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The hills are alive with the sound of me singing praises

Published 20 March 2005
News Review
610th article

Michael Winner with chef Peter Wyss, left, and Gildo Bocchini (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I had a falling out with the owner-managers of the Palace hotel, Gstaad, in Switzerland. I even named Andrea Scherz Senior and Junior "Worst hotel managers outside the UK" in my invaluable book The Winner Guide.

Last June I received a phone call from Tanya Rose, who runs a marketing company. She'd taken on the Palace and wondered if I’d like to return and make peace.

Gracious as ever I agreed to meet the Palace hotel emissary. A very charming man, Pascal Rey, appeared at my house. He assured me the hotel had taken on board many of my criticisms. I duly booked for my recent return.

Before arriving I'd heard Mr Rey was no longer with the Palace. "Did you shoot him for asking me back?" I said to Andrea Scherz Jnr cheerfully as he met me in the lobby on arrival. Mr Scherz assured me Mr Rey left of his own accord.

I was shown to a superb suite on the seventh floor, far better than any I'd seen there before. It had two bathrooms, staggering terraces with views of the snow-clad mountains, a very pleasant sitting room, a well-appointed bedroom and an enormous walk-in clothes closet.

The bathroom offered a television but no cotton buds or cotton wool. There remained, from days of old, a plastic sign on the toilet reading: "These lavatories are regularly disinfected with Swiss Clean ® anti-germ solution." This information was not vital for me to have a pleasant stay.

The dining room of the Palace always served excellent food, prepared by their chef, Peter Wyss. The restaurant manager, Gildo Bocchini, is among the best in the world.

It's a room that takes me back to the 1950s, both regarding the decor and the clientele. Very elegant. A marvellous Russian orchestra, in hussar uniforms, was playing violins and a stringed xylophone. The Merry Widow lived again! When they rested a very good piano-led band took over.

The dining room featured a number of old women, splendidly dressed, eating alone. "Maybe it's a pick-up joint!" suggested Geraldine.

At various meals I consumed mashed charlotte potatoes with olive oil and chives served with clear oscietra caviar and sour cream, grilled turbot, grilled scampi, spaghetti carbonara, brussels sprout soup, liver and many great desserts.

Andrew Scherz Snr even came to greet me at my first dinner. He’d never done that before. It obviously pays to complain.

The Palace has a marvellous, enormous lounge overlooking the mountains, with a huge log fire. It's the perfect setting for an Agatha Christie book. You expect there to be one guest fewer each day. Bumped off by . . . well, probably me! They'd tarted it up a bit. Some of the faded leather sofas and armchairs had been replaced with cloth ones. But it's still a beautiful room. One of my previous criticisms was that they kept letting it out for functions, so hotel guests had nowhere to go. This didn’t happen while I was there this time.

The Palace was built as a kitsch castle in 1911. They still have some problems. More than once the waiter wheeling in the breakfast didn’t bother to say "Good morning". More than once we walked out past the concierge desk and the concierge didn’t smile or say "Good morning".

I remember looking behind the reception desk of the Hilton hotel, Park Lane. Propped up facing the staff, was a large sign saying "Smile". The Scherz's should buy some of those.

But I'm being picky. The Palace is a genuinely grand hotel in the old style. Its qualities massively outweigh the few not-so-goods. It’s also a marvellous summer resort, with a large pool, set by towering mountains, alive with flowers.

You expect to see Julie Andrews skipping towards you with a gang of strange children in tow.

People said to me: "The Palace asked you back because someone's spent millions on the Grand Hotel Bellevue in Gstaad. They're nervous of a competitor." They needn’t be. I visited the Bellevue. Outside was a Mercedes Maybach and a Mercedes S600 both with blackened windows, two stiff Hotel Bellevue flags on each. How tacky can you get? Inside it resembled the 1930s gone wrong. It had none of the dignity or charm of the Palace. And it's right in the middle of town so the views are minimal to non-existent.

I’ll stick with my new best friends, Andrea Scherz Senior and Junior. Junior even said goodbye to me at my last lunch and Senior was in the lobby to see me off.

I’m not sure if that's because he wanted to be sure I was leaving, or as a courteous gesture. Bathed in my new warm glow of affinity, I’ll assume the latter.

Winner's letters

Your description of yourself as a "poor boy from Willesden" fills me with alarm, as I too was born and bred there. Does this make me the equivalent "poor girl"? I take comfort from having moved to the stockbroker belt, while you continue to be familiar with the history and geography of dubious parts of the capital.
Angela Laing, Surrey

Robert Randell is wrong (Winner's Letters, last week) regarding eating peas from a knife. The esteemed Victorian author Agnes Bultitude supplied the definitive answer in her magisterial Manners, Mores and Morals. She wrote: "An awkward froward vegetable, the pea, is most conveniently consumed using the dessert spoon, the use of this implement facilitating the sprinkling of condiments such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Once used the spoon may be returned to its original setting providing it has been licked clean."
Jocelyn Charles, Essex

I can't believe you sent poor old Geraldine to fetch batteries (Winner's Dinners, last week) when your tape recorder packed up. Take a look at the photos. Who needs the exercise!
Paul Trowell, Derbyshire

We dined at the Cliff restaurant in Barbados recently. Before the first course the most dreadful music came from hidden loudspeakers. It was an aromatherapy CD, with a man's voice urging us to "reach out ... stretch ...breathe in ... breathe out ... relax ... aspire to a new lifestyle". I asked a staff member to turn it off. She said: "I can't, it's the owner's personal choice and he's not here." I got my bill and left early. The perfect sound for the Cliff is waves lapping on the beach, not CDs from a downmarket beauty salon in Essex.
Normal Coxall, Weybridge

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk