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Review: The Alpina Gstaad, Gstaad, Switzerland

On completion of its construction in 2012, The Alpina Gstaad was the first five star hotel to be opened in Gstaad for over a century. Set in five acres in the Bernese Oberland, the hotel blends traditional Swiss architecture with contemporary flair – both inside and out. This 56-room luxury hotel is co-owned by Jean Claude Mimran and Marcel Bach – look carefully and, within the hotel’s regularly rotating art gallery, you’ll find artwork to signify the owners’ respective Senegalese and Swiss roots. The interiors combine Ringgenberg limestone, antique fir wood and tanned leather to give a modern, minimalist, yet cosy feel in a chic Alpine setting. The welcome We arrived by train from Lausanne, changing at Montreux, and had communicated our arrival time in advance with the hotel. A driver was there to meet us the moment we arrived and drove us up the hill to The Alpina. The hotel is reached along a dramatic tunnelled approach that leads to a two-tiered vehicular access point at the hotel’s main entrance. We were welcomed in and our bags were taken care of. Once inside, a staircase leading to the lounge, bar and restaurants lies ahead, flanked by large, beautiful fresh flower arrangements, with reception to the left and the concierge desk to the right. Here we were warmly welcomed by a number of staff, including a personal welcome from Tim Weiland, The Alpina’s General Manager with a wealth of experience, having worked for more than 20 years at luxury hotels all over the world. The room We stayed in rooms 208 and 209 – interconnecting De Luxe rooms (one double and one twin) with views out towards the sun-drenched slopes of Schönried. At 33 square metres in size, they offer ample room and have a private terrace on which you can sit out and admire the view. The rolling green hills – with chalets dotted about here and there – are a beautiful sight in the Summer months. In the Winter, they are of course snow-covered and this area in particular is a popular skiing area for Swiss former alpine skier Michael von Grünigen who was born in Schönried. The bathroom The bathroom is spacious and feels bigger still thanks to the neutral, light beige tones. A bath lies at one end of the bathroom, and at the other a separate large walk-in shower with dual shower heads. Fluffy robes and slippers are provided, along with a supply of Acqua di Parma toiletries. The facilities With four restaurants, the hotel is extremely well-catered for when it comes to dining. There’s the Alpina Lounge & Bar, the Michelin-starred Sommet restaurant, the Japanese MEGU restaurant which also has a Michelin star, and Swiss Stübli which specialises in Swiss cuisine. Sommet is also where breakfast is served each morning. As well as the usual buffet options you might expect, there’s a juice bar manned by a member of staff from the spa and a variety of cooked options that you can order. Among them are some Asian specialties including Martin Göschel’s breakfast recommendation to set you up for the day ahead: an Asian-inspired soup with vegetables and noodles, inspired by Martin Göschel’s breakfast stops when cycling across the continent. The Alpina Lounge & Bar is a relaxed dining atmosphere where the signature dish is The Alpina beef burger but also excellent is the crustacean bouillabase with different types of fish and seafood, a rouille sauce and homemade mini baguette. Dinner at Sommet Restaurant is a real treat. We began proceedings with a poached quail egg accompanied by a wonderfully light and subtle celery mousse. This was followed by a melt-in-the-mouth langoustine carpaccio with caviar, sour cream and edible flowers. Next up was a delicious warm vegetable salad… …and then our main was veal cutlet, cooked to perfection and served on a bed of asparagus. The visual highlight of the meal was described simply as ‘yellow lemon’ on the menu – an impressive creation coated in white chocolate with yellow food colouring, and sugar to give the outside the apparent texture of a lemon. Inside was a chantilly cream with a yuzu sorbet in the centre; it was a feast for the taste buds as well as the eyes! To finish, we were presented with some white and dark chocolate ‘champignons’ with earth-like granola on the side. This was a truly memorable dinner as I hope the pictures convey. Led by Head Chef of MEGU Takumi Murase and Head Sushi Chef Tsutomu Kugota, The Alpina’s Japanese restaurant MEGU is also not to be missed. There we enjoyed the crispy asparagus crumbed with Japanese rice crackets, chilli and lemon, accmopanied by crispy Kanzuri shrimps. A selection of sushi and sashimi was then prepared close to our table: hotoro (medium fat tuna), salmon, yellow fin tuna and squid. This was followed by a deep and full-bodied akadashi miso – a classic Japanese miso made with nameko (a small, slightly gelatinous mushroom) and tofu. The stand-out dish was the very special “Kagero Yaki” Wagyu beef flambéed with cognac on a stone grill. The Omakase dessert was a yuzu ice cream with a cherry jelly and matcha crumble… …which the petit fours to round off our meal consisted of praline of coconut and yuzu, macaroon of matcha, and sesame. Finally on the food and beverage front, The Alpina also has its own vinothek housing 1,700 wines in an air-conditioned wine bar panelled entirely in stone and traditional wood, with tastings held around a large stone table. The Alpina also has a Six Senses spa; and no, this is not just another hotel spa – it is much more than that – and offers an Asian-inspired high-tech approach to treatments that is carefully crafted around the individual. As well as treatment rooms, there are two pools (indoor and outdoor), separate men’s and women’s hot and cold plunge pools, saunas, steam rooms, etc. and even a Himalayan salt room. There’s also a well-equipped gym, regular exercise classes and a juice bar. The hotel even has its own private cinema with 20 free-standing extra-large armchairs and sofas, capable of showing both 2D and 3D films, and complete with popcorn machine. And it has a fumidor; co-owner Jean-Claude is a cigar aficionado and sent five architects to Cuba just to tour Havana’s cigar lounges so they had a clear understanding for the style he was looking to replicate. For younger guests the hotel has the Tree House Club which is full supervised, giving parents that much-needed respite to take advantage of the spa or have a special dinner in one of the restaurants. And finally, a new addition this Summer has seen the erection of three Nyetimber beach huts in the hotel grounds. These Summer lodges provide guests with the opportunity to relax with a glass of one of Nyetimber’s award-winning sparkling wines whilst enjoying a majestic view of the Bernese Alps. Location From the hotel, it is an easy downhill walk into the centre of Gstaad and a slightly more challenging one back up. The hotel offers a free shuttle service to and from this picturesque town. This picture postcard resort is a unique, unspcale part of Switzerland and packed with designer stores, each adorned with a colourful array of flowers. Other nice touches There are so many extra touches to mention, from the fresh flowers in the room and complementary choba choba chocolate-covered almonds, cake and fruit bowl on arrival to the shuttle service from the train station to the blankets that were provided (without any prompting on our part) when we were dining al fresco and a slight chill in the air was developing. There’s also the minibar with complementary snacks and soft drinks provided as standard, oils provided on turndown to ensure a restful slumber, not to mention a polite, enthusiastic and helpful staff from the top to the bottom. Cost Deluxe rooms start from 723 CHF per night, including taxes and services, when making a Preferred Advance Purchase. Suites start from 1,658 CHF per night. The best bit What The Aplina does exceptionally well is combine luxury with comfort. Nothing is overly-stuffy – it’s a homely luxury that is all too often missing in hotels of this size. The final verdict Our stay at The Alpina Gstaad was nothing short of perfection and it’s little wonder that this special hotel ranks #1 in Gstaad on Tripadvisor or, as one recent Tripadvisor reviwer puts it “probably the best hotel in the European Alps”. Disclosure: Our stay was courtesy of The Alpina Gstaad. Our thanks also goes to Gstaad Tourism and Switzerland Tourism for their support with the trip.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. Wow!!! What an amazing-looking hotel. I have stayed in Gstaad once before but it was a while ago now so I think before this hotel would have been built.

    Next time, I know exactly where to stay!! Looks beautiful, and the restaurant choices sound amazing for a hotel of this size.

  2. 56 rooms is a good size. I know boutique hotels are in fashion but although they are intimate they sometimes are just too small to economically provide the facilities that you would be expect from a hotel. Then again, I hate the big impersonal brand hotels where you are little more than the people in room 3729.

    1. Yes, Dan… depending on what you look for in a hotel, you could say this is an optimum size. As you say, not too small that there aren’t the facilities you might expect from a luxury hotel, and not too big at the same time. It’s certainly not an impersonal experience at The Alpina!

  3. Generally we live in a world where there’s too much advertising and marketing hype but maybe the marketing department needs to reconsider the “Yellow Lemon” tag? From your description it’s got a lot more going for it than that. It would be a pity if people missed out because the dessert lacked an accurate description.

  4. Although I haven’t been to Gstaad for some years I doubt that it has changed very much. I would have thought that 5 star hotels would have been fighting hard to get into the Gstaad market. It would be interesting to know what it is that has held them back for the last century?

  5. You lost me with the sentence – “petit fours to round off our meal consisted of praline of coconut and yuzu, macaroon of macha, and sesame.”

    I think that we are venturing into Masterchef speak. I know that TV chefs are always using macha but I haven’t got a clue as to what is is, where it comes from or what it tastes like. And what is yuzu? Though I think I’m OK with sesame.

    1. Ha…! Matcha is a fine powder from ground down green tea leaves (ideally with their stems and veins removed) that have grown in the shade. I’m not quite how to describe it other than it is sweet but has a very subtle bitterness.

      Yuzu on the other hand is a citrus fruit, probably closest to lemon in taste.

    2. Macha sounds good to me, as I grow older (mature?) my tastebuds are guiding me away from sweeter tastes. I think I’d get on with yuzu too. In fact, all in all, I could cope with the cuisine at the Alpina Gstaad.

  6. Am I right in thinking that summer is off-peak for Gstaad? I may be in a minority but I prefer my mountain’s green to white. I like the idea of walking, views from the balcony and all that gourmet food

    1. Yes, for sure I think the main season would be the winter months. But I think it’s fair to say that the Swiss Alps doesn’t have same seasonality as, say, the French Alps. In France, the French tend to spend Winter in the mountains, but then head to the coast (think Brittany, Vendee, Cote d’Azur, etc.) in the Summer. As a landlocked country, Switzerland doesn’t have that same luxury so the mountains remain popular year round more, I think.

  7. Some Swiss towns do a City Pass where once you’ve checked into your hotel you get a card giving you free transport for the duration of your stay and also free access to some attractions. Did that go for either Lausanne or Gstaad?

    1. In Lausanne, the hotel just provided us with free metro passes (the metro is pretty inexpensive) whilst in Gstaad, The Alpina will take you down the hill into the town (or bring you back from town) any time you request. It’s much smaller so you can explore on foot very easily once you are there.

      My understanding in Lausanne is that for each guest staying in a hotel and paying the overnight tourist tax, you can be issued on checkin-in with the Lausanne Transport Card which gives you free travel on the city’s public transport system.

  8. Impressive to be the first 5 star opening in over 100 years, that’s got to be headline news for Gstaad. This is such a teeny tiny minor point but I thought you may want to know; the second sentence, first paragraph, says ‘contemperary flair’ rather than contemporary. This place looks huge from the outside, and I was quite surprised by the interiors with just how imposing it is. It really does blend modern luxury with rustic, warm chic incredibly well. The food sounds delicious too, and the little toadstool ‘champignons’ are particularly cute and very novel, I’ve never seen anything like that dish before. Then again, it’s not every day you see a hotel with its own cinema let alone one capable of 3D films! Very, very impressive.

    1. Thanks, Julie… and thank you for the correction. I did know how to spell that so I don’t know how I made that slip. Now updated, thank you!!! And I’m glad you like the look of the hotel… I hope you get to experience it one day for yourself.

  9. Is it just me or the pictures are a little too dark? I would love to see more natural light in a space like the lobby. It feels more welcoming and less intimidating especially if you are visiting for the first time. I love the on-site restaurants, though. The food looks amazing and there is more light here than the rest of the hotel.

    1. Hi Arnold… I’m guessing you’re referring to the image with the staircase. Although it might look it from the image, it really didn’t feel dark in the slightest, although this is at level ‘-1’ (just after coming through the tunnelled drive that I described) and there is much more natural light coming through on the floor above (as you can make out from the top of the picture).

  10. Such a grand hotel with soo many facilities. Your photos are outstanding regardless of other comments that they are dark, I’m very impressed with the quality of your blog, from writing to images, everything is top quality Paul.

  11. Whilst I know these places are very popular in winter, I think it’s the summer months where they really display their charm. I think you make a good point in the comments when comparing the French and Swiss Alps. The Swiss Alps are much more of a year-round destination.

    I have been to Gstaad just once and it was some years ago, before this hotel was built. I very much hope I can visit again soon as it looks so beautiful and appealing.

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