High in the Sky

Caroline Phillips takes to the skies above Gstaad. Up, up and away….

I’ll be jumping off a mountain to
dangle in the air. As if I were in a cable car – but without being in
one. I must be certifiable. I sleep fitfully in a cold sweat of
anticipation – thinking about this, my first paragliding flight. Will I
bump into a bird or electric cable? Who but a lunatic flies with just a
parachute and Swiss instructor for company? Then dawn breaks and the
snow-peaked mountains opposite my bedroom window change hues of blues
obligingly, like an al fresco cinema show.

 

We’re staying in the Walig Hut – the most expensive shack on the planet – near Gstaad, Switzerland.

 

It’s set above Gsteig at 5000 ft, a
place where the Alps rise dramatically and the air is fresh as
Listerine. Originally a 1786 summer home to farmers bringing their
cattle to nearby pastures, it’s 30 chauffeured-Mercedes-minutes from
Gstaad. (Much of it behind cows refusing to do the right thing and just
turn into steaks.)

 

The Walig Hut offers intermittent
solar-powered electricity, an outside latrine and no shower. And it
costs £1150 (CHF 1600) a night for up to two adults and two children,
dinner and drinks included. It’s possibly frequented by women like the
Beast of Wildenstein, men who smoke plump cigars and people who wear
diamond-encrusted boots.

 

It belongs to the Gstaad Palace,
one of the world’s leading hotels. Most of its guests are people up for a
night or meal from the hotel– one-time haunt of Liz Taylor, Roger
Moore, Princess Di and Grace Kelly. But you don’t have to be a Palace
guest to stay in this humble wooden dwelling.

 

And why would we overnight here?
Its real lure is the mountain highs. The views over the Saanenland. The
hikes. A sky that fills with a million stars.

 

Inside, the hut is more Ralph
Lauren than impecunious farmer – with two bedrooms, luxury duvets and
sheepskins strewn over chairs. Plus antique farm implements and red
geraniums on the sills. It’s enough to make anyone don their dirndl.

 

A mountain stream doubles as a
fridge. There’s no Internet, fax or phone reception. We collect mountain
water, stoke the log fire and boil water on a wood-burning stove. But
only because we don’t want our manservant to do it.

 


I’ll be jumping off a mountain to dangle in the air…I must be certifiable.

 

To save on too much reality, the
Palace’s regal touch is bought to the hut. Its charming head waiter,
Mauritzio, personally serves us a three-course meal of smoked hams and
fruit flans. Afterwards, Mauritzio scarpers off and  leaves us in a hut
where the silence is so loud, it rings in our ears. And then I have that
fitful sleep.

 

The real point of even of being in
Switzerland is to go paragliding  with instructor Thomas Rast. So now
we drive down the mountain and up another to where this charming and
enthusiastic man is waiting. Half an hour is all it takes from the
comfort of the hut to the discomfort of the mountain. Am I terrified?
Almost fainting at the prospect of dangling at a height of 500m? Yes.
But all too soon we’re paragliding, floating peacefully above
mountainous beauty.

 

Then descending over chalets
surrounded by dahlias and streets clean enough to eat raclette off.
Enjoying the silence. The sun shines, the trees sway gently below, the
wind whistles gently. It’s unforgettable. And a fabulous first.

 

OK, I won’t do it again. I suffer
from vertigo. But it’s definitely one of those things to do before you
die. As for our accommodation, it fulfils the need for escape and some
may like it hut. But I’m more to the Palace born.

 


www.youtube.com/watch?v=0s3dP1eKDiI

 

Caroline Phillips (www.carolinephillips.net)
is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Sunday Times,
The Times, Observer, Guardian, Independent, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail
and Evening Standard.  Additionally she has been published in a variety
of magazines, from Tatler to Harpers Bazaar and Vanity Fair. She is a
consultant for Globalista – website for the discerning traveller – and
contributing editor of Country & Town House and of Spear’s Spa
Guide. She also co-edits the Spear’s Spa Guide
.

 

www.timetofly.ch CHF 170 for 15 minutes, including insurance. Contact Thomas Rast at info@timetofly.ch.

 

www.palace.ch Lunch
including luxury picnic with bread, cheese, cold cuts, salad, fruits,
desert, coffee, Swiss wine & mineral water from £106 (CHF 150) – per
person (minimum 4 pers). 
Dinner including 3 course menu
(starter, simple main course, desert), coffee, Swiss wine & mineral
water from £178 (CHF 250) – per person (minimum 4 pers). 
Alpine night for 2 adults including a 3 course dinner from £1150 (CHF 1600).

 

For more information visit www.palace.ch or alternatively call +41 (0)33 748 50 00 or email info@palace.chFor more information on Switzerland visit www.myswitzerland.com, call the Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 29, or e-mail info.uk@myswitzerland.com.