The upscale resort town of Gstaad in southwest Switzerland is known for swanky hotels, high-fashion designer boutiques and a whole host of outstanding food options, not to mention awesome ski runs. Along with Verbier and Courchevel, it's up there in the top exclusive ski towns around, and over the years many a celebrity and royal has been known to plan their winter holidays here.
But if you look hard enough, Gstaad is more than just glitz and glamour. Amid the luxury chalets and shopping streets in the charming pedestrianised Swiss town are small B&Bs and old farm buildings housing wintering cows. There's an apres-ski scene, of course, but it's a lot less intense than the clubs and all-night parties in some of the other top ski towns. Instead, rejuvenating spas and rustic restaurants reign supreme here, with wellness and simple pleasures seeming to take precedence over hot new trends. In the wise words of Julie Andrews, a longtime Gstaad fan, this resort is "the last paradise in a crazy world".
With more than 200km of slopes catering to all levels of skier, Gstaad is a snow bunny's dreamland. The resort, which sits between four valleys, consists of five different areas including Glacier 3000, the only glacial area in the entire Berner Oberland region. Glacier 3000 opens in October and is the perfect training ground for professional riders and keen free-stylers looking for a thrill.
For something a bit more tame, head to the Saanenland area, a wide valley with gentle slopes that gets plenty of sunshine on good-weather days. Skiers can also explore cross-country runs as well nail-biting black runs catering to adrenaline junkies.
Snowboarders have plenty of options to explore too, including two terrain parks (Playground and WildSide) and the Eggli area, which is mostly floodlit. If you're after a half-pipe, head to Rinderberg mountain in the village of Zweisimmen, which has 105km of ski runs. The gondola to the top is located directly opposite Zwesimmen railway station.
Gstaad is one of the most family-friendly resorts around, with reasonable prices for young skiers. Note that children aged nine or younger can ski here with an accompanying adult for free. If you're bringing the little ones along, sign them up for a ski school at one of Gstaad's learning parks, where they'll learn the ropes from professional teachers. Beginners who are not so young can also sign up to one-on-one lessons with expert instructors.
When the snow melts away, and the jet-set depart, Gstaad transforms into a laid-back hiking, biking and summer sports paradise. In July and August temps can get up to the mid-20s Celsius, attracting outdoorsy types on the hunt for fresh mountain air. Plus, in off-peak season hotel prices tend to drop, making Gstaad the perfect budget-friendly summer getaway.
The cable car to Glacier 3000 stays open in the summer months, providing access to jaw-dropping panoramic views and numerous scenic hiking opportunities. The more adventurous among us can take to the skies and go paragliding or hot-air ballooning.
There are also numerous events that take place, from tennis tournaments to classical music festivals. Be sure to check the calendar on the official Gstaad tourism website before planning your trip.
Gstaad is about two hours by car from Geneva (the nearest airport) or Zurich. You can also hop on a train from Geneva, which takes about three hours. You'll need to change trains at Montreux to get there.