St.-Moritz Hotel Picks
Published: May 2009
By Nathan Lump
In St.-Moritz, Switzerland's most glamorous ski resort, where you stay is crucial. Here, three hotels that make a statement.
St.-Moritz is not your average ski resort. It's the kind of place where polo tournaments are played on a frozen lake and sponsored by Cartier. Where you need a letter of recommendation to sled with the tobogganing club. Where the gear on the slopes is Gucci, the fashion on the streets, Chanel. Think Aspen is worldly?Try St.-Moritz.
During the 1950's and 60's, the slopes were studded with stars—Audrey Hepburn, Aristotle Onassis, the Aga Khan—but in subsequent decades, St.-Moritz lost its luster. Serious skiers found better runs in Canada or, for that matter, other parts of Switzerland. The fashionable defected to Italy. Today, however, the buzz is back, fueled by global tastemakers recently enamored of all things Swiss, and a generation of Europeans newly nostalgic for the resort of their childhood. The town's best hotels have perfect timing: they're all re-creating themselves. Where you choose to stay depends on the kind of person you are—and determines who you are in the world of St.-Moritz.
BADRUTT'S PALACE HOTEL There is no address more famous here than the Palace (as everyone calls it). You'd have to be pretty jaded to sit by the fire in the baronial Grand Hall and not be impressed. The views through picture windows of the mountains and Lake St.-Moritz are heart-stopping. And the décor is grand—times 10: carved coffered ceilings; religious statuary, marble busts, and antlers galore; an original Madonna by Raphael (one of few in the world).
But what you really can't take your eyes off of is the crowd. The woman of a certain age in a pink beaver coat is just back from the hotel's Pucci boutique. A captain of industry manages to take a call on his cell phone, smoke a cigar, order a Cognac, and ogle the blonde across the room, all the while carrying on a conversation with his (much younger) wife. That blonde, by the way, is Claudia Schiffer.
Founded in 1896 and still owned by descendants of Johannes Badrutt—who transformed St.-Moritz into a winter destination by luring English tourists with a money-back guarantee of sun and snow—the Palace has pedigree. It also occupies a prime perch in the heart of town. In 1999, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts took over management and began a $25 million restoration and modernization (to be completed in 2004). Their hand can be felt in a new, less formal restaurant (jacket required, but no tie) with an Asian-inflected menu, and especially in the service: when I asked housekeeping to bring foam pillows to my room, for example, they didn't miss a beat. It seems a simple request, but I have found that at Swiss hotels you practically have to argue to get such things done.
Even at world-class ski-resort hotels the guest rooms are typically no-nonsense, and the 201 accommodations at the Palace prove the rule, though they do set St.-Moritz's highest standard for luxury and make up in freshness and views what they often lack in size. Rosewood got most of the details right in the refurbished rooms (be sure to request one of those): deeply buttoned upholstered headboards, a restrained mix of stripes and floral prints, nearly unadorned walls, pretty crystal chandeliers, and white marble bathrooms that have been given the theatrical flourish of a big gilded mirror above the sink.
While the Palace doesn't always live up to the promise of its beauty—dinner in the attractive dining room was spoiled by the experience of watching my poulet de Bresse being hacked at by a waiter unskilled in the art of tableside carving—it nonetheless never fails to generate the feeling that you've arrived. At that same dinner, I had the unexpected pleasure of dining next to a group of children participating in the hotel's etiquette class. Children would normally be out of place in such a formal setting, but the boys were wearing smart navy suits, the girls pristine dresses—and tiaras—and not one made an improper peep. At the Palace even the children are exceptional!
27 Via Serlas; 888/767-3966 or 41-81/837-1100; www.rosewoodhotels.com; doubles from $530, including breakfast.
KULM HOTEL You can tell the Kulm is serious about winter sports the moment you walk in the door. On one of the walls of the busy entrance hall—beneath trompe l'oeil wood panels depicting an Alpine village—hangs a wooden sign indicating the day's weather conditions, and another announcing the practice days and times of the Cresta Run (managed by the famed and exclusive tobogganing club, based at the hotel).
Sporty types also choose the Kulm for its location. The hotel's four interconnected structures—an 18th-century pensione and three later, undistinguished-looking buildings—occupy a hilltop at the edge of town. This placement pays off in especially close proximity to Corviglia, St.-Moritz's main skiing area. Even lugging skis, you can walk to the tramway, something you can't do from the Palace. The setting also provides space enough for two massive skating rinks (one is home to the Curling Club), St.-Moritz's best gym and spa, a vanishing-edge indoor pool with dramatic mountain views, and, for summer visitors, two tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course.
Though the Kulm lacks the jaw-dropping scale of the Palace, some of its public rooms do have similar visual punch. The showpiece is the Renzo Mongiardino-designed lobby, a dizzying fantasy where every available inch (columns, furniture, walls) is swathed in printed fabrics. For après-ski, a ruddy-cheeked crowd gathers by the fire; snag a table in the rear of the room near the windows, order cocktails or a pot of tea, and you've got the perfect spot for hours of people-watching.
Alas, the standard residential look of the 185 guest rooms does not invite the same kind of lingering, though most have generous proportions and lots of closets to accommodate all of your gear (and gowns)—not to mention freshly pressed pure linen sheets on the bed. Be sure to book one of the renovated rooms; my favorites are those in the atmospheric pensione, which tend to be smaller but have been redone in a cheerful Engadine style with simple painted walls and pine everywhere.
The Kulm failed me just once, when a staff member entered my room without knocking—an unthinkable mistake at a hotel of this caliber. But all was forgiven at lunch, over an exquisite truite au bleu—lake trout poached live in a court bouillon and served with perfectly sculpted potatoes and the most dainty of haricots fines. Sitting by the window in the restaurant, watching the horse races on the lake below, and savoring what is, for me, the Holy Grail of Swiss dishes...maybe the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, after all.
18 Via Vegria; 800/223-6800 or 41-81/836-8000; www.kulmhotel-stmoritz.ch; doubles from $530, including breakfast.
SUVRETTA HOUSE The first thing to know about Suvretta House is that it is not in St.-Moritz. It's not off in a suburb, either (as quite a few hotels that claim St.-Moritz addresses are), but in aneighborhood of private chalets a few minutes beyond the town. Although some find this location out of the way, for many it's ideal: quieter, more exclusive, discreet, and still within reach of the action (the hotel runs shuttles to town).
The second thing to know is that Suvretta is a deeply traditional hotel. After 7 p.m., men must don a jacket and tie, even to lounge in the lobby, and women break out their ball gowns. This creates an air of sophistication and formality that is in perfect keeping with the hushed surroundings. Let the jet-setters stay at the Palace and the hard-core skiers at the Kulm; Suvretta is where you'll find three generations of an Italian family—all impeccably dressed and groomed—who come for a month each year and settle for nothing less than their usual set of rooms.
Those rooms, it must be said, are the hotel's weakest link. Like the Palace and the Kulm, Suvretta is in the midst of a renovation, scheduled for completion in December 2003, and the 210 rooms are in varying states: from fully renovated to untouched for years. Save the few that have been recast in an atypically contemporary fashion (black-and-white photos, ebonized wood, beige and cream fabrics), none are long on style. I advise inspecting whatever you're assigned before accepting it. A general rule: the fourth floor is considered the most desirable—rooms are renovated and have high ceilings (whereas ceilings are unusually low on the fifth and sixth floors). If you can get one of the 23 with a terrace or balcony, so much the better.
Of course, you don't come to Suvretta to stay in your room. You come for ski-in/ski-out access to less crowded slopes (note that there's no snowmaking, so weather is critical). For afternoon bridge games. For swimming in the striking indoor pool, which has slate walls and a waterfall. Most of all, you come for a resort experience, with everything you need right at hand. You could easily spend a day here, as I did, doing little else than relaxing in the light-filled lobby, moving on to Anton's Bar for cocktails, and finishing up with a fine cheese fondue in the clubby Stube.
Despite its size, there's a familial atmosphere at Suvretta, thanks in large part to a staff that is the warmest I've encountered in Switzerland. It helps that a great number of them have been employees for several decades. After only two days, Paola knew to leave the top sheet on my bed untucked, and Gianni was making me sandwiches—thin slices of ham on crusty rolls with the merest suggestion of butter—just the way I like them.
Via Chasellas; 800/223-6800 or 41-81/836-3636; www.suvrettahouse.ch; doubles from $460, including breakfast and dinner.
ST.-MORITZ FOR LESS?
Pretty much everything in St.-Moritz—from hotel rooms to lift tickets to a cup of coffee—carries a high price tag. So if you're looking for bargains, you're probably better off choosing a different ski resort. Rates do fluctuate during the winter (January is less expensive than February), but prices never get particularly low.
If only St.-Moritz will do, the 36-room Hotel Eden Garni (12 Via Veglia; 41-81/830-8100; www.edenstmoritz.ch; doubles from $212, including breakfast) has cozy public areas and a superb location midway between the Palace and the Kulm. Book well in advance, pay a bit more for a brighter lake-view room, and do not expect luxury.
The funky Hotel Misani (70 Via Maistra, Celerina; 41-81/833-3314; doubles from $144, including breakfast) is not in St.-Moritz proper but in the suburb of Celerina, which has direct access to both the Marguns and Corviglia ski areas. While not as glamorous as St.-Moritz, Celerina has its devotees, especially among younger skiers who prefer its more laid-back vibe. Most of the Misani's 38 rooms are decorated in eccentric themes—North African, American Western—and have a spare, modern feel. There's also a stylish bar and two restaurants: one Italian, the other serving everything from tandoori to satay.
Two months ago St.-Moritz got its first new luxury hotel since the early 20th century, the Kempinski Grand Hôtel des Bains (800/426-3135 or 41-81/838-3838; www.kempinskistmoritz.com; doubles from $586). The 184-room property is, like Suvretta House, geared to those looking for a destination unto itself; it's located in St.-Moritz Bad, an outlying part of town along the lake's western shore. A large spa—including, in summer, a medical clinic for procedures such as cosmetic surgery—is one of the Kempinski's chief assets, as is ski-in/ski-out access.