LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Pierre Gruneberg: Top Of The Class


World-renowned master swim and ski instructor Pierre Gruneberg’s influence extends far beyond the horizon of the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat’s infinity pool, or the slopes of the Alps.

Pierre Gruneberg’s definition of luxury:
To breathe

If luxury were...

A person
Someone who is free to be himself. Luxury is to be me.

An object
What I see

A place

Beyond the foot of the gardens and terraces, looking off toward the Mediterranean Sea, lies the horizon pool of the Club Dauphin, a true landmark and one of the most luxurious spots on the Côte d’Azur. When Pierre Gruneberg, a 19 year-old tour guide from Paris, arrived at the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat after hitchhiking his way down to Marseille and along the Cote d’Azur, he knew that he had met his fate. “When I arrived at the Grand-Hôtel and saw the swimming pool from the top of the rocks I fell in love with it immediately,” he recalls. Upon his departure that day, Gruneberg had not only secured an appointment as a member of hotel staff, but also a professional destiny that would place him in the annals of history as swimming instructor to the stars. From Ralph Lauren and Picasso, to the Kennedy clan, Gruneberg has taught them all with his famed salad bowl technique. According to Gruneberg, the average swimmer’s biggest problem is the nose. He therefore coaxes clients to sing through their nose, while submerged in a salad bowl filled with water.

Gruneberg’s “Livre d’Or”, or guestbook, is filled with playful sketches, notes and mementos by those who have passed under his natatory care. On one page, Winston Churchill’s granddaughter pays affectionate tribute to her tutor, noting, “Thank you for everything, no one else would have done what you did,” while on further pages, celebrated French poet and artist Jean Cocteau and actor Jean Marais equally pen their adoration. Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Holocaust survivor Élie Wiesel wrote: "All the rivers run to the sea, but it is with thanks to you, dear Pierre, that I can now swim in them. Thank you, thank you with all my heart!" Evidently, Pierre Gruneberg has touched more than a few hearts from the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat poolside.

During the winter months, the sprightly pensioner heads to Courcheval, where he schools the jetset to ski “As a swimming instructor I realized I needed to do something in the winter. I took an exam in physical therapy and ski exam and became an instructor,” he recalls.

Fresh air, nature and diverse and pleasant company to boot, comprises a calling that this man has certainly embraced – and for the betterment of many a star student. Gruneberg and his pedagogy is legendary, his legacy immeasurable.

Gruneberg’s first memories of water:
I was always attracted to water; Because my parents took me canoeing I learned to swim right from the beginning. I started swimming at around five years old and loved it.

On Swimming:
Understand your breathing before you go in the water. Put your face in the salad bowl and blow bubbles in the water, blow them out slowly through your nose… actually don’t blow them but sing them, otherwise the air will go out too fast.

On teaching:
I invented two things: in 1966, I brought short skis to Europe because they only really existed in America. In swimming, I invented the salad bowl method. Instead of teaching the stroke and then the breathing, I teach the breathing and then the stroke. I spend maybe an hour to an hour and a half teaching people how to breath in the water, and once they understand that, they learn how to swim very easily.

For the average swimmer, there are five problems with learning to swim: the nose, the nose, the nose, the nose and the nose, then there’s also the eyes, the mouth and the head. Once this problem is solved, everybody can do the freestyle, breaststroke and crawl very easily. I would say that I can teach any adult to feel comfortable and to swim in about a few hours.

On his star clients:
Each client is my favorite, but I’ve had wonderful people like Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, the children of Charlie Chaplin and President Kennedy. I’ve also had people who are not famous at all who have been extremely charming people. However, I have a tendency to fall in love with each of my clients.

Learn more about Pierre Gruneberg’s method:

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