Well ahead of the conception of the Winter Olympics, savvy euro-travellers vested into the mountain oasis of St Moritz. Revelling in the pristine Alpine air, the affluent and trendy sport their bodies and tan their faces to a beaming, travel magazines-filling glow. No wonder, sun is the emblem of the resort town, a smart choice. The panoptic Alpine resort blends Swiss precision with Italian hospitality skilfully for the full benefit of its visitors and residents. Come spring, summer, fall or winter, the sunny Engadin valley lures in quality lifestyle seekers From the Italian fashion scions (Donatella Versace has house there) through jet-setting CEOs, to professional athletes. St Moritz is the year-around
“Top Of The World” attitude of St Moritz
What makes this Grisons canton gem even more attractive culturally beyond its contemporary art galleries, vip design shows (Nomad lands there before jetting off Monaco), is the local rumantsch dialect (old latin derived), still spoken by the elderly. Like in Austria, the regional pride boasts its chest through the Engadin architecture, customs, cuisine, and the local produce. Dotting the town are the protected traditional whitewashed houses such as Chesa Veglia (built in 1658, now a good, grill restaurant owned by the fanciest place in town, the Baddrutt’s Palace Hotel) decorated with sgraffito (scratched ornament) plasterwork facades. Much of the newer architecture is seamlessly built in, if you omit the boxy yet luxurious Kulm Hotel and some of the eccentricity of the British architect Norman Foster (check the flying saucer Chesa Futura). As an antithesis to the contemporary floor to ceiling windows, the traditional mountain style is tiny, seemingly haphazard, and like gingerbread the see through holes are laced with ornamental decor. A short drive to Champfer is another beautifully restored farmhouse that was transformed into an excellent Michelin stared olive oil highlighting restaurant Talvo by Dalsass. Since 2011 this splendidly renovated farmhouse built in 1658 has been overseen by caring Michelin stared Tyrollean chef Martin Dalsass and his son Andrea. For great food lovers, this is a must.
Bookworms may be interested in visiting the original Heidi mountain hut, a well-kept example of the more humble Engadin architecture. Leaning Tower attracts visitors to Pisa, but there is one in St Moritz, built in 1570, it beats its tilt with 5.5-degree angle. Just across the Kulm Hotel, the former church steeple is a must see for architecture buffs. Digging deeper into the regional history as a spa destination the Forum Paracelsus (daily free entry) ushers you into the natural bounty of the local acidic springs. There you can see the Mauritius well from the Bronze Age (dug around 1411 BC).
Naturally blessed, the Engadin valley in winter could be painted as an endless feast of whipped cream overflowing from the crisp rocky mountain cones flipped upside down. Practically set between Milan (international travellers can land at Malpensa and drive along the Lake Como, via Lugano to St Moritz) and the Austrian Tyrols, the open Engadin Valley bathes in the sunshine on most days, even when the forecast looms in a snowy storm. The winds sway the clouds from the peaks, down to the slopes and whisk the egg white snowflakes covering the lakes like fluffy meringues. Just bite.
A century ago you would arrive by horse carriage, then by train (Glacier and Bernina Express routes climb to the St Moritz Dorf), and later by car and now it is all easy to fly in by the avian routes. Traveling to St Moritz can turn into an adventure before you even put your ski boots on. The winter weather is laced with surprises in the mountains. Once we got stuck in the serpentines dipping deep into the ravines of the Alps, had to be towed down to safe roads, while other times we simply could not drive through the narrow stretches on the Italian border side. The billionaires can fly in by private jets as a small airport stretches in the valley right next to the marathon Nordic ski track lacing the Flaz river.
Winter sports in St Moritz
The stage for two Winter Olympics in 1928 and 1948 set St Moritz on the world winter sports map. The former Olympic stadium is near to the Kulm Golf annually hosts high level bobsleigh (in the only natural ice channel run in the world) and ski racing competitions regularly take over the Cresta Run. The highest peak in the canton, Piz Bernina (4,049 m) is set on the border with Lombardy (Italy) and its range defines the two glacier valleys Vadret Morteratsch and Vadret Roseg, where at least under the current climatic conditions, you can heli-ski all year round. Otherwise around St Moritz the Corvatch (9km run down), Corviglia and Diavolezza (glacier) runs are groomed for comfort. The only inconvenience for these staying in town may be taking the funicular up that runs about every 15 minutes.
The sport facilities in the region are extraordinary. The newly built Ovaverva swimming, fitness and spa (facials, massages) complex right across from the Kempinski Grand hotel has a 25m indoor swimming pool for the athletes, children’s pool is separate, plus large indoor and outdoor jacuzzis to release any muscle tensions) and a gym. In the building also the cross-country ski centre is located. St Moritz prides in offering one of the best groomed scenic cross-country skiing trails in Europe and many professional athletes train there. Easily skate on the mostly flat marathon trail snaking along the river valley for hours.
Walking trails are perfectly groomed, signposted so anyone can stroll across the Lake St Moritz to the forested valley, passing giant ice-sickles sculpted into anything creatively attractive that a man’s handwork can conceive. Dog walkers love the vastness of possibilities. In the opposite direction heading across the Silvaplana Lej (Lake) will take you under the Diavolezza glacier.
The luxe travellers will keep fit during the rare rainy or stormy days since each of the grand hotels has a great gym, saunas, and a well equipped spa. Even those on the budget accommodation will find sauna in their bed and breakfast quite often.
Summer activities in the Alpine setting
Unlike most ski holiday destinations, St Moritz attracts visitors also during the warm months. As the spring birds start chipping, the frozen lakes melt, and the sun’ s rays halo the warmer days, St Moritz transforms into a golfers turf, draws youth to its music festivals, and since most hotels reopen in June after a short, muddy late spring break, the logistics are set for you. In summer, the Nordic ski trails turn into safe biking tracks and some paved roads along the river draw in rollerbladers, while the gushing rivers invite for rafting. The ski slopes turn into intense hiking and mountain biking and the lakes lent this eden to sailers, windsurfers.
Gourmets paradise in St Moritz
In the Gilded Challet, Padraig Rooney writes: “Switzerland is partly a creation of our own guilt and desires: freedom, fresh air, money, corruption, chocolate, a winter holiday, heaven on earth. It’s the playground for Europe, far from prying eyes, where royalty go skiing, former royalty hide out, and collapsed dictators count their filthy lucre.” Nowhere is this as evident as in St Moritz. Gourmandise has always been indulged in the posh resort where movie stars and the power jet set spoon caviar from silver goblets, truffles are shaved over anything like salt flakes, and seafood is flown daily for utmost freshness. Yet, since March 2018 Switzerland introduced one of the world’s strictest laws that prohibits any infliction of inhumane pain to any animal, so for example lobsters cannot be cooked alive, but must be stunned before. Eating live shrimps and other “ultra fresh” live protein as in Japan would be a criminal offence in the otherwise liberal Alpine country. Nobu Matsuhisa has a seasonal (winter) restaurant in St Moritz, but the execution is inconsistent, the weakest from all his restaurants we had been to anywhere in the world.
Eco travellers will enjoy plenty of locally sourced food at Stuvas, the Slow Food labeled restaurant inside the authentically renovated boutique hotel Chesa Rosatsch in Celerina (about 7min drive from St Moritz). For lunch after an intense cross-country run we also like the Uondas grill where the best taste flambé outside Alsace are baked to an ultra-thin crispness with local dried venison, fresh Swiss cheese and other superb toppings. They dry age “madürà” calf, beef and lamb in their maturity cabinet that is then grilled to perfect. On sunny days, their house-made vanilla swirl ice cream with coffee is my indulgent après-ski replenisher. The food here is much better than the more famous Chesa Veglia owned by the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. Although the healthy-minded VIV bistro inside the Ovaverva sport complex is gone, most of the restaurants today offer vegan options or even a special plant-based menu. After 50 years of family restaurant business at the world-famous La Marmite, the local star chef and co-founder of the annual St Moritz Gourmet Festival, Reto Mathis moved in 2017 to a different location, that is opened also during the summer season. CheCha by Reto Mathis of the caviar and truffle king (the pizza OMG!) also offers “VEKAPU” daily changing vegan basket of specialities, while the “Wild Card” is focused on local wild game specialities. Non-skiers and indulgent lunch drinkers can get there or back by a horse carriage. The Culinary School will tempt home chefs to visit St Moritz in summer.
While some St Moritz restaurants have been offering reliable although not cheap delicacies for decades, almost every year a newcomer stirs the local dining scene. Most recently IGNIV overseen by the three Michelin starred Swiss chef Andreas Caminada upped the dining game at the Badrutt’s Palace. Small plates, like luxurious tapas, each different, tempting, fun, are to be shared in endless servings inside the sexy and intimate ambiance. We loved it.
Still, the best creative gastronomy is served at Ecco on Snow in Champfér. The Italian concierge at the hyper luxe Badrutt’s Palace hotel chitchats each guest into another two Michelin stared Italian gastro-would-be Da Vittorio at the Carlton hotel. Yet, a disappointing meal and flimsy service during our recent meal will certainly not attract us back anytime soon. By neglecting the roots of the superb, time-tested and widely beloved cuisine, the chef cooked his ingredients without much respect, while yielding taste to originality. Beyond fondue and raclette at the “Stuvas” buy the local Engadin honey laced walnut tart “nusstorte”, “capuns” or salzis (sausage), at Pur Alps, a gourmet store embracing local produce, much of it organic or “Demeter” (biodynamic) sourced directly. For Swiss chocolate, even though your hotel might feed you with indulgent chocolate domes on your way from the ski slopes (Badrutt’s sweet transport), head to the Laderach boutique in the town’s centre, my favourite slabs include the crunchy hazelnut dark chocolate, while the Grand Cru box allows for a more mindful cocoa bliss.
The afternoon tea at any of the Grand Hotels was introduced to pamper the English guests over a century ago. Today Russian Insta-stars, and other aspiring ladies fill the glamorous chandelier rooms to display the opulence promising lobbies of the Badrutt’s Palace, the Carlton, Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains and the Kulm hotels. The historic Suvretta House while offering superb views, is more of a conference venue today. The only luxurious hotel on the lake is the Grand Hotel Kronenhof, but in terms of comfort and quality the Baddrutt’s Palace wins over the competitive set. Ecco in Champfer has the most contemporary interiors and the spa is superb, but not at the level of the Palace, which also has the best views on the legendary horse race track staged on the frozen lake. It is a magnetising experience to watch the circuit from the comfort of your balcony, book ahead.
”Switzerland has always provided something of a refuge for writers – from war, oppression, tuberculosis and even marriage – as well as an inspiration to them too”, wrote the The Bookseller. The culturally broad yet politically neutral cantons offer plenty to the savvy travellers today, but St Moritz has it all, authentically evolving with the needs of the people occupying its hotel rooms.