Considered a part of the Bernese Oberland, the Saanenland is rich enough to be a region in its own right. Central Gstaad offers a unique and authentic Swiss holiday experience, with quirky shops and restaurants to suit all tastes. Its many luxury chalets remain popular with A-List celebrities.Surrounding Gstaad are nine other villages, such as Schonried, Zweisimmen, Saanen, and Saanenmoser, which prove to be continually popular as winter sports destinations, particularly with skiers. In the summer, however, the Saanenland offers a wealth of exploratory and sporting diversity.Priding itself on being a haven of wellbeing, the Saanenland offers a taste of idyllic nature, whilst remaining one of Switzerland’s chicest locations.
The Saanenland is based in the convergence of five valleys. Streams, lakes, forests, and verdant slopes therefore provide a 360 degree backdrop to your stay here. The isolated and little-known Lauenensee, for example, is a bubble of peace and tranquillity, with pathways around the lake shores that lead up to a waterfall that crashes between jutting rocks on its way down the mountainside. In the winter, the lake freezes over, and there is every chance you may be the first to leave your footprints in the snow. Gstaad is perhaps what makes the Saanenland so well-known and so deserving of its own individual place as a region in our overview of Switzerland. The traffic-free main promenade is lined with perfectly maintained, authentic Swiss chalets, complete with dark wood peaked roofs, shuttered windows, and balconies. These chalets contain intriguing boutique shops and some of Gstaad’s 100 restaurants, which serve anything from Swiss raclette to gourmet, refined cuisine.In the landscape around Gstaad, lie a huge range of summer sports opportunities. More than 300km of hiking paths take you up and around the mountains and deep into the valleys. Mountain-biking, paragliding, and golf also remain continually popular with seasonal guests. Schonried hosts a famous toboggan run, while exhilarating downhill scooter rides can be enjoyed from Wispile to Gstaad or Sparenmoos to Zweisimmen. On the River Saane, you can wrestle the torrent on a raft or in a canoe.Schonried, on the so-called ‘sun terrace’ above Gstaad, is one neighbouring village that is of particular interest. Schonried is an excellent starting point for many hikes or long walks, due to its sublime scenery and many cableways and high-altitude railways. The picture-postcard village of Zweisimmen is known as the Gateway to the Saanenland. Most notably, however, it is an important station on the iconic route of the GoldenPass Line, and the railway line that links the Bernese Oberland to Montreux. You may wish to visit Zweisimmen for the Rinderberg cable car, which takes you up to one of the largest ski areas in the Saanenland in winter, and up to an intricate network of walking routes in the summer. Various themed trails take you through the different elements of the local culture, such as around the authentic farmhouses with their carved murals, or high up in the mountaintops.There are ten villages in total in the Saanenland, each of which is charming in its own right. Should you have time, we would not discourage visiting as many of these as possible to admire the scenery from multiple angles.Festivals and culture in the SaanenlandA lesser-known highlight of the area’s winter sports opportunities is the Zweisimmen Snow Games in January, featuring a waterslide through the Rinderberg water, ski-cross races, downhill mountain biking, and freestyle parkour. February and March in Gstaad are made all the more enchanting by the Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad, a small classical music festival. The summer sees two large tennis tournaments come to Gstaad: the J. Safra Sarasin Swiss Open Gstaad, and the Ladies Championship Gstaad. The Davidoff Saveurs Gstaad celebrates authentic local cuisine and wine in July. For more traditional celebrations, attend the Suufsunntig, an Alpine festival from July to August hosted on the nearby mountains. Also in the summer, from July to September, is the Gstaad Menuhin Festival, which honours the violinist and conductor after which it was named, with numerous performances of haunting classical music. The Hublot Polo Gold Cup Gstaad in August sees jockeys from all over the world racing Arab horses. Something a little different can be enjoyed at the Country Night Gstaad in September. Across the border into the canton of Vaud is Chateau-d’Oex, which hosts the International Balloon Festival, the most important balloon event in the Alps.Gastronomy in the SaanenlandAs in much of Switzerland, cheese plays an integral part in the local gastronomy of Saanenland. In Chateau-d’Oex and Rougemont, be sure to try the Etivaz cheese, which is made in the cauldrons of Alpine huts. In a quaint gourmet restaurant in Gstaad or on the lush rolling pastures of Schonried, try the fondue or raclette in the environment in which it was intended to be eaten. Local farms, particularly dairy farms, offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner service, with the opportunity to try some of their homemade produce and watch as the cheese is made.Travel arrangementsDue to the excellent rail service available in Switzerland, we always recommend navigating your tour, while in the country, by rail. Trains are known for being punctual and comfortable, and offer an excellent way of viewing the sublime scenery as you pass. Many of the most picturesque villages and towns in Switzerland are also traffic-free, or have complex, winding roads as their only access-point by car; yet, you will find they almost unfailingly have a rail station. Many iconic rail journeys allow travel from the UK direct through France into Switzerland, which we have always found adds a new dimension to your trip; however, flights from the UK into Geneva or Zurich are also regular, providing a quicker alternative for those who would like to spend their entire trip in Switzerland. From the Saanenland, you are well-placed to journey on to Lake Geneva, the Bernese Oberland, Bern, Valais, or even south into Italy or west into France.
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