The vibe: Swiss alpine chic
Location: Alpinastrasse 23, 3780 Gstaad, Switzerland | View on Google Maps
The AFAR take
Situated on a hill a short walk from the too-pretty-to-be-real resort town of Gstaad, the Alpina debuted in 2012 as the first luxury hotel to open there in a century. It took the French and Swiss owners, who are based in Gstaad, 15 years to create the six-story hotel on a five-acre plot in adherence with the town’s strict building codes.
The subterranean tunnel entryway feels like a setting in a James Bond film, while the lobby—with its contemporary artwork, double-height ceilings, and sleek central staircase—is clad in reclaimed wood sourced from Switzerland, France, and Austria. The hotel is open between mid-December and mid-March and again in the summer starting in June. For the first time in 2023, it will extend its summer season by a month until mid-October. Science-based sustainable travel certifier EarthCheck has recognized the hotel for its sustainability efforts.
Who’s it for?
The Alpina’s modern aesthetic with traditional touches strikes an alluring balance between old and new, though it may be less of a fit for those who want more of an Old World vibe. It’s an ideal base for travelers who enjoy a stylish après scene as much as they do outdoor pursuits. An enormous spa by the wellness-focused Six Senses hospitality group and a private cinema (including a film series that centers on climate change) keep guests entertained on property, while food aficionados will have varied dining options, including contemporary Japanese and traditional Swiss. Families with young kids will appreciate the kids club with babysitting services and weekly programs that might include snow globe making and painting.
In the municipality of Saanenland in the Swiss canton of Bern, Gstaad is in the heart of picturesque rolling hills and mountains. A center for agriculture and farming for centuries, it appeared on the tourism map in the early 1900s, when a railroad and ski runs were constructed. Due to strict building laws, the town retains its postcard-perfect wooden chalet architecture. The resort can’t claim Switzerland’s highest or most challenging slopes (hardcore skiers flock to Zermatt for that), so it tends to draw visitors for the lifestyle as much as the winter sports. Summer and early fall are a wonderland of outdoor pursuits like hiking or swimming in clear blue lakes. Only a three-minute drive or 10-minute walk to the town center, the Alpina is centrally located and can take guests to the nearby slopes of Eggli, Wasserngrat, or Wispile in one of the hotel’s two white Teslas. (The hotel also has minivans for families.)
Gstaad is a subdued celebrity hideaway: The town prides itself on discouraging gawking or paparazzi culture, and it’s common to rub shoulders with musicians and film stars in low-key settings. But even when the resort swells with seasonal visitors as high profile as Madonna, Elton John, and Anne Hathaway, multi-generational artisans, including cheese farmers and paper-cutting artists, continue to keep centuries-old traditions alive.
The Alpina’s tunnel-like entryway feels like a setting in a James Bond film.
The 56 timber-walled rooms and suites, designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) in collaboration with regional craftspeople, are mashups of contemporary and traditional. Abstract paintings and marble and timber-clad bathrooms with large soaking tubs are juxtaposed with carved wooden ceilings, hanging lamps fashioned out of embroidered leather cowbell straps, and painted wooden cupboards inspired by the generations-old versions in Swiss alpine homes. Gas fireplaces add an extra dose of comfort on cold nights. As a digital nomad, I loved my residential-feeling Grand Luxe Suite, which faced both the town and the slopes and had a banquette with a large wooden table ideal for both working and in-room meals. Eco-conscious travelers will note the absence of single-use plastics. A lovely in-room touch: the warm wool slippers that the hotel encourages guests to take home.
Food and drink
Of the hotel’s half dozen or so dining and drinking spots, Megu is one of the star attractions: Here, chef Tsutomu Kugota offers sushi, sashimi, and cooked dishes with such showstopping ingredients such as Kagero wagyu beef steak in a dining room with slatted wooden partitions covered in bright red kimono fabrics. Don’t miss the new Japanese Whisky Bar across the hall, which serves rare bottles in a moodily lit space.
Executive chef Martin Göschel leads the one Michelin-starred Sommet, which showcases a globally inspired tasting menu that might feature saddle of lamb or poached oysters. (There’s a dedicated menu for vegetarians, too.) For those who want a meal highlighting all the melted cheese pleasures of the region, Swiss Stübli sources ingredients for its raclette and fondue from regional artisanal farms and serves them in a cozy wooden-walled space. The Cigar Lounge is a sight to see, even for those who don’t smoke: The owners sent the designers to Havana for inspiration, and the polished dark wood, tufted leather seating, and walk-in humidor lend it a throwback vibe.
Staff and service
Laid-back, attentive, efficient—and able to pivot quickly. I arrived with hopes of snowboarding on a freakishly snow-free day in January, but when the flakes began to fall, the hotel had me outfitted within minutes at the on-site rental shop.
Three guest rooms (212, 312, and 412) have bars in the showers, toilets that are accessible for wheelchair users, and no stairs.
A wellness sanctuary
The Six Senses spa sprawls for more than 20,000 square feet and feels like a destination unto itself. The offerings are plentiful and varied, from programs like a Tibetan healing retreat and a three-day yoga-focused sleep retreat to a menu of massages ranging from shiatsu to Thai. The best place to go for aching post-ski muscles is the outdoor heated pool, where in the wintertime, steam floats into the air in luxurious curls.