The Ferrari GTC4Lusso is a four-seater, all-wheel drive statesman that can still shred just about anything from the traffic lights. Adam Hay-Nicholls drives it through the Swiss Alps.
I’m perched at the cosy bar of Gstaad’s Hotel Olden, absorbing the heat from the log fire, having just fired a Ferrari from the middle of Italy deep into the Swiss Alps. Fittingly, this place is owned by Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One’s diminutive tsar emeritus. In a respectful nod to the landlord I order a restorative; something short, bitter and overpriced.
Gstaad has long lured high society to live and play. It has the musky scent of the tax-dodging 1970s actor or crooner, though in recent decades they’ve been outnumbered by the oligarchs, adding extra glitz to what was an effortlessly glamorous winter destination. Nevertheless, Julie Andrews, who has resided here for 50 years, still calls it “the last paradise in a crazy world”. Despite the abundance of Louis Vuitton and Hermès stores and scarcity of, say, greengrocers, the wealth is kept discretely from view behind the thick walls of traditional chalets and farmhouses and the soundtrack is that of cowbells more than rap music. By all means order methuselahs of fizz, but if you want to spray them at your friends go to St Moritz.
The Ferrari GTC4Lusso is a suitable car, therefore, in which to swagger into town. It’s a Ferrari, so people know you’re rich and used to the limelight, but it’s dressed down as if to say ‘I’m not signing autographs today’. Whereas the two-seat mid-engined Ferrari flashes its décolletage for the paparazzi, the front-engined 2+2 says ‘I’m with the family and please don’t take pictures’. As well as four seats, it’s got all-wheel-drive which helps to keep its 681 horsepower from catapulting you off an icy road. And it’s the only Ferrari with a ski-hatch.
It is a true Grand Tourer therefore, thoroughly at home along Switzerland’s Grand Tour; a 1,000-mile route winding its way throughout the land-locked country, past 22 lakes, 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and five epic alpine passes.
Four hours after leaving Ferrari’s Maranello HQ I emerge from the Great Saint Bernard Tunnel and immediately start to take notice of the speedo. I’m probably naïve in thinking this, but I’ve stretched the legs of many a prancing horse on its native roads under the assumption the Carabinieri would agree that’s cool. In Switzerland, a country where motor racing is banned, speeding is not cool. Famously, in some cantons, they’ll fine you according to your income. I heard of one Ferrari driver who was billed 200 grand for doing 80mph through a village. Whatever the reality of my writing fees, to the eye of the rozzers this car has a payday bullseye on it. In taking the most winding thread of snow-lined tarmac towards the Bernese Oberland, though, it would be pretty daft to find the limits of the GTC4Lusso’s abilities, so I set the traction to Ice and relax into the sleepy burble of this easily awoken V12.
Its four-wheel-steering makes the trip almost telepathic. This system was first seen on the blistering F12tdf and has been adapted for this car, aiding agility so you don’t need to saw at the wheel through switchback mountain roads. The immeasurably clever four-wheel-drive, first created for the FF from a blank sheet of paper and using not one but two gearboxes to keep the profile of the car as low as possible, has been further refined for the GTC4Lusso. It’s only the V12 which packs this system, not the turbocharged V8 model, so the former is the pick for white-out missions like this.
My twinkling destination is easily identified by the quad-turreted Palace Hotel which rises above the town like a Disney castle. Michael Jackson once offered to buy the Palace, but was turned down. It served as the backdrop to 1975’s The Return of the Pink Panther, Inspector Clouseau making an exhibition of himself in its legendary GreenGo nightspot. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, they all visited. Madonna and Valentino are regular guests at its New Year’s Eve party. I’ve stayed before too but, sadly, the very narrow season in Gstaad means it’s closed for my visit on this occasion. So, too, is the upstart newcomer opposite, The Alpina, which is reached through a long underground tunnel reminiscent of a Bond lair, and is packed with Tracy Emin neons and Richard Hambleton installations. Starting at £670-per-night, it’s slightly more expensive than The Palace and attracts a younger crowd. But it’s not as contemporary or as expensive as where I’m staying.
Despite the boutique Ultima Gstaad looking decidedly ordinary from the outside – a large and unadorned chalet on the roadside at the edge of town – inside it’s big on luxury and not on understatement. It’s as though a modern mega-yacht designer went to work on an 18th century galleon. The lobby’s centrepiece is a massive crystal chandelier and a glass grand piano decorated by Alec Monopoly (one of two in the world; the other is owned by Alicia Keys). The bar and restaurant will feel homely to the Monte Carlo set. The menu satisfies a Cipriani palate. My £1,000-a-night suite is cosier, with wood-panelling and reindeer skins on emperor-size beds, sultry lighting, a ‘faux’ fire (it uses steam and lights), David LaChapelle and Gérald Rancinan prints, and a terrace long enough for championship bowling.
The hotel’s most impressive boast is its swimming pool which looks like a nightclub, with the water oscillating between emerald and navy, and big chrome spheres floating on top reflecting the Saharan black marble and abundant orchids. There’s also a huge outdoor Jacuzzi. Somewhat alarming to the untrained eye, although not, perhaps, the regular Gstaad demographic, its spa has an en-suite plastic surgery clinic.
The Ultima also has a complimentary Mercedes- Maybach at guests’ disposal, but I’ll rely on the Ferrari. A ten-minute stroll from the shopping, Ultima’s advantage is it’s the closest hotel to the cable cars and, with the GTC4Lusso’s ski hatch and cavernous 800-litre boot you can take the whole family direct to the lifts with no need to rely on hotel transport.
Gstaad isn’t terribly high but it does have a lot of slopes – 135 miles of them, to be precise. And if, like me, you enjoy narrow forest routes that are just the right gradient to go flat-out all the way to the bottom, this place rewards.
There are also some institutions here that keep the flame of old money alive. Visiting the Gstaad Yacht Club is something I’d longed to tick off the list. As incongruous as it sounds, it was established beside the Grand Bellevue hotel as a yacht club without a boat or drop of water in sight. Among a long list of the great and the good, it was a favourite haunt of jet-set hero Roger Moore.
The Yacht Club is slightly easier to get into than the Eagle Ski Club, a restaurant set high upon the private Wasserngrat mountain. Membership is £25,000-per-annum and there’s a three-year waiting list that you have to be invited to join. Most members are King-this and Prince-that. Of course, Sir Rog was a permanent fixture and now it’s the court of his son, restauranteur Geoffrey, who’s far more posh than his father ever was.
That’s probably because he attended the Institut Le Rosey, the £100,000-a-year boarding school which has a winter campus in Gstaad. Among the Rothschild, Metternich, Borghese, Radziwill and Rockerfeller-heavy alumni are Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Jr of post-punk band The Strokes. Gstaad isn’t a terribly rock n’ roll crucible, I venture. It’s about as far as you can get from the needle-piled doorways of New York’s Lower East Side.
The £230,430 GTC4Lusso is the opposite of The Strokes. It wears aristocratic status on its sleeve but, under the skin, it’s a guitar-shredder. Put it in Race mode and unleash the 12 cylinders. Sure, it’s clothed in Italian couture and has a healthy rather than heroin-thin silhouette, but it’ll trash your hotel room Who-style and chuck the Bentley Continental GT – its closest competitor – six stories into the swimming pool below.
The looks are not to everyone’s taste. Personally, I love it. I love the quirkiness of the shape. I love that it’s unusual and individual and built to be more than just very fast. It has the romance that a lot of Ferraris have lost this century due to the cars being sculpted by science geeks rather than artists. It’s a shooting brake in the old coach-built sense, though totally forward-looking; an estate supercar. People call it ‘the breadvan’ like it’s an insult. As any petrolhead will tell you, the Ferrari 250GT SWB ‘Breadvan’, a one-off 250GT-based fastback from 1962, is one of the most valuable cars ever made.
I leave Gstaad to join Route 11 of Switzerland’s Grand Tour, a picturesque cruise towards the capital, Bern. The Ferrari takes just 3.4 seconds to hit 62mph. On the few bits of road that have a clear view more than 30 metres ahead, I nail the throttle and pass traffic in an instant. The inside of this car is as big a step forward in styling over its predecessor as the exterior tweaks. Outside, it looks more aggressive. Inside, it’s elegant and refined. The ten-inch integrated central screen is the most attractive of any Fezza’s infotainment systems and the processor runs eight-times faster than the FFs.
I skim ravines and wind the windows down to take a lungful of Scots pine. After an hour, Lake Thun heaves into view and I follow the lakeside road around from Spiez to Interlaken. The breathtaking landscape of the Alps is appreciated all the more by the panoramic glass roof, a £11,500 option best enjoyed from the rear seats, which beat the Bentley on leg-room. After a coffee stop in Interlaken, I take to the north shore of the cobalt-coloured lake, letting the V12 wail through tunnels and hug the rugged slopes that line the Seestrasse.
The lakeside chalets and Oberland houses grow denser as I reach Bern, surely one of the prettiest capitals in Europe. Albert Einstein developed his Theory of Relativity while living here, and I can picture him zipping through the picturesque landscape in the Ferrari sporting that famous, manic grin. That’s certainly the look I was sporting for my duration at the wheel.