The two pinnacle hotels in the luxury ski resort of Gstaad
The Alpina and the Palace are both exceptional in every way, yet also polar opposites
Their difference in age is expressed both physically and philosophically in their concept of luxury
Despite being geographically close, their differences are an apt metaphor for the entire world of luxury
Even if you’re not a skier you’ll have heard of Gstaad. It’s usually spoken of in the same breath as St. Mortiz and Aspen when it comes to exclusive winter resorts and with good reason; in season, the slopes are second-to-none. It’s no surprise then that there is also a fair few luxury hotels in the village. Of the five however (not including the Ermitage in the next village) there are two that stand out.
Both the Alpina and the Palace overlook the entire village with just a few metres of road between them. Yet while they may be as close geographically as any two hotels are likely to be, there’s a gulf between their approaches to luxury. Both are spectacular, but they couldn’t be any more different.
The Gstaad Palace is an institution. The fairytale castle overlooking Gstaad has been there since 1913, close to the start of Gstaad’s ascension to international stardom. It’s easy to tell that age too as it doesn’t seem like it’s changed with the decades.
You can all but see the ballgowns of divas in bygone eras sweeping through the lobby, the glitz, glamour and old-school moustaches of old money. It’s pretty much the same crowd nowadays too, albeit with a few exceptionally-monied members of newer generations.
Whether the palace has aged well depends on what you want from it. It’s not stylish, that’s for sure but nor is it ostentatious in a Ritz / Dorchester kind of way. It has a kind of faded glory that’s turned to comfortable as the years rolled by. The same families have been going for years and will continue to for years more.
he only allusion to modernity the hotel is making in fact is turning a few of its single rooms into doubles. The fact that they even still use singles says quite a bit about the hotel, but it’s a start.
It might seem that I’m down on the Palace but that’s not the case. That feeling of old grandeur gives it a kind of gravitas that money can’t buy, a second home for the aristocracy that lives up to its position overlooking Gstaad.
Just a 30 second drive up the hill and you reach the Alpina, the complete antithesis of the Palace. The lobby is accessed via underground entrance cut into the mountain; the walls are bedecked with contemporary art and the hotel’s open, intricately-designed common spaces are flawlessly modern.
The overall look is of chalet chic done on an unlimited budget, a look that would be just as at home in St. Moritz. One of the newest hotels in Gstaad, it’s just a few years old and it shows. The Alpina ticks every box for a modern luxury hotel, right down to an automatic fireplace and three televisions in each room. It feels new and over the top but accessible – the definition of new money.
It’s not a case of which one is better, the Palace or the Alpina. Of the two I prefer the Alpina, but that’s simply because my family doesn’t own half of the Cotswolds. It all comes down to what you want from Gstaad and, in a wider sense, your own definition of luxury.
It’s a pretty apt metaphor for luxury as a whole, the gulf between the old-school, traditional definition of luxury and the contemporary, Instagram-heavy approach. When it comes down to it, both positions offer the same thing with the same kind of values. The way they go about it however makes all the difference. Luxury isn’t just luxury; it’s your luxury.
Words by: Sam Kessler