Alpine Authenticity Rooted in History
The history of the holiday region of Gstaad is deeply rooted. The local population takes great pride in nurturing its traditions and the Alpine authenticity of the region. This includes the harsh living conditions high up in the mountains as well as traditional crafts and customs.
Saanen and the Crane
The crane (French: la grue), the heraldic animal of the Counts of Greyerz, today adorns the coat-of-arms of the municipality of Saanen, to which Gstaad also belongs. It is one of the most prominent indicators of the region's historical roots, which remain astonishingly vibrant to this day.
Milestones in the history of the Saanenlands
- 11th century: The county of Greyerz is an important dominion, extending from the source of the river Saane at the Sanetsch Pass to the present-day Lac de La Gruyère in the region defined by Broc and La Tour-de-Trême. It also includes the Jauntal valley.
- 1246: The county becomes part of the suzerainty of Peter II of Savoy.
- 1404: The under-age Anton becomes Count of Greyerz. The Savoyards appoint an administrator who is against renewing the agreements governing the rights of the towns. In response, Berne destroys the castles in the Saanenland and in the Pays-d'Enhaut.
- 1407: The territory comes back to the county of Greyerz. The Counts' lavish lifestyle results in financial difficulties. Various areas of land have to be sold off.
- 9th November 1554: The county's bankruptcy is notified at the Confederate hearing in Baden. The creditors share the spoils. The Saanenland and the Pays-d'Enhaut ultimately go to Berne.
History of Tourism
First tourist association in 1906: Travellers described the beauty of the valley as far back as the 18th century. The region has increasingly become a holiday destination in the 19th century. The completion of the Montreux-Oberland railway in 1905 secured Gstaad's link to the outside world. The foundations had been laid for the development of tourism. The region's first tourist associations were founded in Gstaad and Saanen in 1906.
Hotel boom: A decade of hotel-building followed. The Gstaad Palace opened in December 1913, the unmistakeable trademark of Gstaad. In the Golden Twenties, the infrastructure, weakened by the war, improved again. The Kurpark, Kursaal, golf course and tennis courts were built. The first funicular railway in the region opened on the Wispile in 1934. The first chairlift to be operated in summer opened in 1946 with the "Telesiège" on the Wasserngrat.
Growth: 1942 - Oswald von Siebenthal becomes Gstaad's very first Spa Director in the middle of the Second World War. He was followed by a further eight to date. Only four stayed longer than five years. Paul Valentin was one of the 'greats' in Gstaad's development as a tourist resort. He shaped the fortunes of Gstaad for a quarter of a century from 1952 to 1982. Right up to the 1980s, the region's economy was marked by historically unprecedented and uninterrupted growth.
Role model: "Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus" is today the successor organisation of these two tourist associations. Economically, the once-poor mountain valley has succeeded in becoming a tourist attraction of international renown. Gstaad Saanenland Tourismus is the uniting factor in the Gstaad holiday region and is regarded as a role model throughout Switzerland.
Download the brochure 100 Jahre Tourismusverein .
History of the Mountain Railways
The inhabitants of the Saanenland realised early on that being able to transport people up onto the mountains was good business. The first cable car up to the Wispile was built in 1935. Today more than 50 cable cars operate to and from 12 mountains, under the mostly joint management of Bergbahnen Destination Gstaad AG.
- 1907/08: Gstaad's very first winter sports season gets underway.
- 1935: The first "funi", a predecessor to the serial rope way, is built on the Wispile. It is replaced in 1944 by a ski-lift operating along the same route.
- January 1938: Gstaad's local mountain, the Eggli, is accessed by a "funi" for the first time.
- August 1945: Gstaad is convinced that the region has great potential as a future tourist resort and begins building Switzerland's first-ever chairlift.
- April 1946: The first guests travel up to the Wasserngrat on the chairlift.
- 1954: The Saanenland's first gondola is set up on the Eggli.
- Early 1960s: The aerial ropeway to the Glacier 3000 (Les Diablerets Clacier) goes into operation. It is replaced in 2001 by an impressive gondola lift. The futuristic design of the valley and mountain stations is by Swiss celebrity architect Mario Botta.
- 1970s and 1980s: The mountain railways and ski lifts in the region flourish. 20 installations are up and running from Zweisimmen to Gstaad.
- End of March 2004: Retrospectively to 1st May 2003, 12 lifts and cable cars will merge to form Bergbahnen Destination Gstaad AG: Bergbahnen Saanenland-Simmental AG, Eggli Gondelbahn AG, Gstaad-Höhi Wispile AG cable cars, Schönried AG cable car and the Schönried-Horneggli AG lifts and chairlifts. The Chalberhöni Pra Cluen AG chairlift, the Téléphérique Rougemont Videmanette S.A. and the Hühnerspiel GmbH ski lift will follow on 24th May (retrospectively to the end of 2003). To date the BDG is the only mountain railways and cableway company to have inter-regional roots. The company crosses both language and cantonal borders and covers the territory of seven municipalities. Together with the remaining companies Glacier 3000, Wasserngrat and Télé Château-d’Oex, the company operates 62 installations under the GSTAAD MOUNTAIN RIDES label. Gstaad Saanenland Tourist Office is responsible for marketing.
- 2008: The BDG AG sets its course for 2018. After analysing various growth scenarios, the concept of "concentration" has proved to be the most effective one. It plans an investment of some CHF 160 million.
- 13th December 2008: The 4-set chairlifts Chaltebrunne-Saanerslochgrat and Chaltebrunne-Parwengesattel go into operation. It took only seven months from submission of planning approval to the opening of the lifts.
- July 2009: The tariff association "Vereinigung der Bergbahnen von Gstaad und Umgebung VBG" resolved at its Assembly of Delegates to rename itself in future as "Gstaad Mountain Rides GMR".
- 18th December 2010: Inauguration of the new 4-seat chairlift Chalberhoni-Vorderes Eggli. It starts at the same point as the Les Gouilles chairlift and travels to the highest point on the front face of the Eggli.
- 23rd December 2010: Inauguration of the newly built gondola Rougemont-La Videmanette.
Strange and interesting facts
The world of Gstaad's mountain railways and cableways has a number of interesting facts to interest you.
- The first funicular railways in Switzerland were operated in the Saanenland: to make skiing easier, innovative citizens of the municipality introduced funicular railways (so-called 'funi') very early in the 20th century. These sleds-like vehicles with a cable pull system enabled tourists to travel up the mountains to go skiing. There are still two of them in front of the Berghotel Hornberg and the playground in Saanenmöser. Saanen citizens subsequently also constructed this type of transportation system in Grisons (Davos), for example.
- The longest chairlift in Switzerland was constructed in the Bäuert parish of Chalberhöni leading to the Wildenmannegg / Videmanette ski area. The system (to Pra Cluen/ Rouffisvorsaß) was designed by Küpfer of Steffisburg and had a total length of 2,215 m. The new four-seat chairlift was constructed in 2007 for CHF 9.6 million by Garaventa and was even longer than its predecessor. It presumably still holds the record with a length of 2,764 m and a capacity of 1,500 people per hour.
- The first ski hut in Switzerland is also located in the municipality of Saanen in the Bäuert parish of Saanenmöser. The Ski Club of Berne acquired the plot of land in 1899, before constructing a ski hut on it in 1908. This was the first building to be constructed in Switzerland only for this purpose and requirements.
- The first fully electrified railway in Switzerland was operated in the Saanenland. The Montreux-Berner Oberland Bahn (MOB), which is very popular now and runs between Montreux and Zweisimmen, transported the first tourists to the holiday region of Gstaad, thus making a contribution to its upswing at an early stage. Construction reached Gstaad on 20th December 1904 and reached Zweisimmen on 6th July 1905.
- The first cable car in Switzerland that goes round a curve is the Rellerli-Bahn in Schönried. The company Habegger from Thun constructed the system in 1982. It has a total length of 2,065 metres.
- The first three-seat chairlift in Switzerland with hoods was constructed by VonRoll Habegger from Thun in 1984 on the Horneggli in Schonried. It went into operation on 15th December 1984 and was described as a "space seat". The system transported 950 people an hour.
- The first mountain lift tariff association in Switzerland was established in 1944/1945 also in the Saanenland. Various individual mountain lift companies joined the association.
- The most complicated merger of different mountain lift companies in Switzerland was completed with the foundation of Bergbahnen Destination Gstaad AG backdated to the 1st May 2003. 10 independent companies were merged into one. It extends across the territory of two cantons, three administrative districts and seven municipalities and crosses the language border between the German and French-speaking parts of Switzerland.