For people my age, Gstaad has long been associated with the Indian film industry (Bollywood). Switzerland became a destination of choice to set films or just shoot songs many decades ago, and that is why if you were to ask Indians which place overseas they would most want to visit, many would say Switzerland.
Gstaad gets the special privilege of being a part of DDLJ (Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge), one of the most loved, longest-running, and iconic films ever to have been made in India. For those interested, you can especially check out the song Zara Sa Jhoom Loon Main, which was picturized in the town.
For the present generation – the Millennials, if you will – Gstaad is still associated with Bollywood, albeit in a slightly different manner. This is where Timur Ali Khan went for his first ever holiday. Those not in the knowing, he’s the baby of Bollywood royalty Karena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan, and every aspect of his life has been under the media scanner ever since his birth.
Why Gstaad, or for that matter Switzerland, still remains popular with celebrities, you wonder?
It’s not just the natural beauty or the prices that celebs can afford, but rather the fact that the Swiss know the subtle art of minding their own business (if you want to use stronger words, there’s already a book with a similar name that gets the message across).
This attitude of just letting be is even more true for Gstaad, especially during the summer months, when Kareena and I decided to visit – although a year apart and with our respective spouses, just to be clear.
For me, Gstaad provided a sense of nostalgia from the moment I stepped out on the railway platform. The train ride had been through rolling hills and snow-covered mountains with beautiful reflecting lakes in the middle of nowhere.
On arrival, all it took was a sign with the name of the street printed in embossed letters with a blue background to make me forget where I was and bring me back in time.
Bahnhofstrasse, a common street name in Germany, where I had spent four glorious years of my life, was enough to make memories come back pouring into my mind.
On this day, a different kind of memory accompanied me. Often, I would stay back for a few days once my University ended for the semester, and during this time, the campus and the town would be pretty much deserted. Gstaad, on a cloudy late June day, was the same.
The town would fill up momentarily when a tour bus or a train arrived, and hoards of tourists would walk towards the solitary church on the street, followed by the numerous high-end stores that have made Gstaad a preferred destination for the elite. Others, I saw, would while away their time in souvenir shops or have a quick bite – the perfect place to have your first or tenth fondue.
But, an hour or so later, they’d disappear with the same fervor that got them there in the first place.
Gstaad is your quintessential Swiss mountain town with a certain air of luxury to it because of names like LV, Chanel, Prada, and the likes lining the streets. If brands are what get you excited, then you’re spoilt for choice.
If clothes aren’t your thing – no, I don’t mean you become a naturalist, rather, if you’re not too fussy about them – then another kind of luxury awaits at one of the iconic hotels in the region – The Gstaad Palace with its fairytale-like building atop a hill overlooking the town is the place to be and be seen.
Gstaad has a dual personality, it seems. During the summer months, the green hills make for ideal film locations, the town hosts the Swiss Open in July, and the quietness all around is perfect for some introspection, whereas come winter and the snowy slopes attract skiers from around the world, transforming the area into a snowy wonderland.
Another favorite pastime during the summer months and one that is on the healthier side is hiking. There are a number of scenic trails around Gstaad that link it to nearby villages, and this makes the entire region quite popular with hikers and walkers around the time we visited.
However, on this specific day, we had the whole town to ourselves. It’s a somewhat surreal feeling, walking on empty streets, wondering if the staff behind the tinted windows of the stores are watching us go by.
And we did go in style. Our search for activities – there aren’t many for the casual day tourists who don’t want a ride up the mountains – led us to the tourist center, and there we were able to – in exchange for an ID – borrow, free of cost, a wagon for the day.
So we did. Bags and kid inside the wagon, we went from one corner of the town to another, sighting little quirky and artsy installations along the route. Whether it is street names or sculptures, there’s always something interesting around the corner for the keen eye.
Then there were the fountains, who can forget about the fountains, and Gstaad, in fact, has a famous one with Rosie the calf that is a tourist attraction in itself.
If architecture gets you excited, then you will find the classic mountain village wooden architecture of the houses with some decorated in words and drawings quite pleasing to the eye as well.
Our day in Gstaad was relaxing. While we didn’t do much, and the intermittent rain did make us run for cover a little earlier than we had planned, it’s certainly a town that has a romantic charm to it. A place where lovers can get lost in the beauty of the surroundings and each other’s eyes just as they sip on some wine and make plans for years to come. Too cheesy, I think so also, but then it is Switzerland, and cheese is in the air.
Of course, Gstaad has everything that the wealthy and famous would enjoy – peace, quiet, top restaurants, and expensive retail therapy.
The highlight of the day, though, was the train back to Montreux, where we got front-row, driver’s view seats which was a different kind of experience on its own and one I recommend you partake in.
The tagline for Gstaad is “Come Up, Slow Down” and nothing can be more accurate about the place. Gstaad is best enjoyed slowly; lazy strolls, window shopping, divulging in the local cuisine, and of course the fresh mountain air. It’s laid back to the extent that all you want to do is lay on your back and just be.