The Best Way to Do the Swiss Alps? By Train in the Summertime.
Here's a first-class, four-stop itinerary that includes the "younger, sexier, more vivacious" St. Moritz
The Swiss Alps are a winter wonderland, but that doesn’t mean the region is only enjoyable when there’s several feet of snow on the ground, a frigid chill in the air and a flock of Ugg boots entrenched in the surroundings. In fact, Switzerland’s summer season might be even better, and that’s especially the case if you’re like me and tend to skip straight to the après portion of the après–ski lifestyle.
Think poolside summer sun with an alpine backdrop, and top-tier accommodations in the form of palaces, castles and chateaus, mixed with quieter and more relaxing off-peak vibes. There’s wellness in every form, from active afternoons of hiking to full-day spa sessions, or the treat yourself ethos of fondue and wine, all from an impossibly gorgeous locale.
Oh yes, summertime in the Swiss Alps is a real-life fairy tale writ large.
Plotting Out Your (Train) Journey
Giving yourself at least a week in the country will ensure you can hop around to a few different spots, as Switzerland’s train system makes it easy to do so. Consider snagging a Swiss Travel Pass which is valid for multi-day increments and offers reservation-free, hop-on, hop-off access to the entire rail and bus network, while also providing free entry into hundreds of museums and attractions.
It doesn’t hurt that those train rides turn the tedium of travel days into sightseeing excursions in and of themselves. The rails meander past snow-capped, craggy Alps in the distance and lush, green mountains and hills in the foreground. You’ll chug through quaint villages and valleys, as well as flower-filled meadows and harrowing mountain passes, often alongside the pale, clouded icy blues — what locals refer to as “glacier milk” — of fresh, fast-flowing rivers such as the Rhine and the Rhône.
That’s before you even ride one of the official “scenic trains.” You can hop aboard specific lines such as the Glacier Express, which boasts panoramic views and multi-course, waiter-delivered meals — the top-tier Excellence Class offers seven-course dinners and guaranteed window seats. Elsewhere among the Rhaetian Railway’s routes, a stretch known as the Albula/Bernina line is a remarkable and curvaceous 80-mile UNESCO World Heritage site dotted with hundreds of viaducts, tunnels, bridges and twisty turns.
As you’re linking together stops and thinking about where to stay, your search should begin and end with Swiss Deluxe Hotels, a network of venerable five-star institutions found across the country. The properties may differ in their style and offerings, but what you can rely on from one to the next is the utmost in service and luxury, with immersive spa experiences and enticing culinary programs. As opposed to many of the world’s best hotel groups, this company is unique for being country-specific, and ensuring member properties match its exacting standards.
Whether you first pick out which cities you want to visit and then find a corresponding hotel in the area, or you handpick the most extravagant properties you’ve always dreamed about staying in and build the trip out from there, you’ll be in good hands. And this is a bit of inside intel for you, but prospective new hotel members don’t simply gain score-based, automatic entry; a unanimous vote of ascension from the existing 39 properties of Swiss Deluxe Hotels is required in order to be welcomed to the club. When you visit a few of them and get a taste of the level they operate at, you’ll be glad that those rigid processes are in place.
A Four-Stop Swiss Alps Sojourn
Most international flight connections to Switzerland come through Zurich, making it an appropriate starting point. Check into the Dolder Grand, located just beyond the city center atop the steep hillside about a mile east of the lake. It’s a forest wellness retreat that also happens to be right next to downtown, thus offering the best of both worlds.
Opened in 1899 and renovated with the addition of two modern wings in 2008, the hotel has an intensive wellness program including a large indoor pool and outdoor jacuzzi, meditation walks and relaxation rooms, and a string of hot and cold spa areas, including what it calls its Snow Paradise room, a small cave-like enclosure lined with snow year-round, ideal when you need a chill after sweating it out in the sauna.
The Dolder Grand is also known for its art program, with a collection of more than 100 paintings and sculptures which you can tour at your leisure with the help of an iPad guide. Its fine-dining outpost, The Restaurant, has received two Michelin stars, while its main dining hub, Saltz Restaurant, is also highly touted. The Lobby Bar is known for creative cocktails with fanciful presentations that match its art-filled environs, and the hotel hosts a number of seasonal food and beverage pop-ups throughout the year.
Once you’ve had your fill of Switzerland’s largest city, head to St. Moritz, one of the swankiest getaways not only in the Swiss Alps, but in the whole of Europe and beyond. It’s a preeminent, super-luxe destination as well as a winter sports powerhouse, and the place you absolutely must stay at is the impeccable Badrutt’s Palace.
If you’re arriving by train, be sure the concierge knows your pending ETA so they can fetch a Rolls-Royce to scoop you up for the two-minute ride. Your butler team will then usher you straight to a fittingly palatial suite with sensational lake views. The property has been family owned and operated since its opening in 1896, and has retained its signature old-world charm and grandeur. Its iconic tower is the image many people most associate with the town, and up there in its rafters you’ll find a four-bedroom, three-story suite that’s now available for guests after a tenant moved out following a 30-year stay.
Badrutt’s has a solarium that’s home to a large indoor pool including a grotto, with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing an enchanting view of the lake and mountain beyond. There’s a string of food and beverage options on the premises, including the Renaissance Bar and cigar lounge, home to vintage Cuban cigars and a bar team you’ll want to do your best to befriend; Le Relais, an elegant dinner institution; and Le Grand Hall, the social hub for the whole of St. Moritz. In peak season there are even more options, including La Coupole – Matsuhisa, a Nobu restaurant. Across the street from the main property is the hotel’s 17th century farmhouse, the Chesa Veglia, which is home to three more dining concepts, including a bustling pizzeria and a restaurant specializing in regional Swiss fare.
Then there’s the hotel’s mountaintop chalet, Paradiso, the epicenter of an always raging ski-party scene that you can shuttle to and from with a Land Rover in the summer, or ride the ski lift to in the winter. It’s the home of a private club with a $50,000 admission fee for new members. Put your wallet down, friends — it’s sold out. Visitors can come and go from its main restaurant, though, taking in the spectacle of the exclusive and convivial bigger-is-better atmosphere.
Andermatt is an alpine destination in the midst of a modern revival. The area might be best known as the filming site of the Goldfinger car chase through the Furka Pass, but it’s being transformed into a high-end ski retreat that’s ready to compete with the best of the Alps. In a guidebook promoting its revival, the principal investor taking the reins of the region’s redevelopment, Samih Sawiris, is quoted as saying that Andermatt is the “little sister” of Zermatt and St. Moritz, but “younger, sexier, more vivacious and more beautiful.”
Take The Chedi Andermatt, its sultry showpiece resort, as a case in point. It’s on the site of the original Grand Hotel Bellevue, whose heyday was in the 1800s, and marks the return of five-star luxury to the village.
“Chedi” is a Thai word for a Buddhist stupa or pagoda, and the property’s design, style and concept is a blend of Asian and Swiss influences. Visualize minimalist, negative-space Zen paintings of the Alps hanging in a restaurant built around a central cheese cave. Yes, there’s a multi-story cheese tower, and it’s everything I dreamed it would be, stocked to the brim with predominantly Swiss cheeses, including the hotel’s own. It’s available to you around the clock, and is included among the hotel’s lavish breakfast spread.
Rooms are a cross between contemporary, Asian-inspired décor with natural wood and dark, neutral tones, and a cozy cabin with skiing iconography and faux-fur pillows. A massive spa includes a chic indoor lap pool and lounge area, and a wide array of sauna experiences, including a series of three Japanese-style heated bath areas, cold plunges, steam rooms and a Tibetan relaxing lounge.
The Chedi is home to a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant replete with a sushi counter and sake bar, and a main dining room and bar featuring an Asian and European interpretation of each dish and drink on its menu. The Wine Library is loaded and the Cigar Lobby touts a 900-deep selection said to be the largest of any hotel in the world. The hotel even offers a 007 package including helicopter rides and vintage car tours, another fitting choice for when you want to live out your shaken-not-stirred fantasies and travel the world like James Bond.
Gstaad is another Swiss playground for the wealthy, and the Gstaad Palace, which looks the part with its crenelated towers and hilltop positioning, is a must stay. First opened in 1913, the hotel lords above the charming village below and has become a jetsetting, see-and-be-seen hotspot.
While I stayed at the property, it played host to the Bonhams Gstaad Sale, with multi-million-dollar supercars and vintage automobiles from every era auctioned off to a crowd of movers and shakers. “We’re the living room of Gstaad,” a hotel manager tells me, waving to the packed, bustling terrace where champagne was poured from magnums, and a live jazz ensemble was paired with the powerful, throaty roar of engines as the soundtrack for the evening. In the living room of Gstaad, you’ll generally find a crowd that’s capable of shelling out $2 million for a Ferrari when the mood strikes.
Gstaad Palace is also where I lived the absolutely perfect summertime Swiss Alps day. My morning began with an hour at the modern fitness center, which wrongly enabled me to feel justified for indulging at breakfast with multiple plates of charcuterie and cheese. I then decamped to Piscine, the hotel’s enormous pool club which has been a summertime staple in the region since 1928, for a few hours of sunning and swimming, and truth be told, a spritz or two.
Retreating from the heat, I went to the spa’s relaxation deck, with an indoor-outdoor pool, fireside relaxation room and sauna, before sinking into a deep meditative state thanks to a 75-minute massage. With that restorative session under my belt I decided to once again sacrifice my hard-won physical wellbeing at the altar of my mental wellness with the help of a fantastic al fresco fondue and wine dinner. To cap it off, I reveled in a few pours of the bar’s Barrique Cuvée du Gstaad Palace, a house blend of Swiss eaux-de-vie married together in barrels for several years.
It was but one day of many in my summertime scamper across the Swiss Alps, and it was everything for which I could have asked. Exulting in the experience while recounting the day to a staffer, I was reminded that delivering such storybook tales is the exact ethos of the property.
“You should feel like royalty when you stay here,” they said. “It is a palace after all.”
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