Alpine chic with charm (Part 1).

“But only tourists do that,” said my colleague Pascal about our plan to travel on a companion ticket. However, after I showed him pictures of the region we were planning to visit, he quickly agreed. Clearly, as a passionate photographer and successful Instagrammer, he soon realised that he would have plenty of suitable subjects to capture through his lens. For the first part of this mini-series, we are taking you with us to the Bernese Highlands.

So we agreed and started out the day after on our journey to Bern. The trip will take us to Montreux via Gstaad, along the famous GoldenPass Line which runs from Lucerne to Montreux. And best of all: my colleague Pascal can travel cheaply with me thanks to the companion ticket. We’re eager to see new things and excited to discover places in Switzerland that we’ve never seen before.

A day trip with the companion ticket.

Here’s how to save money when travelling together: the companion ticket is available from 27 February to 21 May 2017. If you have a GA travelcard or 1-day travelpass, for example, you can take a companion with you on a train trip for just 38 Swiss francs. Visit sbb.ch/companion  for more ideas for leisure activities.

 

Our first leg goes from Bern to Gstaad. Gstaad – it’s associated with glitz and glamour, Prince Charles and chic alpine holiday homes. This is why we wanted to go there and we start off by making ourselves comfortable with a coffee in the buffet car. The journey takes just under two hours and travels through Spiez and Zweisimmen to Gstaad.

The scenery also changes along the route as the journey progresses – the snow-capped mountains towering above in the distance, the sun is reflected in Lake Thun like a photo in a holiday brochure. The rocky mountain faces and rugged landscapes dominate from Spiez, heading towards Zweisimmen. The train meanders alongside the Simme river, through the Simmental valley, past the traditional farm houses with their brightly painted fronts and gable roofs. The view reminds me of my childhood and skiing holidays in the Bernese Highlands. I can literally smell the aroma of open fires and wood and briefly revel in these memories.

In Zweisimmen we change to the gold panorama coach of the Montreux-Bernois-Oberland railway. Pascal and I find two free seats in a compartment that a group of Japanese guests has reserved, who are travelling from Lucerne along the classic route of the GoldenPass Line to Montreux. The majestic route through Switzerland is practically a must-see for foreign tourists and, as I mentioned earlier, it was a first for me too. The large panorama windows let you enjoy the scenery in full. With that view of the mountains, I think how beautiful our country is. In the meantime, the brown hills have now completely disappeared and everywhere is covered in snow.

Pascal wakes me from my daydreams, and after just under two hours, we have arrived in Gstaad. Now it’s off in search of glitz and glamour through Switzerland’s answer to St. Tropez – right here in the Alps. Gstaad enjoys an international reputation and is particularly popular with celebrities in winter. You regularly see famous faces like Prince Charles, John Travolta and Roger Federer here. But did you know that there are as many cows in Gstaad as people? Around 7000 in fact.

 

Well-known guests from royalty, film and sport like Louis Armstrong and the Aga Kahn, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Roger Moore and Grace Kelly once made Gstaad so famous.

 

Directly opposite the station is the famous pedestrianised Gstaad shopping boulevard, where chic charm meets tradition – with Prada and Cartier next to the village bakery and Gucci and Louis Vuitton next to the stationer’s. Nothing seems artificial, like on the famous shopping strips in big cities, because the luxury boutiques are housed in beautifully decorated chalets typical of the region. It suddenly makes an elegant designer boutique seem far more approachable. The luxury in Gstaad is discreet and has a subtle effect.

Gstaad is still sleepy on this Monday morning. A few people are sitting on the cafe terraces and enjoying the warm early spring sun. Everything seems serene, so Pascal and I also make our way leisurely along the shopping street. In any case, everything is very normal here during the week in Gstaad. Most visitors come here for the winter sports. The varied Gstaad Mountain Rides ski resort covers 220 kilometres of ski slopes and can be used until May, thanks to the Les Diablerets glacier area.

My winter sport tip: travel from Rougemont, over the Videmanette to Gstaad, where wide sloping pistes await you – ideal for snowboarding and carving.

We see it from a distance: the Palace Gstaad, a five-star superior hotel with its own majestic aura, stands proud on a hill. We are curious and check out the price for one night as a joke. The cheapest price for a single room for one night is currently CHF 890…. If you can’t afford that or don’t want to, you can also stay with the herdsmen on the mountain.

Time for a little refreshment – and the Early Beck bakery  is just the ticket. Only their own products, made from fresh, regional ingredients have been sold here since 1910. My gaze wanders across home-made chocolate, beautifully curved meringues, pavés and truffles and lingers on the Gstaader Nusstorte nut cake, the local speciality. I buy myself a small slice but keep it for the coming train journey. The sales assistant also recommends the hazelnut brittle, the bakery’s speciality, which I bring along for Pascal.

Culinary specialities from the region:

  • Hobelkäse, Bergkäse and Alpkäse cheeses
  • Gstaad truffle fondue
  • Chrüter-Geissen-Raclette
  • Dried meat from Simmental valley cattle
  • Saanen mustard
  • Gstaader Nusstorte nut cake

Top tip: you can also buy local specialities conveniently at Selecta machines at the station (not quite the same thing, I know). But see for yourself:

There is a wide variety of things to see and do in and around Gstaad throughout the year:

  • Walking to Lake Lauenen is a perfect day trip for families, walkers and nature lovers, in summer and in winter, singing “Louensee” by the Swiss band Span.
  • Carriage rides, summer tobogganing, paragliding, fat biking and dog sleigh rides in winter.
  • Trekking with animals.
  • Vising the cheese caves where 3000 cheese wheels are stored and matured.
  • Help out at Alp Beust with a visit to the stables and sleep in the hay.
  • Watch the alpine cheesemakers on the Wispile.
  • Learn about traditional papercutting.
  • Join in the Alpine festivals and choose the Master Cow in the summer.

 

Top tip from Lisa Fäh, Manager of the tourism office in Gstaad: “Take a trip to the Wasserngrat mountain restaurant and enjoy a delicious meal on the sun terrace in the middle of the Gstaad mountains – something you can do in both summer and winter.”

 

According to the legend, God wanted to have a little rest when creating the world. So the Saanenland is the impression of his hand: the five fingers shaped the valleys, with Gstaad emerging in the middle.

 

Back at the train station I quickly buy another first-class upgrade for the next stretch using the SBB Mobile app and we’re off again. On the way from Gstaad to Montreux, along the world-famous GoldenPass Line, I finally get to enjoy my slice of Nusstorte cake. Pascal ate his hazelnut brittle ages ago; the sales assistant in the Early Beck bakery wasn’t exaggerating!

We deliberately chose the 11:37 service from Gstaad for the second leg of the journey. Because the GoldenPass classic train only travels at this time. This train is a replica in Belle Epoque style, the atmosphere in first class reminding me of my great-grandma’s living room.

Read about whether I enjoyed the trip in the Belle Epoque train and everything we experienced in Montreux in the second part of the report. Next week, same channel. And if you want to set off yourself and discover the GoldenPass Line, you can find the best services from Gstaad to Montreux in the online timetable.

Conclusion 1: A charming, lovely place with a wide range of leisure activities. Very suitable for families, sports fans, outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. Perfect in both summer and winter. Nothing to fear from the “glamour factor”: Gstaad is very laid-back, a place where you can feel at ease and experience lots of different things.

Conclusion 2: The journey is the destination!

Photos: Pascal Erb

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