109 and still going strong
Onwards and upwards –
the Gstaad Palace through the ages
We have a couple of courageous pioneers to thank for the Gstaad Palace as it stands in front of us today. It all became possible when a railway line was established between Montreux and Zweisimmen – with a sizeable detour via the farming hamlet of Gstaad. A visionary village teacher then built Gstaad's very first luxury hotel, with help from investors in Lausanne. Our Gstaad Palace opened its doors in 1913, and has withstood wind and weather ever since. It's been quite a roller-coaster ride for this gem of Swiss hotel history, a gem which has been owned by the Scherz family since 1947.
The story of the Gstaad Palace makes for an exciting read. Guests from all over the world flocked to Gstaad when the Palace opened, but the First World War put an end to the boom. After the war came the golden twenties and thirties. With new tennis courts, a pool and many other amenities, our establishment was all the rage – until another world war broke out and the Palace had to tighten its belt again.
More than 100 years of Gstaad Palace history are presented here by means of a few selected milestones.
Welcome to our journey through time, with its many ups and a few downs.
The trains arrive
On 20th December, the first passenger train rolls into Gstaad station from Montreux. Six months later, the rail line is open all the way through to Zweisimmen. This gets things moving for tourism in Gstaad.
Visionary village teacher
Local secondary school teacher Robert Steffen (1878 - 1923) recognises the potential for a grand hotel on the Oberbort and acquires the first parcels of land. He obtains a large share of the funds from his future father-in-law.
Investors from Lausanne
Steffen's travels to the Romandie in search of investors sees him acquiring new contacts. As a result, the public holding company "Royal-Hôtel & Winter Palace Gstaad" is founded in Lausanne on 15 December 1911. Steffen confers the acquired land to the company in exchange for an 18 percent shareholding.
2.5-million construction fund
In April, the construction of the Palace Hotel commences. Led by architects Adrien van Dorsser (1866–1957) and Charles-François Bonjour (1870–1961), the project has a budget of 2.5 million Swiss francs, an unusually large investment for the time.
Grand opening in winter
On 8 December 1913, the Palace Hotel opens its doors under the management of Albert Steudler and Hans Pünter. It has 250 beds in 165 rooms, of which 70 are equipped with their own bathroom. With a further 20 shared bathrooms, central heating and an in-house telegrapher, the hotel offers highest standards of convenience.
The first winter season is such a success that in spring 1914 the decision is made to expand the building. A ballroom (today's Salle Baccarat) is added on the ground floor, with the grand opening taking place in autumn 1916.
The visitor numbers drop during World War I. At the same time, the cost of coal for heating rises so sharply that the annual accounts remain in the red throughout the war years. To attract additional visitors, a tennis tournament is held in the summer of 1915. The tournament goes on to become today's Swiss Open Gstaad.
New director Michel
The governing board dismisses the joint directors Steudler and Pünter. Wilhelm Michel (1867–1945), previously employed at Hotel des Bergues in Geneva, takes over management of the hotel at the start of the winter season 1918/19.
Back in the black
An increase in the share capital in 1921 re-balances the budget of the Palace-AG and in 1923 the annual accounts show a profit again for the first time.
The second half of the 1920s are a golden age for the Palace and for the Swiss tourist industry overall. The hotel is often fully booked over Christmas and New Year. Steps are taken to enrich the programme of summer activities, to better utilise capacity throughout the year.
La Piscine is built
An open-air pool (today's «PISCINE») and Gstaad's first golf course are implemented as joint projects between Gstaad’s hoteliers and the tourist association. Both open to the public in 1928. The driving force is Wilhelm Michel, who is president of the tourist association from 1925–31.
The World Economic Depression makes itself felt. Overnight stays at the Gstaad Palace decrease, while the Swiss franc rises sharply against foreign currencies. New facilities are added to attract more visitors. In the winter season of 1934/35, a funicular for sledging enthusiasts, termed "Funi", opens on Wispile mountain.
Loss despite increase in visitor numbers
To cover losses, the share capital of Palace-AG is reduced in 1936, but the situation only improves after the Swiss franc is devalued in September of that year. The effect is immediate – the guests come flocking back.
The Scherz-Bezzola family arrives
Director Wilhelm Michel retires in spring 1939. Ernst and Silvia Scherz-Bezzola start in their new roles in autumn 1938, to allow for a seamless handover.
World War II – including gold bunker
The number of overnight stays drops to half during World War II. Due to the threat of invasion, the Union Bank of Switzerland has a huge strong room constructed under the Palace terrace in 1939/40. In the event that branches closer to the border have to be surrendered, the bank's management will set up base in the Palace. Important papers and gold are transferred to the strong room. Today, the facility is home to La Fromagerie.
The great renaissance
After the war, visitor numbers rise sharply and reach pre-war levels as early as 1947. The central heating system gets a complete overhaul and is switched from coal to oil. This allows the heating costs to be halved in one stroke.
Acquisition by Scherz family
For age-related reasons, long-standing president of the board of directors Joseph Diémand (1876–1952) sells his 45-percent share in the Palace-AG to the infamous speculator Kurt von Jahn, former owner of Schlosshotel Hertenstein in Weggis. In Gstaad there are fears the flagship hotel might close. Village doctor Fritz Kaufmann (1892–1958) supports Ernst Scherz in raising the necessary capital to buy the shares back. Over the following years, Scherz pays off all the investors in order to acquire the shares in full.
Large-scale investment in the hotel
The ballroom gets a new interior and a new name – Chez Maxim’s. Several other investments are made during the first half of the 1950s. The hotel hall, the entrance, the bar and the Grill Room are each renovated in turn.
Menuhin Festival première
On 4 August 1957, the opening event of the Menuhin Festival takes place in the Mauritius Church in Saanen. This re-establishes the tradition of the summer concert series that was held at the Palace from 1942 to 1947 but was discontinued for financial reasons.
Gala dinners with international stars were the highlights of the winter seasons during the 1960s. On 15 February 1964, no other than Marlene Dietrich took to the stage. The list of famous performers is long: From Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Ella Fitzgerald to Maurice Chevalier, from Gilbert Bécaud and Dionne Warwick to Petula Clark.
The second generation takes the helm
Ernst Andrea Scherz starts working at the Palace in 1968 and replaces his father as director in 1969 – together with his first wife Shiwa.
A first-rate indoor pool
The indoor pool with outdoor facilities, a sauna and health centre are realised. Plans are also made for a night club in the same part of the building. The concept states that the club will confirm the Palace's position at the heart of Gstaad’s night-life.
"GreenGo" becomes an evergreen
The GreenGo nightclub opens on 22 January 1971. Despite a number of gentle renovations, the interior design by Teo Jakob has remained the same to this day.
A new family holding
At an extraordinary general meeting of the Palace-AG on 21 January 1974, the company's share capital is re-structured. With reference to Ernst Scherz 's succession planning, voting shares are introduced to strengthen the structure of the Palace-AG as a family-owned company. Ernst Andrea Scherz becomes president of The Leading Hotels of the World alliance.
Iconic restaurant "La Fromagerie"
The former World War II bunker is converted. The legendary bowling alley is dismantled to make room for La Fromagerie, which opens at the start of the winter season 1975/76. On 12 September 1975, "The Return of the Pink Panther" celebrates its première in Gstaad. Starring Peter Sellers, the film was partially shot at the Palace.
New power duo in the kitchen
Long-standing head chefs Henri Jolidon and Otto Schlegel retire in 1977. A new duo, Peter Wyss and Hugo Weibel, takes the helm.
Résidence is completed
All 21 apartments of the Résidence are ready in time for the winter season 1979/80. A ten-year planning phase thus comes to an end. The first project, launched in 1969, had to be shelved in 1972, due to urgent Federal Government resolutions on the economic slowdown.
The Grande Terrasse is extended
Numerous renovations take place in the second half of the 1980s, starting with the extension of La Grande Terrasse and creation of the new conference room Salle Piero in 1986.
From Chez Maxim’s to Salle Baccarat
Improvement works draw to a close in 1990 with a re-designed driveway and extension of the underground car park. The ballroom Chez Maxim’s is renovated and renamed Salle Baccarat. Resplendent with new crystal chandeliers, it is ready for the winter season 1991/92.
Return to the Palace
Andrea Scherz commences work at the Palace in the summer of 1996, initially as Chef de Réception. This marks the start of the third generation's involvement in the business. In the same year, Les Chalets du Palace are completed.
Andrea Scherz takes charge
Andrea Scherz becomes General Manager. At the same time, long-standing director Hansruedi Schaerer retires after 43 years of service. In December 2000, our spectacular Penthouse Suite takes shape, followed by the Tower Suites a year later. Thierry Scherz is co-founder of the annual Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad, which have enriched the winter seasons with concerts ever since.
New spa and new GreenGo
The spa is redesigned and massively extended, with a new 1800 square metre wellness area. Renovation work is also carried out at the GreenGo Club, in particular on the dance floor, which extends to the indoor pool.
District heating project
The Gstaad Palace is connected to the Saanen-Gstaad district heating network. As the biggest consumer, we are a key patron of this project. The hotel and four surrounding buildings have been heated with renewable energy from local wood ever since. In addition, the entire building is fitted with LED lighting.
Walig hut joins the portfolio
The Gstaad Palace acquires an alpine hut on Alp Walig. Built in 1783 and situated at 1700 metres, the hut formerly served as an alpine dairy and accommodation for the cow herders in summer. Following a gentle renovation, it is now a sanctum offering authentic experiences to our guests – complete with starry night skies.
In a project instigated by Andrea Scherz, Gstaad schoolchildren plant new trees in a woodland on the Oberbort that was destroyed by cyclone Lothar in 1999. The reforestation is financed by the Gstaad Palace as part of its 100-year anniversary celebrations. To mark the anniversary, the Palace also publishes the comprehensive book "100 Years Gstaad Palace".
Farewell Thierry Scherz
On 1 July, Thierry Scherz unexpectedly passes away in Vienna. He leaves behind his wife Martina and their twin daughters.
New culinary director
On 1 October, Franz W. Faeh takes over the running of our hotel kitchen, marking the beginning of a new culinary chapter.
Peter Wyss and Hugo Weibel retire
An era comes to a close: After more than 40 years at the Gstaad Palace, Executive Chef Peter Wyss and Chef de Cuisine Hugo Weibel retire in February 2017. Romuald Bour, long-standing Vice-director and Director for two-and-a-half years, and Gildo Bocchini – employed at the Palace for 49 years and first Maître D’ – also pass the torch. Vittorio Di Carlo and Andrea Buschini step up to the plate as new Vice-director and new Maître D’ respectively.
90 rooms and suites
At the Gstaad Palace, we renovate our rooms on average every 10 to 12 years. In recent times, we have also combined an increasing number of rooms. This means we now have 90 rooms and suites which skilfully combine contemporary glamour with alpine cosiness.
Ernst Andrea Scherz passes away
Following a long illness, Senior Director Ernst Andrea Scherz passes away at the age of 81. Under his expert guidance, the Palace prominently affirmed its standing in the top division of the world's leading establishments.
«PISCINE» in renewed splendour
Our outdoor pool is the centre piece of the Palace during summer. Guests and locals have been getting together by the poolside since 1928. So, high time to inject some renewed glamour into «PISCINE» " – a touch of Côte d’Azur with an informal food concept comes to Gstaad.
New chairman of Leading Hotels
Andrea Scherz is made chairman of Leading Hotels of the World (LHW). He follows in the footsteps of his father, who held the position from 1974 to 1989. During that period, the leading consortium of luxury hotels expanded from 90 to more than 220 establishments worldwide. Today the number has risen to 400. The Gstaad Palace has been one of them for over 60 years.
Indoor pool refurbishment
Our indoor pool is rejuvenated once more. High-grade materials lend a timelessly elegant look and the pool now also has its own bar – acting as a bridge between the iconic GreenGo club and the wellness oasis.
The Leading Hotels of the World
The Leading Hotels of the World is the largest collection of independent luxury hotels, with more than 400 properties from the snow-capped Alps of Europe to the African veldt. Leading Hotels carefully curates distinctive hotels, resorts, inns, chalets, villas, and safari camps for adventurous souls.
Just as the Gstaad Palace is a family-led hotel of more than three generations, more than eighty percent of Leading Hotels’ members are family-led, ninety percent are independent, and one hundred percent are luxury properties.