Superstars, Princesses and a Pink Panther
Leaving Gstaad always tugs at the heartstrings. But it’s not all bad. After all, the pain of leaving is soon replaced with excitement at the thought of returning sometime soon. To the unique blend of rural charm and chic sophistication that has been attracting people from all corners of the world to this little village in Saanen for generations.
Grace Kelly, who went on to become Princess Grace of Monaco, and Sophia Loren used to love visiting Gstaad, whilst Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Audrey Hepburn, Roger Moore and Peter Sellers were regulars. Some celebrities have even moved a huge part of their life to Gstaad. Take Julie Andrews, for example, who said it was «love at first sight» when she visited in 1968 with her husband Blake Edwards. The Gstaad Palace Hotel has proudly overlooked the village since 1913. Majestic in bright white with four stunning towers, it looks like a fairy-tale castle straight out of a Disney film. Michael Jackson, who was invited to visit Gstaad by Elizabeth Taylor, was so taken with the Palace that he tried to buy it on the spot. Of course, the family that owns the hotel didn’t take him up on his offer, putting their guests’ needs first as always. «We have incredibly close ties to the hotel. I honestly think of it as a living creature. It’s as though it has a soul,» muses Andrea Scherz, who has been running the hotel since 2001 as a representative of the family’s third generation. He believes this may come down to the sheer volume of remarkable people that have stayed there. «We learn something from each of them, so they always leave a little piece of themselves behind in the hotel.»
The Scherz name has had strong ties to Gstaad since 1938, when Andrea’s grandfather, Ernst Scherz, signed his contract as Manager of the Palace. Little did he know that challenging times were just around the corner for him and the hotel. The German armed forces invaded Poland in September 1939, initiating global conflict on an unprecedented scale. But the First World War hadn’t broken the Palace’s spell, and the Second World War wasn’t going to either. Ernst and his wife Silvia managed to navigate the ship through the rough seas. During these difficult times, the hotel was used as lodgings for around 150 detained soldiers and officers from France. The Swiss National Bank built the space now occupied by the restaurant La Fromagerie into a store for gold and insurance documents. In the 1960s, Gstaad started to attract global superstars. The Palace welcomed the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Charles Aznavour, Maurice Chevalier and Louis Armstrong through its doors.
When the legendary US trumpeter and singer agreed to perform at the hotel, it set the owners back CHF 40,000, an eye-watering sum at the time. But the guests were treated to an unforgettable show and the Scherz family ended up taking enough money to make it a worthwhile investment. And the audience that evening was just as dazzling as the star on the stage. Prince Karim Aga Khan, Henry Ford and David Niven were just some of the famous faces enjoying the music. Scores of photos line the hotel corridors, telling stories from the village and hotel’s past. Plenty of films provide an insight into the location too, including Blake Edwards’ hilarious comedy ‘The Return of the Pink Panther’, starring Peter Sellers as the inept Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the role he was best known for. Andrea Scherz, who was six at the time, remembers being absolutely fascinated. «In a scene filmed at the swimming pool, Peter Sellers had to watch an attractive lady and then fall into the water in perfect sync with her, whilst making the whole thing seem unintentional. That was no mean feat, so it took three attempts to get it just as the director wanted it. And so Sellers had to take off his wet suit and get completely dry before getting dressed and restyled again – twice,» remembers Scherz. As a little boy, he was over the moon about being allowed to sit on the cameraman’s shoulders.
And yet Gstaad isn’t just a hotspot for artists and royals. Sport is high on the agenda too, with tennis taking centre stage. The international tournament that was first held in 1915 on the courts next to the Palace is now a popular event on the ATP Tour calendar. Roger Federer won the trophy in 2004, but the tournament means the most to another sportsman: Roy Emerson. The Australian tennis player, the only man to have won titles at all four Grand Slam events in the same year, triumphed at the Swiss Open in 1960, 1961, 1966, 1967 and 1969. The tennis arena with a capacity of 4,500 that is constructed every summer is even named after him. The annual Roy Emerson Tennis Weeks demonstrate the tennis legend’s close ties to Gstaad and give many a tennis fan the chance to pick up tips and tricks from the winner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles. Top athletes, film stars and music legends have always come to the Palace to party.
The legendary GreenGo nightclub opened its doors for the first time in 1970 and it still has the same decor and unique charm as it did back then. It’s no wonder that it’s such a popular spot for colourful characters to primp, preen and spread their wings. Quite literally, as Andrea Scherz knows only too well: «We have genuinely had guests bring their parrots to the club and check them in at the cloakroom before heading off to the bar for a drink. On two occasions in the past, GreenGo staff even had to look after big cats. We’ve had one pet cheetah and one lynx that the owner would take for a walk on a leash.»
Words Alex Kuehn
Photos Gstaad Palace
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