Altitude sickness: Inside the world of the elite Swiss boarding school

Macbook Pros for umbrellas, Loro Piana for uniform, and future dictators for classmates — just what do the world's most expensive schools say about the modern elite?

Here’s a good bit of trivia. Can you guess what the lead singer of The Strokes has in common with the Crown Prince of Yugoslavia? What ties Sean Lennon with King Juan Carlos I of Spain? How are the Niarchos shipping magnates connected to the Bhutanese royal family? You’ll find the answer on the shores of Lake Geneva, where, among the neat vineyards and chestnut trees, there is a boarding school that caters exclusively to the rich and powerful. Since the 1880s, Institut Le Rosey has taught Brazilian heiresses, Congolese politicians, Italian fashion tycoons and enough European royals to keep the revolutionary guillotine operators on the Place de la Concorde busy for at least a month.

Most things about Le Rosey can only be spoken of in superlatives, not all of them positive. For starters, it’s the most expensive school on Earth. Prepare yourself for the following sentence. Tuition and boarding fees are £110,000 per year for children aged 13-18. That’s the equivalent, if you’re into fatuous comparisons, to five new Volkswagen Golf Mk 8 cars, six Patek Philippe Aquanaut watches, or two Jetlev jetpacks. For pupils aged 8-12, it’s £80,000 per year. To fully educate one child there, it would cost £870,000 — that’s assuming fees don’t go up over nine years of schooling. That figure also doesn’t include the cost of trips abroad, extracurriculars and potential private jet flights to ferry children between Geneva and the family island in the Exumas. Only the wealthiest dynasties or the most kleptocratic dictators can afford fees like that.

Switzerland, like no other nation, has cornered the tyrant education market. Ten of the most expensive boarding schools in the world are in Switzerland, attracting the glitterati and oligarchy who want to be assured that their offspring will not be studying with anyone they don’t have to. Your conception of a school as a place where children learn sums, eat in canteens and use jumpers for goalposts does not apply to these elite Swiss institutions. These aren’t schools so much as pubescent versions of Davos.

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