Skiing in the Alps, Part V


My Alps sojourn concluding, my friend Lee and I head from Verbier to Gstaad — of all the Swiss travel destinations, one of the Swissest. It’s the definition of picturesque: Every ski town postcard and ski movie set, it seems, takes cues from Gstaad. The town’s streets are lined with the snow-covered slanted roofs of different sized rustic log cabins.

Not surprisingly, Gstaad’s also a go-to spot for the super-rich, it’s the ski destination of choice for the likes of George Soros and Bernie Ecclestone. We exit the car and start strolling, passing high-end shops, cigar-smoking middle aged men and Botoxed, fur-draped women. Seems about right.

Soros-types, if they don’t own a chalet, stay at the Gstaad Palace. With rates at the deservedly named Palace starting in the $700 ballpark, we opt instead for the Arc-en-Ciel, a property that is slightly more modest but no less charming. Owned by the same family for more than 50 years, the 43-room hotel recently underwent a major renovation, resulting in a historic spot that feels unmistakably contemporary.

After checking in, we head to the hotel’s pizzeria for a cocktail. We start talking about dinner — not pizza. After nearly a week in the Alps, I’ve still not sampled any fondue: There is still time for a (main) course correction, and we head to Saagi Stübli, perhaps the village’s finest fondue spot. Located in the basement of the Hotel Gstaaderhof, the restaurant is exactly as you’d picture a classic Swiss fondue den: rich wood walls, Alpine knick-knacks, and a fire roaring in a cozy subterranean space.

The meal is traditional: We opt for a mix of Vacherin and Gruyère, the classic combo, served with lots of bread, plus a trip to the salad bar, stocked with cornichons and olives to cut the richness of the cheese. We feast, consuming an ungodly amount of cheese over the course of an hour or so, until finally admitting defeat. We crash early.

The next morning, we hit the mountain. The sun is blazing overhead, and as we approach the base of the Eggli lift, we are both warm; it’s going to be a hot day, which is just fine by us. We get to the top and head down Vorderes Eggli, a lovely, winding run.

Lee flies ahead, making wide S-shaped turns; I follow his track, turning easily in the soft snow. My hat is off and I’ve swapped goggles for sunglasses. The wind is crisp but not cold. The view is astounding. And in a couple hours, we’ll break for lunch. We’ve got a reservation at a place called Restaurant Oldegg, where we’ll eat too much and sit for too long. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Image courtesy of Simon Bonaventure.

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