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Celebrities flock to Swiss solitude

A security guard outside Roman Polanski's Gstaad chalet

A security guard outside Roman Polanski's Gstaad chalet

(Keystone)

The country’s image abroad might have been as battered as a schnitzel in 2009, but Switzerland is still the glitziest place to see in – and be seen in – the New Year.

Despite the financial crisis, champagne corks continue to pop in exclusive resorts such as St Moritz and Gstaad, which are teeming with royalty, billionaires and chalet-bound film directors.

Indeed political leaders who wouldn’t have given Switzerland the time of day earlier in the year, when the alpine nation was caught up in banking secrecy and minaret-banning scandals, have been spotted enjoying Swiss hospitality.

German chancellor Angela Merkel spent Christmas in Pontresina in far eastern Switzerland, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy and wife Carla prefer Crans-Montana.

St Moritz is known to be a favourite haunt of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, but Engadin tourism is naming no names.

Discretion is the name of the game in Switzerland, where tourism secrecy is matched only by banking secrecy. As head of Zermatt tourism Daniel Luggen helpfully points out, “often you only find out later who was where”.

Minders over Matterhorn

Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn, is also very popular with the rich and famous. The British Royal family are regulars, especially Prince William and Sarah, Duchess of York, and the Italian Agnelli dynasty, founders of Fiat.

Canadian rock singer Bryan Adams is also expected this year.

Visitors to Zermatt could find themselves sharing a ski lift with musician Phil Collins, who has lived in Switzerland for more than 15 years, or Anni-Frid, Princess Reuss von Plauen – also known as the dark-haired one from Abba – a Zermatt resident.

French actor Alain Delon is a regular at the Grand Hôtel du Golf in Crans-Montana, while Verbier plays host to James “You’re Beautiful” Blunt and Sir Richard “Virgin” Branson, who owns a massive chalet there.

Chalet arrest

Admittedly one jetsetter spending Christmas and the New Year in an exclusive Swiss resort had no choice in the matter.

Earlier in December Roman Polanksi traded jail near Zurich for house arrest at his SFr1.6-million ($1.55 million) chalet in Gstaad after posting bail of SFr4.5 million.

The 76-year-old film director will remain there until officials decide whether to extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for sentencing in a case of the rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

But as Sunday tabloid SonntagsBlick pointed out, just because he can’t go to the world, doesn’t mean the world can’t come to him. Devoting a double-page spread to Polanski’s New Year options, the paper printed an aerial shot of Gstaad, pinpointing all his rich neighbours’ chalets.

Everybody needs good ones

Switzerland’s own Ursula Andress is an ankle bracelet’s throw away, with biotech billionaire and Alinghi owner Ernesto Bertarelli just round the corner.

But Polanski might find he has more in common with Prince Vittorio Emanuele, who spends every New Year in his Gstaad chalet when not facing charges of criminal association, corruption and exploitation of prostitution. The 72-year-old son of Italy’s last king was arrested in 2006 and held for a month. A trial on these charges was set to begin earlier this December.

Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin – who has also spent more time than he would have liked in courtrooms following his alleged involvement in the Clearstream scandal – was recently snapped going for a jog.

Other Gstaad residents include playboy and one-time Mr Brigitte Bardot, Gunter Sachs, fashion designer Valentino, Formula One president Bernie Ecclestone and actor Sir Roger Moore.

But one Gstaad resident who this year will have to forgo a fondue is legendary French rocker Jean-Philippe Smet. Smet, better known as Johnny Hallyday, is recovering in Los Angeles from surgery to repair botched surgery following colon cancer.

Happy New Year!

Thomas Stephens, swissinfo.ch

In brief

Switzerland's rich foreigners include:

Bernie Ecclestone (Formula 1) - SFr5-6 billion
Michael Schumacher (former F1 driver) – SFr800-900 million
Shania Twain (Canadian singer/songwriter) – SFr400-500 million
Phil Collins (singer/songwriter) – SFr200-300 million
Anni-Frid (Frida) Reuss (singer with Abba) – SFr200-300 million
Tina Turner (singer) – SFr200-300 million
Nana Mouskouri (singer) – SFr100-200 million

(Source: Bilanz magazine, 2008 figures)

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