January 16 2011
“Ever since we moved from London to Geneva six years ago, we have gone to the same weekend winter retreat, in a tiny village above Gstaad in the Bernese Oberland. It’s only an hour from home by car or train, which is the optimum distance.
This is real farming country, where the only noise you hear is cowbells. The property used to be a woodworker’s house, and has been completely renovated. It is wonderfully quiet, rural and remote. The local motto is “Come up, slow down” – it suits me perfectly.
In addition to visiting our offices in Paris and Geneva, and our châteaux in Bordeaux, I spend a lot of time flying around the world promoting our wines. Last year, I clocked up even more air miles because we were celebrating the 75th anniversary of our acquisition of Haut-Brion. Consequently, I want my weekend to be a total antidote to work and travel. It’s all about switching off and spending precious time with my wife, Julie, and three children – Charlotte, Alexander and Frederik.
At this time of year, Gstaad and the surrounding countryside are stunningly beautiful. The mountains offer a different pace and perspective, which enables me to cut myself off from the TV, telephone and work e-mails. Although the children always bring their computers, I never go near one. Fortunately, you can’t get the papers delivered up here – not that I’d want them.
My wife is an early bird, but if I can, I like to sleep in on Saturday mornings and wake up naturally. Around 9.30, we have a Continental breakfast, with pastries from the local bakery and fresh milk from the neighbouring farm, looking out onto snow-covered slopes.
Exercise and fresh air are essential parts of my weekend. We love skiing but, being surrounded by the mountains, we no longer feel the pressure to get out on the runs at the earliest opportunity. The children are pretty independent, but we often ski together and maybe meet up with friends, either by design or chance. Quite a few of them have children the same age as ours. Once we’ve worked up a healthy appetite, we often have lunch at the Berghaus Eggli Restaurant, with its incredible views.
In the afternoon, the children carry on skiing with their friends, but Julie and I prefer a long walk. The Swiss are very good at keeping the paths open throughout the year and there are plenty to choose between. A couple of years ago, I did the New York Marathon and would train up here at the weekend. Now, I don’t need a map to guide me any more.
Later in the afternoon, we might go into Gstaad to do some shopping and have a hot chocolate at Charly’s Tea Room. Most likely, though, we’ll reconvene at home to play cards or backgammon before going out for dinner en famille or with friends.
We are spoilt for choice, with several first-class restaurants close by. One of my favourites is in Hotel Wildhorn in Lauenen, partly because of the local music and traditional singing. In Gstaad we might go to the Sonnenhof, Hotel Olden or La Bagatelle at Le Grand Chalet, which has an exceptional wine list.
If the food demands a white wine, I ask the sommelier to recommend a really excellent Swiss producer. But if we are having red, I tend to pick bordeaux. Our wines are very present in Gstaad, but rarely would I drink one of our own. I prefer to discover other people’s.
Unless we go tobogganing, Sunday morning is usually taken up with another walk. We’ll stop for a simple lunch of local ham and cheese at a mountain restaurant, or take a picnic with us and continue walking into the afternoon.
On Sunday evenings, it’s invariably a longer drive back to Geneva. Often, we like to have a pizza at the Arc en Ciel in Gstaad. Then we make our way home, arriving no later than 9pm. We soon fall into bed, physically tired and completely refreshed.”