I am having one of those moments. You know, the ones when you take a good look around and wonder how the hell you ended up in this situation. Today’s is a little more epic than the norm. I’m 2000 metres up, on a vertiginous Alpine ridge, crouched down attempting to scratch at the rubble beneath me in search of a more stable position. To my left, a woman is shaking her head in nervous disbelief and to my right, I can see a chap slowly draining from sun-parched cherry red to what can only be described as a translucent grey.
No, we are not in the midst of a natural disaster, this predicament is all of our own making, for we have embarked on Le Grand Bellevue’s Wild Wellness weekend, which sees the luxury hotel’s guests try everything from wild lake swims and mountaintop yoga to Alpine cycling and…hiking.
Our nonchalant, but undeniably charming mountain guide, Ivo, has just informed us that we are now approaching the most dangerous part of the hike, with ‘a sheer drop either side’ and nothing to hold on to. I attempt to peek down the valley, to rationalise the quivers which are taking ownership of my left leg, but quickly think better of it. Ivo’s short pep talk includes confirming that indeed, various hikers have fallen, and yes, naturally they all died.
Moving swiftly on from our intense and somewhat shortsighted questioning, Ivo throws us an excited grin and claps his hands in a bid to rouse us… when this doesn’t have the desired effect, he holds out his trusty hip flask, for a little Dutch courage. Having initially laughed off the acrid concoction as a ludicrous idea given my perceived life-threatening predicament, post-pep talk, I nab the bottle and neck it – well, when life gives you schnapps…
A tense 45-minutes followed as we precariously snaked our way across the mountain tops towards the region’s highest eatery; Mountain Restaurant Wasserngrat, with Ivo prancing along the ridges unphased, like a nimble roe, beaming ‘but just look at the views’, to which we repeatedly cut him down in a unified screech of, ‘the view is the problem’.
Despite the drama, it is all high jinx and merriment as we are led to a sweet terrace table, decorated with fresh sunflowers and heavy with steaming pasta. A basket of freshly baked meringues comes with cream so thick that they snap in the tantalising mixture. Only now can we truly take in the spectacular view: it is all consuming. Forested outcrops, snow-covered peaks and shrouded glaciers all vying for our attention. In the distance, glamorous Gstaad. Thanks to its winter skiing, the tiny chalet-style village has become a magnet for the rich and famous and as a result, is teeming with luxury hotels, designer stores and an upscale food and drink scene.
Floating down the sun-drenched valley on the heaven-sent chairlift, bound for Le Grand Bellevue hotel, the area’s iconic cattle bells erupted as the bovine locals chewed the cud beneath us, blissfully unaware of the nail-biting exploits taking place above them.
You may feel a little conscious trudging dusty hiking boots, embarrassing sunburn and a dishevelled barnet through some 5* hotels, but not Le Grand Bellevue. Less formal than many of its neighbours, it began life as a cure house back in 1912. Thanks to its charismatic new owner Daniel Koetser, this historic Belle Epoque property is once again Gstaad’s go-to spot for health and wellness, with a superb destination spa. Daniel’s wife’s keen eye for design has injected the historic property with a fun, youthful energy. While sleeping quarters are light and airy, public rooms embrace rich jewel tones, marrying classic antiques with attention-grabbing furniture and statement House of Hackney wallpapers to create a look reminiscent of Soho House, yet utterly personal to them.
Deep in the palace’s belly is a secret winter-only nightclub and a private cinema and gracing the main lobby is an 8ft tweed camel, named Leonard, that they fell for in Morocco. Some original features have been re-worked to fit with the new vision, such as the enormous Murano glass chandelier, which has been dismantled and reassembled to drip its way down every level of the central staircase, in a dramatic cascade of glass and light.
Sprawling 3,000 sqm, Le Grand Spa has 17 different heat experiences to embrace; from every type of sauna imaginable to a theatrical salt room which explodes with a dramatic eruption of lemongrass-scented steam when you least expect it. Le Grand Spa is so impressive, it makes Le Grand Bellevue well worth a stay even if you have no intention of clipping on those skis or donning hiking books. My intense sports massage left me ready for the next challenge…heli-yoga.
Heli-what I hear you say? Can one not be satisfied with normal downward dogging with the rest of us? Frankly chaps, no. There is nothing normal about glitzy Gstaad – watched over by a former palace it’s Alpine pastures and world-famous ski slopes have drawn in everyone from Richard Burton and Princess Diana to Tina Turner. Madonna is a part-time resident; the corner shop is Louis Vuitton and Bernie Eccleston owns the local bar. So no, they won’t downward dog with the rest of us… they will do it at 5,000 ft altitude. Will they hike it? Will they heck – call the heli, sweetie.
That evening, our gallant mountaintop efforts were rewarded with dinner at the hotel’s Michelin-starred signature restaurant, LEONARD’S. Gstaad has four Michelin stars – not bad for a teeny village in the middle of nowhere – half of these are owned by Le Grand Bellevue. New head chef, Marcus G. Linder is now at the helm, with two of his own stars dangling from his apron strings. I managed to restrain an inner sigh upon realising that we would be dining from the healthy Wild Wellness menu – I needn’t have. We feasted on tender summer deer in the elegant dining room and sipped Bellevue Crush’s in the bar before hitting the hay.
Awoken from my slumber by the sing song of the local church bells, it was a quick skinny cap and hasty eggs benedict before setting off for the helicopter. Apparently, fear has a spectrum – when it comes to flying, I have always hovered somewhere between wary and terrified. With no schnapps in sight, I hopped on board – well, what’s the worst that can happen? Oh. As we whizzed our way past pine-clad mountains and tranquil teal lakes I stifled a laugh: I loved it. 15-minutes later, we landed on bumpy Mount Walig, with our trusty yogi, Dario.
Given the uneven surface, endless Pollock-style splatterings of cow dung and the previous day’s vertigo-inspiring adventures, we decided opt for Qigong, instead of straight yoga, in order to stay firmly on two feet. If like me, you are wondering what on earth Qigong is, my fellow yogi’s explanation seems pretty on-point, “It’s what those people in the park are doing when you think they are doing tai chi”. Roughly translating as ‘life energy’, the series of repeated movements, postures and breathing exercises stems from China.
Used to energise the body and mind it’s popular with Tibetan monks – well, you don’t see many of them in the doctor’s waiting room do you! After some initial embarrassment at theatrically ‘stroking clouds’ and cleansing one’s liver by ‘being a dragon’, I settled into the class, distracted by the spectacular mountain vista. Gstaad’s chalet-lined streets busy with beautiful people clutching their handbag dogs, seemed a million miles away. Gstaad’s motto ‘come up, slow down’ was ringing in my ears as my muscles relaxed and my breaths lengthened.
Having found shavasana on our lumpy dung-fringed yoga mats, we began our downhill hike, pausing now and then to nibble on fresh blueberries and raspberries hiding in the shrubbery. Having pointed out (and bypassed!) an impressive peppering of psychedelic mushrooms, we stumbled on a fresh porcini mushroom the size of a rugby ball. Fetching up to £65 per kilo, we sniffed out a rucksack full and hurried them back to Chef Linder. Already embracing Le Bellevue’s refreshingly laidback attitude, he welcomed us into his stainless-steel empire with a smile. An hour later we were feasting on the buttery ceps on the restaurant’s sunny terrace.
That evening, we indulged in truffled fondue in the hotel’s popular log cabin restaurant, Le Petit Chalet. One half of the group excitedly regaled us with their visit to Glacier 3000, where they walked the 107m long Peak Walk by Tissot: the world’s first and only suspension bridge to connect two mountain peaks. They wistfully recounted Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, Eiger and more. As the schnapps arrived it was our turn to described our glamorous chopper ride, shooting through valleys and spiralling mountain tops. Both equally as jealous as each other we began planning return journeys to the hotel…well, none of us had managed an icy wild swim yet, and we all know the best adventures begin with a schnapps…
Summer rates at Le Grand Bellevue start from 390 CHF per room based on double occupancy on a B&B basis. Winter rates start from 650 CHF per room based on double occupancy on a half-board basis. For more information, including details of wellness packages, visit www.bellevue-gstaad.ch.