Travel

The Alpina Gstaad: How This Luxury Swiss Hotel is Embracing Sustainability

By Eva Ramirez
01.10.19

Travel and wellness writer Eva Ramirez visits The Alpina Gstaad in Switzerland, and discovers how the hotel is balancing luxury and sustainability.

 

It’s not often that luxury and sustainability work simultaneously, yet this pairing is entrenched in the philosophy at The Alpina Gstaad in equal measure. Arriving on the scenic Golden Pass railway, I was welcomed by piercingly fresh air and the clanking of cowbells in the distance. This 5-star resort was the first luxury hotel to be built in Gstaad for a century. I’d heard all about its imposing exterior and picture-perfect positioning, offering uncluttered views of mountains and meadowlands, but what really punctuated my visit was the hotel’s firm standpoint on environmental matters. 

Parked at the entrance of the hotel, I spotted a custom-made electric Fiat 500 car which was a gift from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. It is available for complimentary use by guests and is emblazoned with arctic-themed illustrations. Chatting to the concierge about the quirky design, I found out that the exterior changes according to heat levels; polar animals disappear and ice melts; a visual metaphor for the effects of rising temperatures worldwide. 

The Alpina’s commitment to both environmental and social sustainability began during the  construction phases. The hotel was built by 90% local tradesmen, which ensured the huge task provided jobs and income for the community. Its façade is in-keeping with the Simmentaler architectural style that is native to the region and both the exterior and subterranean entry tunnel are lined with hand-chiselled Ringgenberg limestone. The majority of materials, in fact, are locally sourced. The walls and ceilings are clad with centuries-old reclaimed wood including pine from old farmhouses. Upon close inspection I noticed that the wooden beams ranged in colour and texture, some more weathered than others, some bearing insect holes or carvings; beautiful imperfections which added character and told a story of heritage. 

Looking around my room on the 5th floor, the design seemed to celebrate the talents of traditional artisans and natural materials. Repurposed furniture and one-of-a-kind Swiss antiques (which I found out were painstakingly sourced over years) adorned my room. The fireplace was crafted from Turbach stone and framed by wool-upholstered armchairs and for ultimate Alpine chic and cosiness, cashmere blankets, goat hair rugs and pure wool carpets completed the soft furnishings. On either side of my bed sat two beautiful lampshades, their bases masterfully sculpted from Quartz mined from Alpine crevasses. 

The hotel runs on renewable energy from hydro, solar and wood chips and uses reclaimed energy from freezers and refrigerators to heat its pools. The air conditioning is sensor-driven and they’ve replaced plastic water bottles with glass bottles from Whole World Water while donating 10% of proceeds from each bottle sold to the initiative, which helps to provide clean and safe drinking water to rural communities across the world from Kenya to Madagascar. They’re striving towards fully eliminating single-use plastic in hotel rooms, as they currently still offer Acqua di Parma bathroom miniatures. You’ll find zero waste dishes on the menu as well as seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients and during the summer, the onsite beehives provide honey for the hotel too. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the floral arrangements used for events are even given to a local retirement home in Saanen. It’s these little actions which, combined with the larger operations, have a positive local impact and ripple effect on the attitudes of the community. The hotel keeps track of their environmental impact with EarthCheck, a scientifically-backed benchmarking tool designed specifically for the hospitality industry. With this, they analyse their performance and identify any room for improvement.

Gstaad is a notoriously affluent town, and the hotel seems to be leveraging this to inspire the equally influential, international demographic which stay here. “We see ourselves as a platform for innovative ideas and events, stimulating international and local dialogue on sustainability issues,” says General Manager Tim Weiland. The past year has seen the hotel partner with trailblazers to bring these subjects, whether focused on water, food or fashion, to the forefront of guests’ minds. As for plans for the future, Tim tells me they “plan on continuing to create a platform where forward-thinking individuals can come and exchange ideas and solutions on some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues and share these with our guests.” 

Looking for more eco-resorts around the world? See our favourites.

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The Alpina Gstaad: How This Luxury Swiss Hotel is Embracing Sustainability