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The Hills are Alive in Gstaad

Alpina HotelIt’s not everyday a 56 key hotel gets written up in Forbes, Architectural Digest, The Hollywood Reporter, New York’s Daily News and The Financial Times just to name a few, and over a period of just a few days.

Then again it has been over 100 years since a new five-star property has opened in the Alpine ski resort of Gstaad.

Once the playground of Bridget Bardot and now a frequent pit stop for Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone and King of Diamonds Lauence Graff, the Swiss village saw The Alpina open before Christmas. Already it has hosted a private jet group of elite travelers from Mexico (35 rooms and suites) who enjoyed the ease of access via Saanen Airport just a seven-minute drive from the hotel (about 20 minutes by horse drawn sled).

Of course with some $337 million invested the place should be pretty good, and in fact it delivers with unending attention to detail. It’s top Panorama Suite, a duplex with upstairs fireplace spa and balcony Jacuzzi is in such demand, plans are under way to build a sister suite. Nightly rate is about 21,000 CHF. Yes you do get generous food and beverage credits that could come in handy if you like sushi at MEGU. Apparently Prince Al Wahleed of Saudi Arabia does. He wanted to jet in from Davos one night while I was there however the restaurant was fully booked. Two additional restaurants – Stubli for Swiss fare and Sommet for steaks – provide plenty of variety rare for such a small hotel. There’s a spectacular lobby with roaring fireplace, a heated outdoor terrace and a cozy cigar lounge. There is a plush theatre with couches to watch a film – or send the kids off to watch a film. There is a Six Senses spa, an indoor pool, a heated outdoor pool with a James Bond-like elevator to take you from the underground spa to the pool.

Naturally the world’s best hotels are a combination of hard and soft product, and part of The Alpina’s buzz is the trio of hoteliers who are behind its opening. Dutchman Onno Poortier spent 21 years with Peninsula Hotels, the last nine as President helping oversee the group’s successful expansion from Asia to the United States. Nik Leuenberger who opened The Peninsula New York for Poortier in the early 90s, at the time a challenged property, is Managing Director and has quickly whipped the staff into shape, serving with a smile, prompt, friendly with Swiss efficiency. He comes from the same Bern canton Gstaad is located, so it is sort of hometown boy comes home to make good.

If Poortier and Leuenberger are a hotelier’s version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Poortier’s wife Alexa who serves as the communications consultant is Katherine Ross. All three give ample credit to the deep pocketed owners, and to the point sparing no expense, Alexa oversaw Landor Associates, the branding company credited for the looks for Singapore Airlines, FedEx and Evian, brought on to set the image for The Alpina.

While it’s hard to tell if Gstaad will be the last rodeo for this gang – I suspect not – there is no doubt The Alpina is going to be squarely on the map of the world’s iconic hotels. If you’re not on a budget, it is definitely worth a stop – and during the off-season a perfect venue for a full takeover.