With its illustrious history, grand facade and vantage point overlooking Gstaad, this palace hotel is one of Switzerland’s most iconic places to stay and one of the nation’s only remaining family owned and run luxury hotels. Having grown up with the hotel and since made his mark on the luxury property as general manager, Andrea Scherz is the third generation to take Gstaad Palace forward. He talks to Elite Traveler about the evolution of this grand hotel.
What was Gstaad Palace like when you were growing up and how has the hotel changed since it first opened in 1913?
Growing up in a hotel is one of the greatest things you can offer a kid. Our hotel is closed in autumn and spring, so during those months I’d have the biggest playground I could wish for. We’d use old mattresses to build castles and jump from the balcony onto them. I was lucky to meet stars like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor too. I went hot air ballooning with Peter Sellers and I met Elizabeth Taylor many times. She always wore a really big fur coat and when she hugged me the fur would go up my nose so I had to be careful not to sneeze. In those days the stars were out and about more and less chased by the paparazzi. Now we have more moguls and people from the banking industries stay here, although celebrities do still make an appearance.
When they built the hotel, they did a marvellous job outside. It’s beautiful, it’s an icon and a castle. But the inside was built in a more simple way and was less glamorous. For this reason, the interiors are all new while we continue to respect the hotel’s tradition and keep its mountain feel. When we first opened we had 160 rooms and now we have 95. In those days, not all the rooms in a luxury hotel had their own bathrooms but now each room has to be en suite and right now at Gstaad Palace we’re building new suites with two separate bathrooms. People’s expectations change and we need to move with the times.
What makes Gstaad Palace and this part of Switzerland so unique?
In my opinion Gstaad is the most picturesque mountain village in Switzerland. Building has always been controlled in the way that every chalet must be built in the traditional Swiss style and they can’t be more than three stories high. This makes Gstaad especially picturesque. The hotel is then one of the last five-star, family-run properties in Switzerland. We have the oldest nightclub in Switzerland and we have a fondue and raclette restaurant that’s built in an old bunker where, during the second world war, one of the oldest gold reserves in Switzerland was hidden – people book three months in advance to eat here and the entrance is an old vault door. Someone once said the hotel is like a rock in the sea; it stands there, times change and time moves faster but the palace remains the palace. People in the fast changing world often appreciate places where time seems to stand still a little.
Another thing that makes the hotel special is the staff. Our maître d’ just went into retirement after 44 years, our former head chef retired after 42 years and our night porter left after 38 years. People like to feel at home and see the same faces. Sometimes I see guests who have been coming to stay for many years return for Christmas and walk in to hug the lady at reception then hug the barman and give him a present before being hugged by the maître d’.
When did you first get involved in the hotel business?
My father involved me when I was about 14 years old. In the mountains we’d have 10-week summer holidays so children could help their families on the farms, so in that time I’d help out at the hotel. I started by smashing the blocks of ice and doing the inventory in the wine cellar. My father would tell me to whistle when I went down to the cellar so he knew I wasn’t tasting any of the wine. Later on I went to hotel management school and worked at the Savoy in London. I was 27 when my father asked me to go back to work with him there.
What do you think is the biggest impact you’ve personally had on the hotel since becoming general manager?
I built the spa, which was the biggest building project in the history of the palace, costing $20m. Throughout the generations, we have each had our own ideas but kept the tradition of the hotel the same. As we’re open in winter and summer, we use the rest of the year to continually renovate rooms. Every low season we do five to 10 rooms and our next project is to look at the restaurants. The hotel’s development is a never ending story.
What do we have to look forward to at Gstaad Palace?
This year’s Christmas celebrations and the New Year party, which will have a circus theme, are going to be great and Gstaad hosts a number of winter festivals. We have also just launched a new helicopter in the mountains excursion enabling you to fly around the Matterhorn, stop on the mountain opposite to take in the views and visit a rustic mountain cabin to dine on good food.
To find out more about Gstaad Palace, go over to palace.ch.