Think of The Alps and you most likely conjure images of white snowy mountains, glacial temperatures and plenty of apres-ski partying. There’s no doubt that in the winter months that’s pretty much how it goes down, but come summertime it’s a completely different, yet just as beautiful scene. From around April the mountains have shed their white coats and are a verdant green, the air is warmer, it’s a little quieter and with sky-high prices gone, holidays are more affordable. Regardless of if you’re a ski aficionado or loathe the site of salopettes, there’s something truly special about experiencing Les Alpes at a time of year when everything is in full bloom. Hip & Healthy contributor, Eva, shares her top destinations for spending summer in the Alps!
Admittedly, I’ve always been more inclined to beach holidays. By June, I’m desperate to lay in the sun with the endless months of grey and drizzle a long-forgotten memory. However, this year I decided to swap sand dunes for mountain tops and was taken aback by how much more there is to do than hit the slopes. Whether you’re in search of a serious sweat, a few days of yoga, a spa pamper break or simply want to while away the hours with a cocktail in hand, I’ve decided the Swiss really know how to do summer entertaining. Peaked your interest? Here are three of the best destinations if you fancy spending your summer in an alpine retreat…
The Alpina Gstaad – For luxury seekers
The Alpina was the first luxury hotel to open in Gstaad for 100 years and sits majestically amongst the Swiss mountains overlooking the the upscale resort town. Don’t be fooled by the chalet-style exterior though, as once inside, it’s a happy marriage of contemporary chic and all out luxe with a thoughtful nod to its Swiss roots. With handpainted wooden doors, quartz mined from alpine crevasses and a private art collection dotted throughout the hotel it was clearly worth the 100-year wait. It’s not often you see work by Tracey Emin below a ceiling which dates back 200 years to the baroque period.
Rooms are huge and spacious but still retain a homely feel with plush furnishings and fresh flowers. It’s hard not to feel at home with your very own electric fireplace, bathtub TV, Nespresso machine and Acqua Di Parma toiletries…
Food-wise, there are three restaurants including the Michelin-starred Sommet and traditional Swiss stübli. If like me, you’re not mad about gourmet food and find cheese fondue a little too heavy at this time of year, try the incredible Japanese food at MEGU.
Despite the hotel being a popular destination in the winter, their Six Senses Spa is ideal for those who want to feel rejuvenated and looked after at any time of year. If you’re serious about working on your wellbeing (and don’t mind skipping wine at dinner), their Integrated Wellness Programme is a must. It’s a personalised package that starts off with an assessment and will provide you with a bespoke schedule of treatments, activities and nutritional advice during your stay.
Those after a less structured experience will still be spoilt for choice at the spa. There are indoor and outdoor pools, multiple jacuzzis, fancy ‘experience’ showers, hammams, a waterbed chillout room that changes colours and my personal favourite, the Himalayan rock salt room. If you manage to make it out of your robe and into some proper clothes, head down to the private cinema complete with a snack bar and popcorn cart…No wonder Quentin Tarantino and Harvey Weinstein are fans of this place!
I’d have happily spent my entire stay at the hotel (mainly the spa) but was glad I peeled myself away to visit the Glacier 3000 peak walk. Not for the faint hearted, it’s a 9800 ft high walkway that connects two mountain peaks with a suspension bridge and is a spectacular day out if you’re visiting the region.
Tip: The outdoor terrace is perfect for an afternoon of reading with a beautiful view of the mountains. Order the homemade turmeric golden latte, which is creamy, gently spiced and ever so slightly sweetened with maple syrup.
Forsthofalm – The Hippy Hideaway
On the other side of the Alps sits Forsthofalm, an Austrian eco-retreat that’s perfect for nature lovers. If ‘eco’ hasn’t pricked your ears, it’s also family run and built entirely from wood, stone and natural materials. No chemicals here! Even the bathroom supplies are wild-crafted from locally sourced ingredients.
The view from my private balcony was a typically Austrian scene of rolling hills, green pastures, hundreds of trees and grazing cattle. Rooms are made with moon wood, which is harvested according to lunar cycles, kind of like biodynamic eggs. The sap in the trees are at its lowest and there’s no use of toxins or kiln drying, creating a lower carbon footprint. What that means for us is a more restful night’s sleep and while I was initially skeptical, I did feel incredibly well rested throughout my stay. That could have also been a combination of the altitude, fresh air and twice daily yoga though! It’s impossible not to breathe deeply with so much greenery around you and the hotel’s laid back vibe makes you feel not only relaxed but clear headed too.
I visited in late June and the weather was perfect, not too hot and I could even get a bit of tanning in at the rooftop pool. Forsthofalm’s Mountain Life programme is a schedule of daily activities that guests can take part in and covers pretty much every level of outdoorsy-ness from hiking to freeriding, cable sliding, and Nordic walking. Mountains bikes can also be rented free of charge. Make sure you pack your lycra because there’s an abundance of fitness and yoga classes complimentary to hotel guests that you’d be silly not to try. You’ll probably also want to spend some time at the gym once you’ve seen it…Along with the saunas, relaxation rooms and the rest of the Sky Spa, it’s all glass with panoramic views of the forest.
80% of the food at the hotel is organic and they consciously cater to vegans and vegetarians too. It was hard not to make multiple trips to the breakfast buffet each morning and a unique touch was the juicing station where I could pick and prepare my own juice from crates of fresh produce. Come night time you can opt out of sitting at a table for a more cosy affair in the barbeque area, which encouraged you to chat to other guests as you huddled around the grill.
I discovered two new loves during my trip to Forsthofalm: Budokon, a martial arts-inspired yoga and ‘komsecco’ the genius combination of kombucha and prosecco, of which I’ll be having a longstanding affair with for the rest of the summer.
Tip: Try out the botanical beauty class with herbalist Claudia Widauer and make your own cream or body oil. Claudia created the spa’s unique mood concept of focusing on guest’s emotional state of mind and tailoring treatments to suit their needs.
Le Grand Bellevue – The Classic One
Le Grand Bellevue is a historic, palatial-looking retreat which stands out amongst the chocolate box town of Gstaad. It’s huge and just as decadent on the inside as it appears from the outside, yet I found the bold and quirky design still holds the cosy charm of a country home.
Their newly relaunched Bamford spa has had a total makeover for the summer season and they clearly had no shortage of ideas for filling the capacious 3000 sq m space. In addition to pine-clad treatment rooms and your usual spa amenities, there’s also an ice fountain, sushi bar for a healthy post-massage snack, hay sauna (don’t worry, I’d never heard of one either) and outdoor Kneipp walk…All looking out onto the wild-flower filled grasslands. If you’re stuck on choosing which treatment to go for, try the legendary goat milk and honey bath which is a soothing, calming ritual with anti-inflammatory properties.
Alarm clocks have no place on my holidays and I’m not a fan of having to wake up at 7am to catch the best of the hotel breakfast, so what’s nice at Grand Bellevue is their decadent Sunday brunches with live music and free-flowing cocktails. There’s also a lovely afternoon tea which is a great excuse to dress up.
I love a healthy balance of fitness activities, pampering and unwinding with a glass of wine in the evenings and luckily, there’s plenty of room for all three. There are garden lawn games of backgammon and croquet, an outdoor gourmet cinema which pairs dishes served with the film on show, nearby tennis courts, golf, lake swimming, mountain top feasts and of course, more hiking. In short, it’s a stunning hotel which thanks to the alpine setting and occasional sound of a cowbell, keeps you feeling grounded. Plus, the bathrooms are flooded with natural light which is a rarity in most hotel rooms!
Tip: If you fancy a late summer getaway, Chantal Soeters is hosting her annual yoga retreat at Grand Bellevue from September 29 – October 2, which focuses on the embodied presence and living in the now.
words by Eva Ramirez – @evieramirez