Genuine hospitality in spectacular surroundings
Gstaad Palace Hotel sits high above Gstaad in the lush Saanenland region. At first glimpse, this spectacular building complete with turrets is reminiscent of Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle commissioned by King Ludwig II near Füssen in Allgäu. Gstaad Palace is, however, some thirty years younger than the magnificent castle in southern Bavaria. This year, the hotel which has long been an institution in the Swiss luxury hotel industry, celebrates its 100th birthday. This anniversary will be celebrated without much fuss, in line with the rather reserved, modest style of Bernese Oberland residents.
Gstaad Palace is undoubtedly one of the most famous five-star hotels in the world. This "refuge of the rich and famous" is also a hotel that offers its guests more than luxury, namely genuine hospitality in very open and friendly surroundings. The history of Gstaad Palace is closely linked with that of the Scherz family, who have run this exquisite hotel since 1938 and have been the owners since 1947.
The vision of a teacher
It was the local secondary school teacher Robert Steffen (1878-1923) who recognised the potential for a grand hotel in the Gstaad Oberbort area. Thanks to funds from his father-in-law, he was able to purchase the first plots in 1905. Together with help from investors from western Switzerland, who Steffen won over to support his vision, the SA et du Royal Hotel et Winter Palace was founded in 1911 in Lausanne. Two architects from Lausanne, Adrianus van Dorsser (1866-1957) and Charles-François Bonjour (1870-1961) were engaged for the project. The duo had already created a name for themselves designing luxury hotels.
Already six phone booths in 1913
Construction of the Gstaad Palace began in 1912. A modern hotel with 250 beds and 165 rooms was built for a very high (for that time) investment of 1.75 million Swiss francs. 70 were rooms were already fitted with a private bathroom when it opened in 1913. There was electrical light throughout the building and pioneering work was carried out with the installation of six phone booths.
Hotel director turns to poultry farming
Difficult times began shortly thereafter. After the First World War, which had driven the hotel into the red, Gstaad Palace experienced a real boom, up until the stock market crash of 1929 that triggered a world economic crisis. Ernst Scherz (1909-1983) became the hotel director in autumn 1938. He and his wife Silvia had previously managed the Carlton Hotel in St. Moritz. No sooner had he started, the Second World War broke out. Ernst Scherz was drafted by the Swiss Army. His wife ran the hotel almost single-handedly while the guest numbers plummeted. Silvia Scherz Bezzola planted a garden and operated a poultry farm to supplement the meagre food rations.
From hotel director to owner
After the war, the majority of shareholders wanted to sell the hotel. In 1947 the hotel fell into the hands of a German speculator, because Ernst Scherz was unable to raise enough money within a short period of time. There was even a chance the hotel would be forced to close. Ernst Scherz succeeded in raising the necessary capital to buy back the shares with the help of the village doctor Fritz Kaufmann (1892-1958). Blessed with a lot of talent and strong will, the Scherz family managed to turn the hotel into a meeting place for celebrities from around the world. Ernst Scherz was not only hotelier with heart and soul, but also a 15-year member of the Bernese parliament for the FDP (Free Democratic Party), and an active promoter of tourism in the entire Bernese Oberland for decades.
VIPs in Gstaad Palace
Gala dinners with international stars were common during the Gstaad Palace winter season in the 1960s. The list of celebrities ranged from Marlene Dietrich, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman, to Maurice Chevalier, Gilbert Becaud, Dionne Warwick and Petula Clark.
Ernst and Silvia Scherz withdrew from the daily business in 1969. They passed the sceptre on to their son Ernst Andrea Scherz. Together with his wife Shiwa, he realised several projects, including an indoor pool, a fitness centre with saunas and massage rooms, the Night Club GreenGo and a new ballroom. In 1980, Gstaad Palace joined the prestigious alliance of "The Leading Hotels of the World".
After attending the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne and completing various internships at home and abroad, Andrea Scherz, representing the third generation of the family business, became Chef de Reception in 1996. Andrea Scherz was appointed General Manager of the hotel on 1 January 2001. Since then, the youthful-looking director has really taken it up a gear. The spectacular Penthouse Suite and Tower Suites were renovated in 2000/2001. Another highlight since 2007 is the spa complex, enlarged to 2 with the unique Hammam Turkish bath.
A tower of strength
"Every thirty years a Scherz is born," quips Andrea Scherz (Scherz means joke in German). The first was his grandfather in 1909. In 1939, his father first saw the light of day, Andrea himself entered the world in 1969 and in 1999 his son and heir Alexandre was born. Andrea Scherz, who also has a daughter, has a lot of faith in his employees – the hotel has around 200 staff in summer and in winter as many as 300. "The hotel has to keep running smoothly, even if I go away for a week," says the 44-year-old general manager, who places great importance in continuity. "I see the Gstaad Palace as a tower of strength. Life is becoming more turbulent and fast paced. Our guests appreciate the peace and quiet we offer. The staff make sure that our guests feel right at home. Too many sudden changes would damage our reputation, " explains Scherz.
Managers as representatives
Andrea Scherz is aware of how important well-trained, long-term employees are for a five-star hotel. He also gladly remains somewhat in the background. Important figureheads include people such as head maître d'hôtel Ermenegildo Bocchini, who has directed the service for 45 years and in that time has served countless VIPs. The restaurant Le Sans Cravat was renamed Gildo's in 2003, in honour of the retired Italian. The likewise remarkable Executive Chef Peter Wyss has directed the 58-member kitchen crew for the past 36 years. "Loyal employees with extensive experience are very important for the premium hotel industry. With an average of 15 years of service, we are well above the average," enthuses Andrea Scherz.
Authenticity as a factor of success
Andrea Scherz often repeats one word: authenticity. He sees this as a key ingredient for the success of his hotel. The Palace crew indeed radiates unaffected hospitality and warmth. The people go about their work very naturally. The food should also be as authentic as possible: "In Saanenland there are still many farmers who operate their farms in tune with nature. We also use as many regional products as possible in our cuisine. Even the flowers in our rooms, which are an important part of our interior design, come from the local region during the summer months," notes Scherz.
Since the Scherz family took over the hotel in 1947, some 90 million Swiss francs have been invested. The 104 rooms, suites and junior suites offer high-quality comfort and luxury. The hotel has five restaurants, two of which are only open during the winter, as well as five conference and banquet rooms.
Clear ownership structure
The Gstaad Palace Hotel has become a legend and is now one of the most famous hotels in Switzerland. But it is also the last five-star hotel in Switzerland which is both family-owned and run with great passion. The ownership structure is clearly defined. 70 percent of the shares belong to the Scherz family, which also includes Andrea's brother Thierry. The remainder is issued to third-party investors.