The Downsides of Europe’s Spring Holidays


As we are now well into spring, two things dominate my calendar — the Easter holidays, when the house fills again with family and an alarming number of children, and late season skiing. However, the older I get (no, dear reader, I will not say how old since age, like one’s wealth, is something that shouldn’t be discussed) the less enthusiasm I can muster for these annual events. 

Let’s start with Easter. Now, don’t get me wrong, as devout members of the Holy Roman Empire, the Esterhazy clan take it all very seriously, even though it can be pretty hard stirring up any real excitement for the holiday. But at least in Europe we get a day or two off, while in the USA it doesn’t even warrant a public holiday (apart from, oddly, craven Wall Street, which each year is closed on Good Friday).

Christmas has all those lusty carols and seasonal “hits.” One can’t fail to notice that no one ever, in the entire history of popular music, has produced an Easter one beyond hymns or requiems. The Christmas canon is endless and still growing — ask an employee of any retail outlet, from Saks Fifth Avenue to Starbucks, and they will attest to that since these days they now hear it from early October through the New Year. The idea of a singer launching an Easter special would be considered completely weird.

Models from Parisian jeweller M. Gerard enjoying drinks on the terrace of The Palace Hotel in Gstaad, Switzerland, 1984.

Models enjoying drinks on the terrace of The Palace Hotel in Gstaad, Switzerland, 1984.

Slim Aarons/ Getty Images

And let’s discuss holiday decor and, of course, fashion too. While every home in Christendom has boxes and boxes of stored seasonal Christmas decorations and, as the song goes, we “deck the halls,” many of us would scratch our heads to identify any Easter specific decorative item that we own apart from perhaps a pastel-colored bunny or chick and, naturally, eggs in colors so increasingly vibrant they now look a danger to the environment. The Generalquartiermeister (aka, the German wife) does insist on creating the traditional Osterbaum, however (look it up).

As to Yuletide fashion — I will admit that no couture house has ever sent a model down the runway in Christmas-themed garb, but it does get an oblique look in. Think of those fabulous sweaters from “Love Actually.” Easter fashion…nada, unless you count the Easter bonnet, which pretty much went out with the girdle and spats. Although, having said that, watching “Easter Parade” in the Esterhazy manse over the holiday weekend we all marveled at the epic wardrobes of Ann Miller and Judy Garland. The scene with Fred Astaire selecting an Easter outfit for Ms. Miller in a New York couture house alone should be required viewing for all those in the fashion business

And who came up with the series of unrelated and hare-brained Easter themes — the peculiar egg obsession mentioned above that really only candy-makers fully appreciate and, of course, the Easter basket brimming over with chocolate? So much chocolate that even the greediest Augustus Gloop of a child eventually succumbs and says, “Please, no more.” 

The subject of chocolate takes me to my next springtime disappointment: skiing. In the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad there is a famous town center café named Charly’s that serves the thickest, richest and costliest hot chocolate drink on earth. I think the cost is based on the calorific content and it requires a second mortgage and, afterward, a two-hour workout with one’s personal trainer to lose the huge number of calories one has consumed by sipping a mere mouthful.

But the hot chocolate at Charly’s is not, by far, the only rich thing that can be found there. Remember, Gstaad, much like its competition for top swanky Swiss stakes Saint Moritz, is not really that great a ski destination. It’s low and often alarmingly brown. Since the new year, it has barely seen a snow flake.

But those who gather at the insanely expensive Palace Hotel and the fearsomely exclusive Eagle Club know that only too well. So they head to Charly’s, where much of the day is like a middle-aged fashion show from the ’60s with lots of women decked head to toe in mink or designer outfits more suited to the streets of Paris.

Of course, the ladies there would rather be dead than seen actually donning a pair of skis, but that doesn’t stop many of them from proudly kitting-up in a Fusalp or Perfect Moment athletic outfit that might imply, “I’ve just come off the piste” or “I am about to hit the slopes.” Mainly, though, it shouts, “Look at my gorgeously expensive and very flattering ski outfit.” And let me pose this fashion question: why do so many people freely elect to wear ski outfits of color combinations (such as orange and brown) that would lead to the fashion police making an arrest on Madison Avenue or Rodeo Drive? It seems the thin mountain air leads to fashion sensory deprivation. 

Gstaad has the same number of permanent residents as the U.S.’ ski destination of choice for the 0.01 percent, Aspen. That number is 7,000 people. But at least in Aspen most people do occasionally venture out onto the snow, even if it is to be nannied by their $1,000-a-day ski instructor. To put that into context, however, Aspen has more than 100 billionaire property owners. Houses frequently sell for more than $70 million and the median price of an Aspen home last year was more than $9 million. 

After the mild shock of those numbers, I’ll give you something to wryly smile about. The motorcar du jour in Gstaad, driven by many a young blond woman delivering her progeny to their personal ski guide, is the old farming workhorse, the classic Land Rover Defender. These chunky, military-grade, hard-to-drive vehicles are omnipresent in Gstaad today. They shout toughness and no-nonsense practicality and, “I can go anywhere I want in these mountains because I am rugged and I am real.”

However, I can guarantee that not one has been used in earnest off-road all season. And to completely undermine the myth, at night they all get parked in spotless sub-basement chalet garages (you can’t park in front of your house in Gstaad, god forbid), with underfloor heating, some even with piped muzak and artwork on the walls. I kid you not.

If they could, I bet these families would happily eat a chocolate egg too — but only if it’s from Fortnam & Mason or Jean-Paul Hevin.



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