Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland is the world's most exclusive boarding school

Australia is not short of renowned private schools; but unless you're running into James Bond himself at the drop-off, your kids' school probably isn't as elite as this one.    

Switzerland's Institut Le Rosey is reputedly the world's most exclusive (and expensive) school, where the ultra-rich and famous send their kids. It was there, as a schoolgirl, that Melburnian Michelle Santoro crossed paths with one of 007's most famous faces, Roger Moore.

"I'll never forget being in a pizza restaurant and in walks Roger Moore. I was like, 'Oh god, its James Bond'," says Santoro of her time at Le Rosey from 1983 to 1985. "His son was in the school and you'd see him all the time. He couldn't ski very well and then you'd think, 'OK, there you are again'."

Parent company

Other school parents of the 1880-established institution have included Shirley Bassey, Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross, John Lennon and Aristotle Onassis, while former pupils include royalty such as Prince Rainier III of Monaco, and Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond. Jr of rock band The Strokes.

Santoro, now the managing director of the Victorian arm of marketing and relationships company The Luxury Network, left behind posh Melbourne Girls Grammar to study at Le Rosey alongside the children of Charles Aznavour and Plácido Domingo.

It gave me some extraordinary experiences and great insights into extraordinary wealth.

Michelle Santoro

The culture shock, she says, was initially overwhelming. "I remember thinking 'oh my god, this is quite scary,' but you soon adjusted because everyone was in the same position. It's such an amazing selection of students from all around the world."

Global gathering

Le Rosey's halls were filled with kids hailing from Spain to South America, Africa to Iran. Santoro loved hearing all the different languages and recalls that several fellow students had bodyguards. Amidst the fleet of Rolls Royces and Bentleys that would show up at the end of the term, spotting the rich and famous soon became the norm.

Entrepreneur Robert Holt, the grandson of the late Prime Minister Harold Holt, also attended the school for three years from 1988 at the age of 15, and was nominated as the first Australian alumni representative.

Holt shared with two French roommates. Having attended Melbourne Grammar previously, Le Rosey's winter campus in the ski resort of Gstaad was something else.

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"It was a hell of an adventure," he says. "Melbourne Grammar is one of the best schools in Australia and I thought I was at the top of the tree, but [at Le Rosey] there were these really cool, stylish blokes who spoke six languages each as if they were their native tongue, very sophisticated, and the girls wore miniskirts with stockings and mink coats. That was a long way from hanging out with Aussie girls in their tracksuits."

Upper class

Classes, which could be taken in either French or English, began at 7.30am, with skiing lessons for four hours each afternoon and then further classwork until 7pm. "They were intense days, but loads of fun," Holt says. "I remember there was a guy from Martinique, the tropical island, who had never seen snow and by the end of the fall season he was doing summersaults off jumps."

Holt found Melbourne Grammar in the 1980s a "very paternal," system that was "all about ruling with a big stick". While other friends who stayed behind swore by it, he enjoyed Le Rosey's more collegiate atmosphere. "It was very much you were friends with your teachers."

As Santoro had done, he relished the multicultural atmosphere. "It was an international school where no one nationality dominated. The school created a culture all of itself … a wonderful introduction to the world, really."

High flyers

The extra-curricular experiences were mind-blowing. "I got to go on a school expedition to Budapest when Hungary was still Communist, and went to Berlin a week after they opened the Wall. I got to make speeches at the United Nations building in Geneva."

Removed from his beloved Aussie Rules, Holt took to playing rugby. "Most of the French I learnt was in the bars after games, which was a little bit colloquial, but when I came to do my final exams, I remember I had an assignment and the question was 'imagine you're a sports commentator for a major sporting event and discuss in French'. I managed to get straight As."

Advanced independence

Santoro, who says one Saudi classmate flew their dogs to Africa for exercise, enjoyed the personal freedoms students were allowed. Far from locked up, they accrued weekend passes, dependent on their grade point average.

"Boarding school is an amazing experience because you have to look after yourself," she says. "I didn't have my mother saying, 'have you done your homework?' Being from Australia, it's not like you can go home for the weekend.

"It gave me some extraordinary experiences and great insights into extraordinary wealth, but, interestingly, it wasn't as defining as I would say it is in Melbourne, where people say, 'where do you live, where did you go to school and what do you do?'"

A representative of Le Rosey, Felipe Laurent, will visit Sydney on December 9 and 10 and Melbourne on December 11 and 12 to talk to families interested in enrolling their child, or sending them to a summer camp. Find more information here or email Felipe Laurent on flaurent@rosey.ch to make an appointment.