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Paper napkins - in an establishment like this?

Published 24 February 2008
News Review
762nd article



I wish to apologise unreservedly. I'd even pay damages, but as I'm Pounds 6m in debt you'll have to wait. The reason is that this week you're denied the usual photograph of me. Instead I offer Geraldine. I hope it doesn't go to her head.

I was told by a Sunday Times executive that at a gathering of people organised to give their editors the public's view, one man said I should be shot and a lady asked for a colour photo of me every week. The lady's adorable. The man was right.

I took Geraldine's photo on the balcony of our suite at the Gstaad Palace hotel.

The more I go to Switzerland, the more I like it. I drove around a great deal. At no time did we see even one tiny piece of litter. Everything was orderly. The views were spectacular.

One of the greatest movie speeches ever was spoken by my friend Orson Welles. He told me he wrote it himself. It's from my favourite film, The Third Man. As the villainously charming Harry Lime he said: "In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed -they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock." When you consider the chaotic vandalism of life in England, peace and a cuckoo clock seem pretty good.

The Gstaad Palace is marvellous, because, like the country, it's in another era.

An orchestra of two violinists, a double bassist, a clarinettist and a xylophone player offer Viennese waltzes at dinner and then wander through the lounge, where there's an enormous log fire and spectacular views of the snow-clad mountains. If you go in summer they're flower-filled. On Wednesdays Julie Andrews skips through them singing The Hills Are Alive. I know that was Austria, but the mountains look the same.

The lounge is like an Agatha Christie set. We discovered one guest slumped dead on a leather sofa every morning. Hercule Poirot finally revealed the xylophone player did it.

The food under Peter Wyss, the chef, is not over-fussed, plate decorated into extinction, or achieving anything other than simple quality. The restaurant manager, Gildo Bocchini, is as good as they come. I had great pea soup with truffles, fresh langoustine with rice, fusilli with tomato and basil, marvellous wild peach sorbet, superb petits fours and much more. The suites are tasteful.

They don't yell, "Isn't our interior designer chic beyond belief." The view over the village to the mountains is historic. Although I found it odd that the excellently framed prints were of English hunting scenes. Surely the Swiss have their own period prints. Instead they offer TV in the bathroom.

It's also the only hotel I know where the sitting room is so cold you need a St Bernard dog with a flask of brandy. A gasp for help produced a hideous, white electric radiator. It was disappointing to get plastic spoons for sugar and cinnamon. Plastic shouldn't figure in a hotel of this quality. And why hand out tacky paper napkins in the lounge with the food service? Nor do I welcome sugar wrapped in paper. I was not put on earth to unwrap sugar. The concierge greatly failed to impress me when he got a taxi from Schranz, a local, inept operator, who took us to a local restaurant and failed to turn up, as asked, to bring us back.

The Gstaad Palace was built in 1913. Since 1947 it's been owned and run by the Scherz family. Andrea Scherz Jr is the general manager. He's come on well. He used to be invisible and rather nervous. Now he's a first-rate host.

I've said before, and probably will again, that whereas it used to be that the idiot of the family went into the church, now the idiot goes into public relations. The exception is Tanya Rose of Mason Rose, who represents great hotels, including the Palace. She's witty, lovely and efficient. No, she didn't get me a discount.

Tanya asked me to mention the spa, on which the Scherz family had spent 77 billion euros. Or possibly less. I'm not a spa person, but I toured it and it looks great.

Particularly the swimming pool and an exterior hot tub with steam pouring off it as guests sit amid snow and ice.

I read British people are emigrating by the thousand to New Zealand. If I went I'd choose Switzerland. Not to save tax. For the calm and beauty of it. Sorry, Orson, but things have changed a bit since The Third Man in 1949.



Michael's missives

Bay gum, Mike, ye didn't t'expect reet good fodder oop north? Just leave us t'pie 'n' peas wi a bit o' tripe ont'side and bugger off back t'yer fancy southern muck.
Deb Atkinson, Southport, Lancashire

Does "Barbadossing" (February 10) mean sleeping rough with an inflatable Barbie doll? Keep up the good work. There's nothing like the hubris of parading your money and grinding the faces of the peasantry in the dirt. Just how deep are the pockets of your shroud?
Ian Orlebar, Devonshire

Your bill (revealed last week) from Soho Sandwich of Pounds 1,055.15 for snack-catering eight people works out at Pounds 131.89 per person. I hope they used butter and not margarine and also gave you the binoculars that they used to see you coming.
Bob Mitchell, Yorkshire

Here's a British Airways joke. A man checked in to BA with three bags. "Can I send this one to Paris, this one to Rome and this one to Barbados?" he asked. "We can't do that," replied the check-in person. "Why not?" said the man. "You did it last time."
Jeremy Fox, London

You must have had a "senior moment" last Sunday when mentioning BA and price fixing. Surely your new best friends at Virgin are also having to repay customers!
Nigel Galloway, West Sussex

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