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Gilded Chalet

Hemingway’s Swiss getaway

DP discovers a hidden gem, the understated Gstaad hotel where the author penned A Farewell to Arms.

Before the 1960s, when Gstaad, Switzerland, became a playground for the international jet set, enticing the likes of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Valentino, and more European royals than worth mentioning, it was just a simple mountain town in the Alps.

But it was also the summer writing residence for Ernest Hemingway, who settled into the town—along with his second wife (of four), Vogue correspondent Pauline Pfeiffer—to work on one of his most serious oeuvres, A Farewell to Arms. Published in 1929, the novel tells the story of the love affair between Frederic Henry, an American soldier fighting on the Italian front, and Catherine Barkley, his English nurse.

Hadley left her luggage unattended on the train while she nipped back to the platform to buy water. On her return, the suitcase containing all Hemingway’s recent work was gone. 

Hemingway’s sojourn in Gstaad came a few years after one of the worst setbacks in his career. In 1922, the writer had asked his first wife, Hadley Richardson, to meet him in Lausanne. She had packed up all his recent writing—both the originals and their carbon copies—to bring to him and show to Lincoln Steffens, one of the most renowned investigative journalists of the day (whom Hemingway greatly admired and had recently met).

Richardson boarded a train at Gare de Lyon but left her luggage—including the small overnight bag that contained her husband’s papers—unattended while she nipped back to the platform to buy a bottle of water. On her return the suitcase was gone.

It is said that this incident influenced Hemingway’s spare style as he was forced to rewrite all his previous work.

Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson.
Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, supported him financially—but lost all of his early work when her luggage was stolen from a train at Gare de Lyon in 1922.
Ernest Hemingway and second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer
By the time he penned A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway was married to heiress and Vogue correspondent Pauline Pfeiffer (his second of four wives).

Spare a thought for Hadley—who supported her husband with her trust fund and bore him a son—on that long train journey to meet the Man of Letters himself. Hemingway writes about the incident in A Moveable Feast:

“I had never seen anyone hurt by a thing other than death or unbearable suffering except Hadley when she told me about the things being gone. She had cried and cried and could not tell me.

“I told her that no matter what the dreadful thing was that had happened nothing could be that bad, and whatever it was, it was all right and not to worry. We could work it out. Then, finally, she told me.

“I was sure she could not have brought the carbons too and I hired someone to cover for me on my newspaper job. I was making good money then at journalism, and took the train for Paris.

“It was true alright and I remember what I did in the night after I let myself into the flat and found it was true.”

Daisy Prince and her two sons outside Posthotel Rössli in Gstaad, Switzerland
Daisy Prince with her two sons outside Posthotel Rössli in Gstaad, Switzerland, where Hemingway worked on the novel. Photo courtesy of Daisy Prince

Hemingway’s base in Gstaad as he worked on A Farewell to Arms was the Posthotel Rössli. The town’s oldest hotel, it opened in 1845 and has been run and owned by the Widmer family for four generations.

Rooms are snug and traditional. Ours had a balcony with a view of mountaintops surrounded by triangular Alpine roofs. While most have thick red or gold carpeting, a few have been updated with blond wood walls and floors. By and large, with their big wooden armoires and simple wooden desks, they certainly look and feel as though Hemingway could have been tapping away there on his 1926 Underwood. Comfortable double beds, bathrooms simply appointed but with tons of hot water, and plentiful shelves and cupboards for ski equipment complete a cozy, friendly, and (affordable) spot.

The Rössli is extremely well run and its restaurant known by those who live in Gstaad (as well as those who travel in by private jet) as one of best in town. Waitresses wear traditional dirndls and remember your name if you eat there more than once. The cheese fondue and fondue Chinoise (where you cook pieces of meat, shrimp, or vegetables in a steaming broth before dipping them in sauces) are some of the best I’ve ever eaten.

 

Photo of Ernest Hemingway displayed in the lobby at Posthotel Rössli, Gstaad, Switzerland
This photo of Hemingway displayed in the lobby is the only reference to the writer’s connection to the Rössli. A gift from his son Patrick, an inscription at the bottom reads: “To the Post Hotel where my father spent happy days!” Photo by Daisy Prince
Cover of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway’s classic novel of love during war time ensured his place as a writer of considerable stature and became his first best seller.

The proprietors were a little puzzled by my avid interest in their famous literary guest and his presence is largely absent. Most of the walls are covered with black and white photos of daring ski jumpers or 1970s mountain climbers—except for one picture in the lobby. Given by Hemingway’s son Patrick, it depicts the author wearing a thick Harris Tweed suit looking straight at the camera, his hands jammed in his pockets and his gaze daring you to disagree with him. A description underneath reads, “To the Post Hotel where my father spent happy days!”

Having had a wonderful time at the Rössli myself, I can certainly say the same thing.

Posthotel Rössli, Promenade 10, 3780 Gstaad, Switzerland; +41 (0)33 748 42 42; info@posthotelroessli.ch

Hero photo of Ernest Hemingway skiing in Gstaad, Switzerland, in 1927.

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