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Jet set comes down to earth in Gstaad

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The idea seemed simple enough: get a member of Gstaad’s jet set to hang out for a day with one of the resort’s farmers and compare lifestyles.

This content was published on August 31, 2003 - 11:48

But as I set off with a former model to visit a retired stuntman and his celebrity cow, I should have known it wasn’t going to be an ordinary day in the Alps.

The tourist office had been more than happy to oblige and there I was on my way to Ruedi Wehren’s alpine farm.

Ruedi was, they implied, the perfect choice since he was used to being in the spotlight.

As a young ski instructor he performed stunts in a James Bond film. He also spoke English.

Ruedi was to make cheese, prepare a farmer’s brunch and at the end we were to sooth our weary bones in an open-air bath filled with water and whey. The kind of bath Cleopatra was apparently fond of taking – as the tourist office touted (see ‘in brief’).

It sounded inviting and Sally Wheatcroft - former model and full-time member of Gstaad’s jet set - was game.

Unfortunately, nobody had gone over the plan with Ruedi.

Brisk hike

The day finally arrived and we reached Ruedi’s farm after a brisk hike from the cable car station.

I had called Sally the day before to remind her to bring along her swimsuit. She need not have bothered.

When Ruedi saw us approach, his expression quickly changed from standard alpine stoic to downright threatening.

He was expecting us, but let us know we had come at a rather inconvenient moment.

He had his chores to take care of, and none of them involved making cheese, preparing us brunch let alone a bath. He told us he had agreed nothing of the sort with the tourist office.

He could spare five minutes for an interview. No more.

Unlikely farmhands

As I was preparing to cut my losses, Sally took the bull by the horns and volunteered the pair of us as Ruedi’s farmhands.

And that’s when things took a turn for the better.

The “lady of leisure”, as Sally calls herself, and I were to help Ruedi unload a trailer full of hay bales, carry them to one of his barns where we would stack them.

After a bumpy ride down to the valley in the back of Ruedi’s manure-splattered truck, we climbed on top of a haystack and started loading them up.

“I was expecting a whey bath and this is a new twist,” Sally said laughing. “I’m a lady of leisure. I don’t work at all. I do a lot of sports and have an active social life.

“I’m now unloading a truck of hay for the first time in my life!”

“They are bales of straw,” interjected Ruedi. No smile yet, but his expression was definitely tilting back - reassuringly - to stoic.

High spirits

Sally remained in high spirits, despite the scratches, swollen fingers and other souvenirs of our morning spent as farm hands.

“I’m a country girl at heart. You can be real and grounded here in Gstaad, because the jet set life, in a nut shell, is not that interesting,” she confided.

“It’s much more interesting to be out in nature, and with people who work for a living.”

Ruedi returned the favour by inviting us back up to his farm for lunch and agreeing to the interview.

And no, he had no qualms about asking a beautiful wealthy woman to help with the chores.

Honest day’s work

“A lot of really rich people are just like us,” he explained. “They worked hard for their money, so they know what it means to do an honest day’s work.”

Ruedi then introduced us to his livestock: 21 cows and a small herd of pure white goats.

Among the cattle was Juliette, a one-and-a-half-ton bovine beauty. She recently made the headlines when she was awarded as a PR gag to Swiss tennis star Roger Federer at the Swiss Open (see related item).

Sally fell in love with Juliette and all of Ruedi’s large brown and white Simmental cattle, accidentally stepping in some fresh cow dung as she moved between them.

“It’s just some of the local flavour!” she said.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Gstaad

Key facts

Gstaad has a reputation as a resort for the rich and famous.
It is the best known of the ten alpine villages making up the Gstaad-Saanenland tourist region.
Around 90 per cent of the population live directly or indirectly from tourism.
However, agriculture is still important to the region, which counts around 90 alpine farms and 7,000 cows.

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In brief

The numerous alpine farms in the region figure highly in Gstaad’s marketing.

The tourist office promotes the fact that cheese is still made the traditional way on these farms.

It has opened a cheese trail which links several alpine farms, including Ruedi Wehren’s (see main text).

Some of the farms, like Wehren’s, serve refreshments (milk straight from the cow!) and sell cheese.

The chance to take a “whey bath” in an open-air wooden tub (“like Cleopatra”) is the latest marketing gimmick, yet, as swissinfo discovered, not all of the farmers offer such services even though they are touted as doing so by the tourist office.

Hikers should be reminded that the farms they come across are working farms, and not museums.

If you want to have a peek inside a building, knock first and remember, even if you are invited in, you are entering someone’s home.

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