Holding court on a hilltop in a verdant valley of Bern canton in the southwest of Switzerland, Gstaad Palace—which celebrates its centennial this year—epitomizes the grace and gentility of a bygone era. The turrets and spires of its elegant structure speak of its status as a haven for the rich and famous, a place where aristocrats rub elbows with international jet-setters. Guests have included Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, David Niven and Peter Sellers, who shot a Pink Panther movie here. Today, the five-star facility features a well-equipped Technogym, heated Olympic-sized pool, and indoor and outdoor tennis courts (with coaching by tennis pros such as Grand Slam champion Roy Emerson). With 150-plus miles of slopes at its doorstep in the Bernese Oberland, 3,440-foot-high Gstaad is a mecca for mountain climbers, skiers, bikers, trekkers and the like.
After a few hours spent roughing it in this Alpine arcadia, guests eagerly seek the curative services that await at the The Place’s Spa & Health Club. The 6,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art wellness center boasts eight treatment rooms, saunas, steam baths, a solarium, private spa suite, indoor pool, and an outdoor pool and Jacuzzi that open up to a majestic, mountainous panorama. Indoors, subdued lighting, stone walls, wooden ceilings, plush furniture and a circular stone fireplace encourage guests to cozy up, munch on dried fruit and nuts, sip tea and enjoy some native serenity.
“We take care that the materials (wood, stones) and the products that we use come from the region,” says spa manager Laura Tedino. “This gives our spa a special Swiss atmosphere.” (The spa’s skincare and other product lines are derived from aromatic or medicinal roots, leaves and flowers, all sourced from a remote pasture in the Swiss Alps’ foothills.)
The Palace Spa serves clients of all ages, including hotel guests, locals and residents of Les Chalets du Palace, an adjoining luxury apartment residence. The business’ biggest challenge, according to Tedino, is “the strong Swiss Franc.” Although the euro is widely used, the Swiss franc is still the coin (and paper) of the realm, and Switzerland’s prosperity makes the Alpine nation prohibitively expensive for many tourists. One-third of the Palace’s patrons are Swiss, who are largely able to manage their country’s higher prices, yet the economic downturn has still resulted in guests “becoming more price-sensitive,” admits Tedino. “Our 2012 summer season was weaker than last year’s.” Fortunately, and not surprisingly considering the location, winter bookings are “still healthy,” she adds.
Marketing efforts include everything from extending operating hours to implementing a kids’ program to offering special packages and discounts. Tedino works closely with the sales and marketing departments, which employ all manner of print and online media to spread the word. Says Tedino, “We focus on the main markets—Switzerland is the biggest—and target booming markets in Brazil, Russia, India and China.”