NOW Curious Traveller Diaries

SWITZERLAND - Gstaad
The Alpina Gstaad

I’m sitting in a converted ice cream van with a young gentleman who is a hybrid between Johnny Depp and Russell Brand. His effervescence is all his own. I’m gripped by a story he is telling me of his time in a refugee camp. Place – Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Bangladesh at the height of the Rohingya refugee crisis. It has achieved notoriety for being the world’s biggest and most densely populated refugee camp. “Tens of thousands a day were entering this camp, and this story scares me to this day”, he said and continued, ”We were deep inside the camp looking for safe areas for the children”. This young gentleman, Swiss entrepreneur Nachson Mimran, was at Kutupalong with the motive to mitigate the kidnapping and selling of children for sex trafficking by building safe zones for children to play in. His vision was to create protected, shaded spaces made with bamboo where an adult would supervise the children who otherwise had nowhere to play, to be children. The most unsettling part for Nach (as he is fondly known) was a young boy’s warning to beware as there were touts present ‘watching’ humanitarians like himself.

Nach had made it to Kutupalong with his ‘Love Army’, a group of like-minded ‘disrupters’ working powerfully in hotspots around the world to disrupt injustice, inequality and climate change. Nach calls his ‘band of warriors’ Creative Activists, who like him are zealous about propagating and implementing, in their own ways, the U.N’s seventeen Sustainable Development Goals to create an inclusive, better and fairer world.

The ice cream van Nach and I were chatting in, sat astride the porch of The Alpina Gstaad in Switzerland. Nachson is the Chairman and the Creative Director of The Alpina Gstaad, an uber posh Swiss resort with all the trappings of luxury that couple with a humanitarian sensibility that has progressiveness, sustainability and inclusivity at its core.

I was at The Alpina Gstaad to attend an event Nach had curated together with his younger brother Arieh named after the U.N’s fourteenth SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) – Life Below Water. The Mimran brothers, together with their philanthropic organization To.org often use The Alpina Gstaad as the ground to bring together Creative Activists from around the world and foster meaningful connections to enable powerful developmental projects where they are most needed. The Alpina Gstaad then, is trail blazingly, taking the swish of Switzerland to the world’s most urgent challenges while bringing the most pressing issues to the movers and shakers of creative developmental work – the Ice Cream Van, unassuming but strikingly juxtaposed with the Teslas of our world, being an unmissable metaphor. It was originally an ice cream van in the 1970s. Then it became an art piece that Richard Hamilton designed and then Lap Elekin, a friend of Nachson’s helped him redesign it into a functional space for creative activism – where the guests at The Alpina Gstaad can walk in and connect with (using Skype on laptops placed on a wooden table in the van) ‘Creative Activists’ working on the ground in To.org enabled projects in myriad countries, predominantly in Africa. The van has ‘sister vans’ in major refugee camps.

Alongside offering a pristinely luxurious experience, The Alpina Gstaad doubles up in heart. In Nachson’s words, “It’s incredible to be able to bring some of our creations [To.org projects] together at The Alpina, Gstaad, and seeing these two organizations although very different, collaborate by hosting individuals from all walks of life that have one common denominator and that’s heart”.

Within The Alpina Gstaad, from recycling their gorgeous flower arrangements by sending them to a home for the elderly to using locally sourced Ringgenberg stone in the building - the detail to sustainability and being locally responsible is at the forefront. The resort’s heart is uncompromising on the best – a 1700 wine bottle collection; an unparalleled spa; Michelin star restaurants; an envious art collection where every painting and sculpture has a powerful story to tell. And its heart is uncompromising on telling the stories that make us uncomfortable so that we are moved to more conscious action.

Alpinastrasse 23, 3780 Gstaad, Switzerland

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About the Traveller

Dr. Priya Virmani

Dr. Priya Virmani Author

Dr. Priya Virmani is an author, a disruptive social entrepreneur, the CEO of luxury travel publication Ame-Luxe, a political and economic analyst, a wellbeing specialist and a passionate advocate for women's issues. A consummate traveler at heart, exploring the world and writing about it, is her passion.

Living Positively

LAUGH

A visit to the play area for children at The Alpina Gstaad, and the vibrant design of the space together with the infectious joy of the supervisor, meant I became a child all over again!

LEARN

The tour of the Hotel’s enviable art collection left me with a lot of food for thought. The collection is contemporary, progressive, provocative and asks timely and unsettling questions of us.

LOOK

As we began our hike darkening rain clouds on a white sky canvas, began painting the sky silver. The silver of the Alpine peaks and the silver of the sky were a mesmerising sight to behold.

LOVE

I loved the ice-cream van, that was unpretentiously parked alongside the statement making Teslas in The Alpina Gstaad’s porch. Here Nachson and I are seen flaunting are Together Bands made with ocean plastic.

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