Looking for a ski break with (chic cow) bells on? Nicola Moyne heads to Ultima Gstaad in Switzerland to discover the ultimate stay on the slopes
Nestled in the pre-Alps of southwest Switzerland, Gstaad is a quintessential skiing village with serious A-list credentials. During its peak Christmas period, this picture-perfect enclave for the super-rich swells from 7,000 people to 30,0000, attracting the likes of George Clooney, Madonna and Valentino to its wide, open runs, Michelin-star restaurants and pine-clad designer boutiques.
Out of season, though (January and March), the wild, mountainscape charms of Gstaad shine just as brightly as its sun-bleached blankets of snow.
In a word, chic. Gstaad is one of the few popular ski resorts that has not only held onto, but actively protected, its character and traditional architecture against an influx of new investors. As a result, luxury five star-hotels and designer-label outposts (locals count Moncler, Louis Vuitton and Prada as high-street go-tos) now sit seamlessly beside the surrounding dairy farms that punctuate the valley at the heart of the Bernese Oberland.
Intricately carved A-frame lodges elegantly line crisp carpets of snow, and whether you’re flying off-piste past a working farmhouse or the holiday home of a Hollywood power player, you’ll be impressed with the incredible craftsmanship on display. A popular winter playground for locals, the level of skiing here is high, so even the most picturesque, tree-lined slopes are quiet. There are no neon-clad crowds in fancy dress to see here.
The hip crowd head to Ultima Gstaad, a plush, five-star hotspot that doesn’t exactly scrimp on style or service. It may be located a mere 10-minute stroll from the designer promenade, but you’ll never be left out in the cold: Ultima’s incredibly friendly, super-efficient staff encourage guests to take full advantage of the hotel’s 24-hour chauffeur service – complete with heated boots, a pile of faux furs and chilled bottles of San Pellegrino awaiting your arrival – as well as the velvet-clad cinema room and next-level-luxury La Prairie spa, which is more reminiscent of a billionaire’s super yacht than a suave Swiss chalet.
Think chic teak decks, huge Jacuzzis (inside and out), a serene 15-metre lap pool, cutting-edge sauna and steam room offerings, plus a plethora of cream, lounge-worthy day beds. Basically, this is where you would imagine Bond comes to take the weight off, and Ultima’s signature massage should definitely be at the top of your own hit list. A relaxing blend of shiatsu and reflexology, this 60-minute treatment is expertly delivered with a liberal dose of aromatic oils straight from the Swiss Alps. Afterwards, take 10 to sip a delicious herbal tea in the spa bar – where you can also recline after a spot of Botox in the Aesthetics Clinic, should the mood take you.
Next-gen spa sessions aside, Ultima oozes opulence at every turn. The lobby boasts chiseled (purchasable) sculptures by renowned American artist Richard Orlinsky and a glass grand piano (one of only two in the world; the other is owned by Alicia Keys, naturally). Huge suites with walk-in wardrobes and toiletries courtesy of Hermes are spliced with high-gloss marble, decadent glass chandeliers and fine-art coffee-table tomes by the likes of David Lachapelle and Henri Matisse.
There’s also the sleek shisha bar – where Gstaad’s after after parties take place in peak season – and the Ultima Ski School, where the real party starts for strictly on-piste skiers like myself. After a day of expert tuition from patient instructor, Denis, I found I could finally turn my focus to the beauty of the slopes rather than my wayward feet and awkward turns. The ski-school drop-out in me has finally been tamed.
You don’t have to look far for top-end cuisine in Gstaad. In fact, you don’t even need to leave your hotel: Ultima serves up some of the best food in the region and regularly hosts world-class chefs for special pop-up events, including Michelin-star Ryuji Teshima (aka Teshi), whose minimalist, French-style dishes suit the restaurant’s chic, sultry feel perfectly.
Fusing decadent velvet seating with DJ decks and a cosy fireplace, La Duchessa is Ultima’s cool but classy eatery that delivers fresh, organic fare with signature panache. From salted sea bass Carpaccio with crystalized lemon to succulent beef fillet or casserole veal shank with seasonal root vegetables, dishes come wine-paired and perfectly cooked.
And you won’t want to skip dessert, either: Ycone Paris by Yazid Ichemrahen opened a boutique pastry bar in the hotel in December, so you can choose from some of the cult French brand’s most delectable creations. ‘Haute Couture’ chocolate ganache tartlet, anyone?
By some fabulous twist of fate, two of Gstaad’s most enticing attractions hook on the number 3000: for the first, take a cable car up to Gstaad’s Glacier 3000 – an ice-capped summit that delivers unbeatable panoramic views. Then retreat 25 metres below the surface near Bissen to enter Gstaad’s cathedral-like Cheese Grotto, which houses 3,000 wheels of the finest hard Berner Hobelkase cheese.
Hidden within an unassuming hillside water tower, this candle-lit haven in the valleys is, quite literally, a homage to fromage where you can learn more about the region’s traditional mountain farming methods with friendly manager Rene, before washing down 18-month matured shavings with a crisp, chilled glass of local white wine. Foodies will love the ‘Fondueland’ picnic spot located just outside, too. Think a giant fondue-shaped wooden table (stay with me), sweeping vistas of the snow-capped valley and a pre-ordered luxury fondue backpack filled with everything you need for the most scenic, authentically Swiss mountain picnic you can imagine.
Never has Gstaad’s official mantra, ‘come up, slow down’, seemed more appropriate.
How to book
Suites at Ultima Gstaad start from £685 per night, on a bed and breakfast basis, during the winter season. To book, visit ultimagstaad.com. For more information about what to do in Gstaad, or to book a visit to the Cheese Grotto, visit gstaad.ch or speak to the team at Ultima Gstaad.