Swellboy on… Gstaad

Conducting an unscientific experiment into cigar smoking

Image: Brijesh Patel

I was beginning to worry that I would miss out on my annual non-skiing trip, but as luck had it an urgent assignment recently took me to Gstaad, where the last of the season’s snow was beginning to melt under a warm and cheering sun.

I was keen to visit Gstaad, and not just because it is a nice place possessed of an exemplary family-run palace hotel, the spectacular terrace of the Eagle Club and the hibernal locus classicus of the greatest living Greek, Taki Theodoracopulos. I also wanted to go because, as a low-altitude station d’hiver, it might be better suited to my chief winter sport, which involves wrapping up warmly in a heavy Afghan goatskin parka from Séraphin, sheltering my eyes behind a pair of Meyrowitz sunglasses and sitting outside with a cigar and a good book.

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Given that I usually indulge in this sport on top of the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel, I have found that while I can read at high altitude (Stefan Zweig is particularly well suited to the Austrian mountains), I have a problem with smoking cigars; they burn all right, but seem curiously leached of flavour and richness. This was explained to me by Edward Sahakian, the oracular owner of Davidoff, as being a function of the thinner, drier air at great heights – and, sure enough, the difference in altitude between the top of the Hahnenkamm and the terrace of the Gstaad Palace resulted in a corresponding improvement in the level of flavour.

However, it still has some way to go before it matches the rich and nuanced flavours delivered by cigars that are enjoyed on the Castro family’s charming, warm, humid and sea-level island retreat. Would it be too much to ask for a small ski slope on the Malecón in Havana?

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