A trip to the Swiss Alps combines the best of both worlds: the glitz of St. Moritz with the lesser-known village in Switzerland’s storybook Engadin Valley.
As the glittering snowflakes start to fall in the Swiss Alps, a flock of private jets wings its way towards Europe’s most glamorous ski resort. St. Moritz has long enchanted society’s upper echelons, attracting everyone from royals to iconic personalities such as Gabriel ‘Coco’ Chanel and Alfred Hitchcock. By its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, the alpine town had become the original winter playground of the rich and famous, including Brigitte Bardot and her German playboy husband Gunter Sachs, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn. The old-world charm has an enduring allure, and St. Moritz remains one of the world’s most desirable destinations.
My journey takes a much slower pace, onboard a red train that sweeps its way along a UNESCO World Heritage-listed route towards Switzerland’s Engadin Valley. I’ve settled into a velvet upholstered seat, in the restored 1930s Gourmino dining carriage, with a glass of wine and a cheese board, to watch the frosted scenery of snow-dusted pine forests and jagged mountain peaks unfold from my window.
The Grand Hotel Kronenhof, Pontresina
Whilst the St. Moritz scene draws the international jet set (around 70 per cent of its visitors), there’s a pocket of the Engadin Valley, a mere 6km away, that’s preferred by Swiss people for its quieter kind of luxury. The medieval village of Pontresina is a fairytale setting, with an architectural blend of Engadin stone houses and Belle Epoque-era buildings such as the Grand Hotel Kronenhof; my five-star address for the next few days. The neo-Baroque grand dame is one of the best-preserved 19th century hotels on the continent. As I arrive, a peaceful melody played by the resident pianist floats from the lobby lounge, which is adorned with a crown-shaped chandelier. But it’s the floor-to-ceiling windows framing a backdrop of the Rosberg Glacier that steals the scene.
You can sense the history within the walls of the Grand Hotel Kronenhof, whether you’re knocking down pins in the timeworn bowling alley or sipping pinot noir in the candlelit cellar that once stored wine, transported from Italy on horse-drawn sleighs. Regional customs are warmly embraced here. We toast “Viva!” in the local Romansh language. The following morning, during breakfast in the frescoed ballroom, a parade of local school children come marching in, wearing paper flowers and joyfully clanging cowbells in a tradition called Chalandamarz, welcoming the first day of spring.
St. Moritz is known for the death-defying Cresta Run, where daredevil club members have been tobogganing the vertiginous hand-carved ice chute for more than a century. Pontresina, a paradise for cross-country skiers, takes things at a more leisurely speed. So, I buckle up my boots and, later, reward my sporting efforts by soaking up the hotel’s extraordinary spa facilities. The healing benefits of the local mineral spring water have been recognised for 3000 years. Naturally, I take a dip in the indoor infinity pool with expansive views of the Alps.
The Kulm Hotel, St. Moritz
The Kulm Hotel is the birthplace of winter alpine tourism in Switzerland. It began in 1864 with a simple bet made by pioneering hotelier, Johannes Badrutt. He proposed that his English guests, who regularly summered in Switzerland, return in the wintertime. If they didn’t enjoy themselves, he would reimburse their travel expenses. The rest is history.
Today, the town’s oldest and most storied hotel, right in the heart of St. Moritz, remains a favourite haunt of the ‘it’ crowd. The extravagant Kulm lobby is adorned with marble pillars, maximalist patterned carpets, and plush red sofas. My alpine-chic junior suite is in the New-Kulm wing, reimagined by award-winning French interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon. The Swiss stone pine panelling leaves a faint, but beautiful, scent in the room and my private balcony boasts breathtaking views over the frozen lake.
“Can’t you tell we’re in St. Moritz?” my ski instructor laughs one morning, as we ride the chairlift over the powdery pistes of the nearby Corviglia resort, dotted with svelte skiers in one-piece suits. She gestures to the ski lift poles covered in red Prada signage. After a few exhilarating runs, we pull into the new slope-side Langosteria for lunch. It’s a high-altitude outpost of the famed Milan restaurant — in collaboration with Remo Ruffini, Chairman and CEO of the Italian fashion house, Moncler — where waiters don branded parkas as they serve show-stopping towers of seafood.
There’s much more to St. Moritz than getting outdoorsy. I schedule a science-backed Augustinus Bader facial at Kulm’s spa before I take to one of the town’s most satisfying sports — people-watching. It’s especially gratifying along the luxury store-lined Via Serlas, where shoppers clad in designer Loro Piana cashmere sashay the snow-sprinkled streets.
It’s easy to spot old-school St. Moritzers: draped in fur, dripping in jewellery and accompanied by tiny dogs in designer outfits. I spend the afternoon browsing high-end art galleries before stopping by Gabriel Chanel’s favourite chocolate shop, Hanselmann. Later, a pre-dinner martini, made with pine-infused vermouth, is in order at the Kulm Country Club. A recent redesign, by renowned architect and Lord, Norman Foster, preserved the high-arched windows that overlook the ice rink where the first official Olympic Winter Games were held in 1928.
St. Moritz’s finest culinary offerings come with no shortage of fondue, truffle, and caviar. But for me, Mauro Colagreco’s signature salt-crusted beetroot with Oscietra caviar cream tops it all, personally presented by the three-star Michelin chef at his intimate seasonal restaurant, The K. This is a big deal for foodies familiar with his dish from Mirazur in the Cote D’Azur, ranked number one in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2019.
It’s my last moments in the region and I gather with friends for pisco sours at Sunny Bar in the basement of the Kulm Hotel. During the day it’s the historic headquarters of the Cresta riders’ tobogganing club, transforming by night into a Peruvian-inspired eatery by Claudia Canessa. The evening escalates with champagne in hand on the dancefloor of the legendary member-only Dracula’s, a vampire-themed club founded in the 1970s by Gunter Sachs. In true St. Moritz style, one never knows where a night might lead. Revellers rally around with a plan to visit the back entrance of a bakery that opens at 3am, to source pastries still warm from the oven. Light-hearted revelry is par for the course, but one must be sure to be up, ready and looking fabulous for the first run on the ski slopes the next morning. It’s the St. Moritz way.
Edwina Hart flew to Zürich courtesy of Etihad Airways. Etihad connects to Zurich via Abu Dhabi three times a week from Sydney and four times a week from Melbourne. The writer then travelled within Switzerland by train using a 1st class Swiss Travel Pass, which can be booked at myswitzerland.com