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8 fun things for families to do when visiting Gstaad

We all know that Alpine resorts can be a huge draw for visitors during the winter months, attracting skiers and snowboarders, but did you know that in Switzerland – unlike in France where the tendency is to choose the mountains in Winter and the coast in Summer – the Alps continue to lure tourists? The Swiss Alps never ‘shut down’ and it is very much a year-round destination, with the upscale resort of Gstaad in the Bernese Oberland region serving as a classic example. Here are just a handful of the many activities you can enjoy during the so-called off-season. 1. Go hiking Around Gstaad, there are more than 300 kilometres of maintained paths and trails. We did a guided walk on the Wispile mountain, situated on the edge of Gstaad in the Bernese Alps. Popular with skiers in the winter, it offers excellent hiking opportunities in the Summer and rises to almost 2,000 metres at its highest point (1,939m). Whatever the weather, it’s a good opportunity to blow away the cobwebs and get a little exercise. We saw all kinds of flora and fauna: wild raspberries and bilberries that we could eat, and crickets and small frogs that we could handle. Lichen does well here, too – an environmental indicator that shows just how fresh the air is, since lichen needs clean, fresh air to thrive. Unfortunately, this was the only poor weather day during our time in Gstaad so visibility was severely limited as we ascended. On a good day, however, continuing the walk to the Chrinetritt and on towards Lake Lauenen will reward you with amazing views of the Wildhorn Massif which straddles the border between the Swiss cantons of Bern and Valais. Our guide was knowledgeable about mushrooms – mushroom hunting is popular in Switzerland – so this also offered us an insight into an area where we have limited knowledge (and limited knowledge with mushrooms is not ideal!!). There are, in fact, over 5,000 different varieties of mushroom in Switzerland and yet only 200 are edible (and, in fact, 20 are very poisonous), so this is definitely not something you want to partake in unless you know what you are doing. What I’ve since learned is that there is a Swiss mushroom association called VAPKO which offers a free service where you can have your own picked mushrooms verified, which sounds like a very useful service. 2. Take a cable car into the mountains If hiking is not for you, but you’d still like to appreciate the views (or you’d prefer to only hike down rather than up!), then consider taking a cable car. There are small cable cars running up and down Wispile that hold up to four people… …and much larger ones at the likes of Glacier 3000 that can hold several tens of passengers. Although primarily there for winter sports enthusiants, many chair lifts and cable cars around Gstaad run throughout the Summer months, meaning you can access the mountains and admire spectacular panoramas with the minimum of effort. Riding a cable car is a fun experience to do as a family and facilitates easy access to the outdoors. You’ll find many options around Gstaad but we recommend the two cable cars that take you up to Glacier 3,000 which, as the name suggests, will take you to an altitude of 3,000 metres (approximately 10,000 feet). From there you can enjoy breathtaking views of no less than 24 mountain peaks at 4,000 metres or higher, including Jungfrau, the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. Of course, you can also enjoy memorable views from the cable car itself, such as this waterfall that can be seen on the descent from Glacier 3000. 3. Take a trottinette ride down the mountains Unfortunately we didn’t get to do this because it was wet underfoot when the opportunity arose and can be dangerous in those conditions. However, if you climb or take the cable car up the mountain at either Wispile, Rinderberg or – a little further afield – at Sparenmoos, you can ride a trottinette back down. These are scooters that allow you to race down the mountainside on marked pathways at whatever speed you feel most comfortable with. 4. Watch a movie in your own private cinema At the hotel where we stayed – The Alpina Gstaad – they have their own exclusive cinema, capable of showing 3D films, that you can hire privately. Found underground on the bottom floor of the hotel, this is a space where you can curl up on extra-large sofas and immerse yourself in the ultimate party experience thanks to the latest in audio and video technology. You can hire the cinema exclusively for three hours for up to 18 people, with healthy snacks and unlimited popcorn all included. 5. Visit Glacier 3000 and take the Peak Walk by Tissot One of the highlights of our time in Switzerland was our visit to Glacier 3000. Once you have taken two cable cars to the summit (changing cars at Cabane at just over 2,500m), there is a walkway to the Peak Walk by Tissot, a bridge suspended between two peaks which you can see in the distance in this picture. Here’s a close-up of a section of the Peak Walk by Tissot – if you look carefully, you can make out a faint outline of the moon just beneath the bridge. The 107-metre long bridge is not for the acrophobic and connects the summit of Scex Rouge (2,971 metres) with the neighbouring View Point peak. It is apparently the first and only suspension bridge in the world to connect two mountain peaks. From either peak – or from the walkway itself – you will be spoilt for choice for which way to look. The panoramas are truly incredible, with 24 iconic peaks on display including Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. You can also look down upon places such as Ormont-Dessus, a rural mountain village that is popular with ski tourers during the Winter months. 6. Walk across a glacier Whilst at Glacier 3000, why not take the opportunity to walk across the glacier? The upper portion of the Tsanfleuron Glacier can easily be traversed here. There’s a section where this can be done pretty safely without the need for crampons if you’re sensible and walk carefully. For me personally (my background is in glaciology), this was an opportunity to share some of my knowlegdge on glaciers with our children who enjoy studying geography at school. We talked about moraine and meltwater channels, and even about cryoconite holes – windblown dust that gathers in holes on the surface of glaciers by absorbing the sun’s rays. Walking across a glacier is not only fun, but can also be educational and gives greater meaning to something that children might otherwise only learn about in class or read about in a textbook. 7. Ride Europe’s highest Alpine rollercoaster Take the cable car up to Glacier 3000 and, as well as taking the Peak Walk by Tissot or walking across the glacier, thrillseekers can even ride a rollercoaster. Open during the Summer season, from May to October, visitors are invited to take a seat and enjoy a fun descent against the backdrop of The Oldenhorn (3,122m), the second highest peak of the Diablerets massif. There’s no need to worry about going too fast as you have full control on your speed – push the levels forward to go or pull them back to apply the brakes – as you go through 520° of circles, 10 curves, 6 waves and 3 jumps in a one kilometre stretch. If you want to go fast, though, speeds of up to 40 km/hour are possible! Here’s a video we shot so you can get an idea of what to expect!
YouTube video
8. Go shopping The chocolate-box town centre of Gstaad is home to a number of international flagship stores and upscale boutique shops. If shopping is your thing, you’ll find no shortage of premium brands and presigious boutiques along the flower-filled pedestrianised walkways that make Gstaad very easy to explore on foot. Top fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Dolce & Gabanna, Ralph Lauren, Moncler and Prada are all there, as are fine jewellery stores and professional sports outfitters. Chalet-style storefronts brimming with flowers make the Gstaad Promenade a very picturesque shopping experience – a real-life postcard packed with luxury outlets in a charming fairytale setting. Where to stay During our time in Gstaad, we stayed at the incredible Alpina Gstaad, home to two Michelin-starred restaurants and its own spa, and the first five star hotel to be built in Gstaad for more than a century. Read the full review from our stay here. Disclosure: Our thanks goes to The Alpina Gstaad, 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 Telegraph.

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  1. My friend went on a group trip to Gstaad earlier this year and came back with a new appreciation for the place. They did a lot of hiking which she was very happy because she loves getting outdoors and adventuring on foot. They did take a few excursions nearby and she managed to bring back a bunch of knickknacks so I imagine it was the Gstaad Promenade shopping area she was referring to. They didn’t stay in the Alpina Gstaad, that’s for sure! It sounded like more of a low key quaint and lower budget, more communal kind of resort. I’d prefer something a little more luxurious with more facilities personally so I like the sound of this hotel. To have it’s own cinema though, and 3D capabilities too, that’s very impressive!

    1. Hi Liz

      I’m glad your friend enjoyed Gstaad and all that it has to offer, and I hope you manage to visit yourself one day soon! :-) I’m sure you won’t be disappointed if you choose The Alpina…


  2. I’ve been to Austria’s mountains in the summer and they are becoming very proactive in promoting their summer activities, in some ways they are even more high adrenaline than the winter snowbound opportunities. Some of their resorts have summer rates for the cable cars. Does that happen around Gstaad?

    1. They certainly do have different pricing models in Gstaad for the winter and summer seasons. This winter, for the first time, they are also introducing variable rates for their winter passes which are dependent on how far in advance they are booked and other factors such as seasonality.

  3. If the worse case scenarios on global warming turn out to be true then maybe we’ll all be enjoying our mountains with bikes and hikes rather than skiing and snowboarding.

    1. I think snow is pretty much guaranteed each year for the high altitude locations in Switzerland and last winter there was in fact higher-than-normal snowfall. That said, there’s no doubt that Alpine glaciers are under significant threat with some studies claiming that two-thirds of the ice will be lost by the year 2100, so there’s certainly cause for concern.

  4. I have never walked across a glacier and would like to do so before my knees completely seize up. Is there any time of day / year when it’s a little safer and less challenging? Does it ever melt at all on top giving you a bit of grip? Or does that make it even more slippery and treacherous?

    1. Hi Bob… how treacherous it is will vary from one glacier to the next. Some will have crevasses and require ropes and/or crampons for a safe crossing, whilst others – particularly those with plenty of debris on them that gives you added grip – can just be walked on without the need for anything like that. They certainly melt… in the last two shots, you can clearly see a meltwater channel (much like a river on land, but instead it’s on a glacier).

  5. Gstaad looks to be an ideal location for occupying teenage kids (and husband too.) Loads of adrenaline inducing activities whilst getting to see a beautiful part of the world too.

    Would it be unfairly extravagant for me to hire the private cinema to indulge in a RomCom and some popcorn whilst they exhaust themselves on the mountains?

    1. I think that might be a little indulgent having a cinema that seats 18 all to yourself!! How about you go to the spa and then watch a movie with them later… :-)

  6. I’ve shared this piece with my wife and teenage kids. I’m hoping that they will see that you don’t have to travel to the ends of the earth to have a good time. I like the idea of Gstaad, as we live in London it’s a lot nearer than the Caribbean, Dubai or Florida where we usually end-up after having been crammed into a metal tube for far too many hours. I know that Gstaad will be expensive but I also trust the Swiss. Their customer service is perfect. Everything will run like clockwork.

    1. If you’re travelling with family, the flights to somewhere like Geneva will cost you significantly less, allowing you to splurge a little more on the ground. Gstaad is expensive but it is exclusive also. The cost of living in Switzerland generally is much higher in Switzerland but the salaries are significantly higher also. For the sake of a very rough guide, our sense was that everything was about double what you’d expect to pay for the equivalent in the UK.

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