Published 15 January 2012 News Review 964th article
Geraldine Lynton-Edwards on the balcony of the Gstaad Palace hotel. (Arnold Crust)
If I weren't British through and through, I'd move to Switzerland. Not for tax reasons but because it's so well run and beautiful. I first went there from war-ravaged Britain in 1946. I reeled in awe at the view of Lake Lucerne from the Palace Luzern hotel. A few years later I made the first movie I was paid to direct, Swiss Holiday, for the Swiss government and Thomas Cook.
Last Christmas and new year Geraldine and I were at the Gstaad Palace hotel. There's nowhere better. It's a grand (but friendly) old-style edifice with a vast lounge. The view of snow-covered mountains through the picture windows is staggering. Absurdly, the log fire is never lit during the day, often not in the evening either. Is the owner-manager, Andrea Schertz, saving on logs? My bill for 12 nights was 47,900 Swiss francs (£34,963 at 1.37 Swiss francs to the pound, the rate I got at Marks & Spencer), so he must be making a bob or two.
His restaurant is totally fantastic. A six-piece string orchestra plays at dinner. It's like another era. I've never had so many historic meals, all provided by the chef Peter Wyss. I ate tagliolini with truffles, chicken curry, scampi with sweet and sour sauce, fondue bourguignonne, crepes suzette and more.
The only let-down was the bread and croissants. Terrible. Bought from a local baker. They should change at once.
The dining room is superbly managed by Gildo Bocchini, who's been there 42 years. The No 2 head waiter is a tall Swiss-German called Franco. Does a good job but talks too much. Bounces around like a holiday camp host.
As Geraldine and I got up to leave one night he said: "I'm so pleased you're going. I've needed this table for half an hour." That's terrible hospitality. Were I of a nervous disposition, I'd eat every meal terrified I was depriving Franco of a table.
The No 3 head waiter, Alessio Parentini, is quiet, efficient, with a wonderful sense of humour.
If the Palace's elegant dining room were transported to London, it would be my favourite place. The suites are Swiss rustic, the views beyond belief: mountains with pine trees, the village of Gstaad, snow covering all.
The other great hotel in Gstaad, the Olden, built in 1899, is owned by my new best friend, the Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone, a wonderfully quiet, modest, witty man, who cares for it immaculately. We had two lunches together in the panelled dining room, a favourite spot for Gstaad's glitterati. The food is superb.
Another memorable meal was from a stand in the village's main street. I sat on a bench in the hot sun looking at the snowy mountains and ate the best hot dog ever. Wonderful sausage, warm, crispy baguette, tomato ketchup.
A very good restaurant was recommended to me by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. Gstaad is packed with famous names, all fighting not to be in this column. I totally understand. It's a miracle they speak to me. If it were known that they associated with me, they'd be barred from right-thinking society. The recommended restaurant was the picturesque Grand Chalet hotel. Tell you about it later. Now I need a rest.
In the lounge of the Palace I met my old friend Roman Polanski, who has a chalet in Gstaad. In 1965 a marvellous Polish wheeler-dealer film producer, Gene Gutowski, brought to London a young man from Poland: Roman. I got him his first two English-language movies by introducing him to two small-time film distributors, Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger, who took a chance with Repulsion and Cul-de-sac.
"Tenser suggested a catchline for Repulsion," Roman told me: "See Repulsion, feel revulsion." It wasn't used.
For Christmas Geraldine gave me a drinking straw with a small Santa Claus on it. When you sucked in liquid, Santa was illuminated by flashing red lights, the tune Jingle Bells played and Santa intoned: "Ho-ho-ho. I wish you a merry Christmas and happy new year."
During lunch at the Olden with Bernie and his stunning lady friend, Fabiana, I sucked up some water. Lights flashed; Santa performed. But he wouldn't stop. We blew out through the straw. Santa carried on. Geraldine hid him under her handbag on the banquette. Santa and the music could still be heard.
Eventually she gave it to a waiter, saying: "Please take him out."
When we picked him up in the cloakroom, Santa had stopped. Will he ever start again?
From Frances Arthy in Hertfordshire: Hymie and Becky were on holiday in Devon. A balloon trip was available for £300. Hymie said: "It's too much."
Finally the pilot said: "I'll take you both up for nothing, on the condition you don't utter a sound when we're up."
They went for an amazing ride. When the balloon landed, the pilot said to Hymie: "I did everything, spinning, oscillating, you never said a word."
"True," said Hymie. "Even when Becky fell out I kept quiet."
In the photo at Downtown, Geraldine and Arrigo Cipriani looked a happy and devoted couple. It's a pity it was ruined by a dishevelled old geriatric on walkabout from the local nursing home. He clearly joined the photo uninvited. I've seen the same bloke pulling funny faces at TV cameras during outside broadcasts. He should be locked up!
Ian McDougle, Buckinghamshire
If that was your hand on Arrigo's shoulder, it appears your arm has grown 2ft longer.
Nick Jones, La Drome, France
Geraldine is so elegant and you are so scruffy. You must have something that attracted the lovely lady, but it isn't apparent. Please tell us the unique selling point that bowled the lady over.
Dennis Pallis, Kent
My new year's resolution is to be nice to people, so for one last time you looked dreadful in that pose with the perfectly turned out Arrigo. I shall not write again unless to compliment you. So don't hold your breath.
Geoff Tabor, Hampshire
Having detected the smaller size of your table at the Wolseley, perhaps you should think about measuring for your own jackets. Your tailor doesn't seem up to it.
James Munro, Aneres, France
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