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Celebrities flock to the Alps for New Year


Despite the global financial crisis, champagne corks will be popping across Switzerland's exclusive mountain resorts on Wednesday night.

Princes, presidents and Phil Collins will be seeing in 2009 up in the Alps, although typical Swiss secrecy means tourism offices are giving little away.

It is known, however, that the family of French President Nicolas Sarkozy will be turning up in the southern canton of Valais.

“The Sarkozys have booked into Crans-Montana,” confirmed Urs Zenhäusern, head of Valais tourism, although he wouldn’t say whether that included former model and now First French Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

Klosters is the usual choice for the British royal family – and was where Prince William and Kate Middleton went their separate pistes in 2007 (before getting back together) – but William is expected to spend the New Year in Crans-Montana this year. Also, former Bond Roger Moore has a house there.

Zenhäusern points out that Valais has always been popular with A-list celebrities because snow is guaranteed.

Champéry, whose first hotel opened in 1857, will welcome Liam Gallagher, singer of Oasis, a British rock band popular in the 1990s. Gallagher might bump into Stéphane Lambiel, Switzerland’s former ice-skating world champion, or Inès de la Fressange, former muse of Karl Lagerfeld.

Nearby Verbier is more popular with the Brits. Actor Hugh Grant, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson and pop singer James “You’re Beautiful” Blunt will all be raising a glass there.

Peter Brabeck, head of Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, will be heading to Riederalp, a small traffic-free village.

What crisis?

Over in St Moritz in far eastern Switzerland discretion is the name of the game, but the exclusive resort is known to be a favourite haunt of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the Monaco royal family and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was seen doing a spot of cross-country skiing there last year.

Hollywood stars John Travolta and Robert de Niro are also fans of St Moritz, but Engadin tourism is naming no names. It did say, however, that the resort’s five five-star hotels are all rubbing their hands.

The tourism office in Gstaad was similarly shtum, although fireworks and lavish balls are on the cards in the resort’s top hotels, which in New Years gone by have been host to stars including Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Nicholson, Julie Andrews and Switzerland’s very own Ursula Andress.

Gstaad is also popular with film director Roman Polanski, playboy and one-time Mr Brigitte Bardot Gunter Sachs and Johnny Hallyday, a French rock star whose fame inside France is matched only by his lack of it abroad.

Hallyday, born Jean-Philippe Smet, set up home in Gstaad in 2008 for tax reasons, joining Ernesto Bertarelli, the richest Swiss national and head of the Alinghi racing syndicate, and Formula One president Bernie Ecclestone.

“We haven’t noticed the financial crisis at all,” said Roger Seifritz, head of Gstaad tourism, pointing out that bookings in the resort were high and guests continued to order expensive food. “Belt tightening doesn’t appear to be on the menu.”

Seifritz admits however that fewer banks and insurance companies have booked seminars, workshops or meetings this year.

“For image reasons they can no longer afford to stay in Gstaad,” he said.

Mamma mia

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

The good news this year is that revellers will get an extra second to celebrate: along with the economy the Earth itself is slowing down, requiring timekeepers to add one second to their atomic clocks to keep in sync with the planet’s slightly slowing rotation.

An international consortium of timekeepers announced earlier in the month that the extra second will be tacked on to the end of 2008 on December 31. In Switzerland the clock will run 00:59:59, 00:59:60, 01:00:00, 01:00:01.

Happy New Year!

swissinfo with agencies

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
Nana Mouskouri (singer) – SFr100-200 million

(Source: Bilanz magazine)

No aerial tramway goes higher in Switzerland than the one that ascends to the Klein Matterhorn at 3,820m. The funicular connecting the city of Locarno with the Madonna del Sasso church is the lowest – only climbing to 346m.

The biggest gondola is the double decker cabin in the southeastern resort of Samnaun. It has room for 180 passengers.

The longest staircase in the world runs alongside the funicular of the Niesen in the Bernese Alps. It has 1,642 steps. The staircase is used for emergencies and by maintenance crews.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR