23 SEPTEMBER 1995, Page 55

High life

Thanks Air Engiadina


Athough it is out of season, Gstaad has never been more pleasant. The weather has improved, the towelheads have gone back to eating their dates in their tents, and with my new glitzy, super-duper sportscar I can make the gates of Le Rosey from my chalet in exactly one hour and five minutes. Switzerland has instituted draconian speed- ing laws, with cameras all over the place, but being Swiss and frugal, they're mostly turned off in order to save money.

Doing 220 kilometers an hour on a motorway might sound criminally irrespon- sible, but in reality it is the contrary. Two weeks ago I attended a fast driving course in Saanen airport. After eight hours of intense concentration I became convinced that if every person with a driving licence attended such a course, the accident rate would fall by 90 per cent. Furthermore, a Gstaad four-wheel drive Porche Carrera doing 220 is safer than any American car doing 50. Still, the penalty for excessive speed in the canton of Geneva is straight into the pokey, whereas in the canton of Vaud it's lotsa moolah.

Speaking of speed, I've discovered the best and quickest way to fly to London from good old Helvetia, and it's called Air Engiadina. One drives to Berne, which in my case takes one hour, and in the middle of a cornfield there is a tiny airport. The old-fashioned type. No lines, no hassle, almost no people. One walks into a small 32 people — twin propeller airplane, a Ger- man-made Dornier 328 — and in one and a half hours one lands in London's City Air- port, five minutes from Canary Wharf. The Dornier flies as quietly as a jet, takes-off like a fighter plane, and has 11 single seats on one side in case one wants to be like Garbo. And one third of the Swiss pilots of this airline are women, known for their deli- cate handling. There are three flights a day to and from London. The last time I was in a rush to get to London I chartered a jet, took off immediately, got over English airspace, and was diverted elsewhere, end- ing up missing both the girl and the party. No longer, thanks to Air Engiadina.

Last week Nicolas Springer, son of the publisher, Professor John Goulandris, John Soutine, grandson of Sutin the artist, and I gave a dinner to say goodbye to Hedi Mullener, the owner of the Olden, among the oldest and most picturesque hotel- restaurants of Gstaad. Hedi, who was born in the Olden, sold out after 50 years. Her family has been in Gstaad since the 15th century, and built the Olden in 1899. She is a widow and her children do not want to run the place. There were no tears because everyone was too drunk to remember why we were there in the first place.

The good news is that the people who bought the Olden are just as nice as Hedi. It will be run by Gianni Biggi, ex-director of the Palace Hotel, and the man who granted me the right to have the orchestra play `Giovinezza' — the Fascist hymn to youth — whenever I enter the dining room. The last time they played it, I happened to be going in with Uberto Visconti, as great an Italian as there is, and he thought they were playing it for him. As the real duke that he is, he went up to the band and politely but firmly told them that he and his family hap- pened to be among the few anti-Fascists when the Duke was still alive and chic. Alas, he went down in my estimation, but he's still a wonderful man.

After the goodbye party it was time for the Fatherland. I am in the Black Forest competing in the veteran circuit, and playing against men with names like von Manstein, von Rundstedt, von Kleist and von Man- teuffel. Just kidding. If I had such oppo- nents I wouldn't even bother to show up.