

Filling up, we were back in the game when a pink-cheeked, handsome, (very) young waiter rolled the international cheese cart over to our table.After some lively cheese chit-chat, (followed by some serious consideration)he cut for us a variety of offerings. Soft vs. hard, delicate off-white vs. blue -veined, cow, goat, or a mixture of the two milks, some mellow, others pungent… our cheese sampling was a feast for the senses.

Our cherubic cheese server went on to accessorize each of his choices with either a flavored honey, a fruit sauce or dried fruits and nuts, from an intriguing selection colorfully displayed on a magnificent silver platter.

The staff at the Grand Bellevue has obviously been impeccably trained. Indeed, from the first moment when we were greeted by the Hotel’s charming Vice-Director, Reto Kocher, we knew we were in caring hands. The upbeat mood we noted in all the employees indicated to us that the hotel staff felt fortunate to be working at the Gstaad’s Hotel Grand Bellevue.

Plans for next time:
Next summer we are already planning to re-visit Saveurs Gourmet Week plus add on a few days to enjoy the Menuhin International Classical Music Festival at the end of July. And it would only make sense to go prior to Saveurs to catch a day or two of the Tennis Open. Then there’s the Polo Gold Cup and the Beach Volleyball World Championship.

Gstaad offers numerous ways to engage both the body and soul, but one thing is certain. We felt no regret about our not being the ski-bunny type. For us, Gstaad in summer is Wunderbar!

By Vagablond’s Token Redhead.

Posted by Janice Nieder on August 16, 2007 in Food, Travel, Wine

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