This southern resort has chills and thrills, but its modern luxuries can also warm your senses, writes Mary Novakovich.
My Kind of Place: Swiss mountain bliss in St Moritz
Why St Moritz?
The grande dame of Swiss ski resorts will be marking 150 years of winter tourism this year. In 1864, the founder of the Kulm Hotel, Johannes Badrutt, enticed British summer visitors to return in the winter and enjoy various ways of hurtling down the mountains of the Engadin Valley. The town has become a byword for luxury and glamour – the place to be seen when the annual Polo World Cup on Snow, horse races and a gourmet food festival take place on the snow-covered frozen Lake St Moritz.
Away from the glitz of the designer boutiques and Michelin-starred restaurants, the skiing is pretty stellar too. The 350 kilometres of pistes are spread out among the main mountain, Corviglia, and neighbours Corvatsch, Pontresina and Diavolezza. There’s also an entire mountain, Muottas Muragl, devoted to non-ski activities including snowshoeing, winter walking, sledging and cross-country skiing on 200km of trails that run between Maloja and Zernez. Summertime brings hikers, golfers and sailors to this perpetually sunny corner of southern Switzerland.
A comfortable bed
The century-old five-star Carlton Hotel (0041 81 836 7000) had a complete makeover in 2007. All of its 60 large and sumptuous suites now look out over the lake and surrounding mountains, with some witty and stylish touches among the classic furnishings. In keeping with the luxurious atmosphere, the hotel’s spa sprawls over three floors, including numerous saunas, indoor swimming pool and indoor/outdoor steam baths. Doubles from 810 Swiss francs (Dh3,329), including half board, tax, butler and a free in-room minibar. As with most hotels in St Moritz, the Carlton offers a daily ski pass for 25 Swiss francs (Dh103) for stays of at least two nights.
A rich history seeps from every elaborate wall of the five-star Kulm Hotel (0041 81 836 8000), from the Belle Epoque dining room to the Sunny Bar where the riders of the notorious Cresta Run congregate. Cosy rooms are in traditional Alpine style, many with views of the lake. The extensive spa facilities include indoor and outdoor pools overlooking the lake. Doubles start at 595 Swiss francs (Dh2,445) including half board and taxes.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Hotel Piz (0041 81 832 1111), which has plenty of modern style for a budget hotel. Doubles from 180 Swiss francs (Dh740), including breakfast and taxes.
Find your feet
The town’s two halves sit on the north-eastern side of Lake St Moritz. St Moritz Dorf is where the top hotels and luxury boutiques are found, as well as the railway station and funiculars leading to Corviglia. St Moritz Bad is a bit more down to earth and cheaper (for St Moritz, that is), and still has the mineral springs that feature in its name. There is also a cable car that leads toward Corviglia.
Meet the locals
Après-ski in the town is quite limited, with the outdoor Roo Bar (0041 81 837 5017) at the Hauser hotel the liveliest spot to meet after a day on the slopes. Opposite is the Stübli at the Hotel Schweizerhof (www.schweizerhofstmoritz.ch; 0041 81 837 0707), where there’s live music from 10pm onwards. For St Moritz at its most regal, join the well-dressed clientele indulging in afternoon tea and cakes at the stately Café Hanselmann (www.hanselmann.ch; 0041 81 833 3864).
Book a table
You don’t have to be a skier to reach the giddy 3,057-metre heights of the Panorama Restaurant at Piz Nair. Take in the views from the top of Corviglia over a plate of capuns for 25 Swiss francs (Dh103), a speciality of the Engadin Valley in which meat and dumplings are wrapped in chard or cabbage. Down in the centre, watch the action at the St Moritz Curling Club from the sun terrace or the pleasant pine interior of Chesa al Parc (0041 81 833 1090). Warm up with traditional barley soup for 9 Swiss francs (Dh37) followed by a potato and cured meat rösti smothered in raclette cheese with a fried egg on top for 25 Swiss francs (Dh103). Views of Lake St Moritz are at your feet at Mezdi Restaurant (0041 81 334 1010), which serves delicious homemade pasta for 18 to 29 Swiss francs (Dh74-119).
All of the major designer boutiques jostle genteelly for attention along Via Serlas, including Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Lamm Cashmere House in Via Maistra (www.cashmerelamm.ch; 0041 81 833 3315) has beautifully crafted clothes. Try Hauser’s Confiserie (; 0041 81 837 5017) for irresistible handmade chocolates.
What to avoid
The high altitude can take you by surprise, so it’s best to spend a day acclimatising yourself first if you plan to go skiing.
For an unforgettable thrill, zoom down the Olympic bobsleigh run, the oldest in the world. It’s pricey at 250 Swiss francs (Dh1,025), but a must for speed freaks. A cheaper alternative is the sledge run down the 4.2km track at Muottas Muragl for 15 Swiss francs (Dh61). Let the moon guide you on night-time ski runs down Glüna Plaina, or on a Friday on Corvatsch along Switzerland’s longest floodlit piste.
A return flight with Emirates Airlinefrom Dubai to Zurich takes six hours and costs from Dh2,595, including taxes. The rail journey from Zurich to St Moritz using a Swiss Transfer Ticket takes about four hours and costs from Dh560. The final part of the train journey is on the very scenic Bernina Express, itself a Unesco World Heritage Site.