“I’m driving home for Christmas, oh I can’t wait to see those faces… top to toe in tailbacks, oh I got red lights all around…”
Each year this Chris Rea song starts to make its way onto radio play lists around the end of November. While I rail against a too-early run up to Christmas, I do admit to being a sucker for this song.
It all stems back to mid-December 2007. We were returning from our annual pre-Christmas trip to visit relatives in the UK and found ourselves in a long queue of traffic on the road from Bulle to Gstaad. Ahead of us a chain of red lights was snaking its way through the valley and Driving Home for Christmas was playing in our car. It felt as though we were part of the narrative and since that very moment the song has been on our Christmas play list. It became a new family tradition.
Home sweet home
There was no doubt we were driving home, even though none of my family is Swiss. To me, home is a bond that has nothing to do with nationality and everything to do with feeling. Just ask any of the many loyal visitors who return to Saanenland year after year after year. I bet a large number of them court a sense of ‘home’ with Gstaad – if only for a few weeks a year.
Many years have passed since we first moved to Gstaad, but family traditions continue and never more so than when we come together at Christmas. Central among these is what we call ‘The Palace Game’.
The Palace Game
It’s very simple: as we drive home to Gstaad from the UK after our annual Christmas-present-giving trip, the first person to spot the Gstaad Palace Hotel and shout “Palace” is the winner. It’s the Swiss variation of a game our family played when I was young; whenever my Dad took us on an outing to the coast, my sisters and I would jostle to be ‘the first to see the sea’.
The Gstaad Palace Hotel is undeniably one of the most striking landmarks in the region. With its fairytale turrets soaring like some kind of Disney castle above the village, it naturally became a ‘coming home’ symbol for our family, and so the game was born.
Pretty soon we began playing it at other points in the year; it doesn’t matter if we’ve been away for just a few days or a couple of weeks, as we drive closer to home the ‘game’ begins and everyone in the car gets keyed up.
Over the years we have perfected the game to the point that every single one of us knows the earliest point on the route where the Palace becomes visible. But thanks to outside influences, this ‘insider knowledge’ doesn’t guarantee a win.
Our usual route home is through Saanen, but the modified road layout with the 2010 bypass and tunnel shook things up a bit, while poor weather, especially fog, regularly throws a curve ball. Last year we had almost reached Gstaad by the time we spotted the Palace’s turrets looming through the heavy cloud. It keeps us on our toes.
Over to you
It would be simple to end this article by explaining in exact detail the earliest place on the road to spot the Palace. But where’s the fun in that?
Why not have a go yourselves? Write and tell me how you get on. But remember, only honourable behaviour is tolerated: you can only shout “Palace” when you really do see the hotel.
And for the years when I’m the driver and can’t take my eyes off the road, I simply enjoy the moment and sing along with Chris Rea instead: “I’m driving home for Christmas, with a thousand memories.”