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The High Life: St. Moritz

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Photo: Benoit Peverelli

Skiing makes you hungry, and there are many places in St. Moritz to have lunch on the slopes. One day, after an invigorating few hours (my dormant skills ever improving), I sit outside on a sheepskin-covered chair at El Paradiso and order their Älpler Magronen, a Swiss specialty of pasta with a beef ragù, topped with applesauce. Which sounds suspect but isn’t at all—it’s delicious. El Paradiso is new, a beautiful space overlooking the valley, designed by local architect Hans-Jörg Ruch.

Another day I stop at La Marmite, more than halfway up the mountain in the funicular station at Corviglia. This place is an institution: a slightly cartoonish rendering of a high-end gourmet restaurant, with a menu focusing on foie gras, truffles, lobster, venison, gravlax, and caviar. You get the idea. Needless to say, it’s a popular spot with the Russians. The waitresses wear ruffled lace aprons à la Heidi, and there’s a man singing Simon & Garfunkel songs in a dubious accent. It’s all just a little silly, but the food is remarkable—light and fresh, a relief after days of fondue and pasta. "I combine the best local products with exotic flavors," says Reto Mathis, chef and proprietor and all-around local dynamo, whose father founded the restaurant in 1967. Mathis has numerous restaurants and sidelines, including an annual gourmet food festival. He loves the Russians ("What you hear about their behavior—I find it unfair. They haven’t had a chance to prove themselves") and scorns the nearby Corviglia Club. ("So conservative—but good for my business. All the people who aren’t allowed in there come to me.")

It’s at Reto Mathis’s restaurant that I meet Reto Lamm (Reto is a common name in the Engadine), a snowboard champion turned entrepreneur. Like Mathis, he grew up here—in 1926 his great-grandfather founded Lamm Cashmere House, a shop in the center of town with the largest selection of cashmere sweaters I’ve ever seen, a place so traditional it’s almost trendy. Lamm dropped out of school at age 19 to go pro and, now 37, is one of the sport’s pioneers; these days, he organizes competitions, markets sportswear for Bogner, and makes movies. He coproduced the official Russian video that promoted Sochi’s winning 2014 Olympic bid.

"St. Moritz is becoming hip," he says, citing the Norman Foster architecture, the fact that snowboarders are coming—they never used to; La Baracca, of course; and yes, the Russians. "I think they’re great," he says. "They’re over-the-top. It’s no-holds-barred, money is no object—just bring me what you have, let’s party! The Russians are turning St. Moritz into a sexy ski town again!"

This is strange to say, but both of these men, these Retos, so quintessentially Swiss and rooted in Engadine tradition, also seem somehow American to me—their striving, their openness to new ideas and opportunities, their embrace of the Russians and all they represent. "You have to face the future," says Mathis, sounding a little like Donald Trump. "You have to do something, get out there, take the next step, take a chance."

At long last, I have dinner with friends at La Baracca. It’s on the outskirts of town, a nondescript shack in the middle of a parking lot. The lack of pretense or polish or "style" is clearly deliberate, and it’s refreshing in formal St. Moritz. Inside, the place is hopping. The crowd is a mix of locals and tourists, aristocrats and ski bums, and Russians, too. The place feels cosmopolitan, energetic, and casual—it feels "downtown." Max Schneider, the agreeable proprietor, squeezes past our crowded round table, the bartender makes mojitos at the bar for three young women, and a weather-beaten man starts playing a hand organ. A large bowl of salad arrives for the table, and we pass it around, family-style. Plate after plate of pasta comes after that, and it’s good, and the wine is even better.

This is the future, I think, the inevitable high-low combustion engine of change, connection, and fun. It’s not the Russian oligarchs who are transforming St. Moritz; it’s the new generation of entrepreneurs and restaurateurs who are doing the job, opening doors. Everyone is talking about La Baracca because it’s the kind of restaurant where strangers talk to each other.

And everyone is here.

Luke Barr is the news director of Travel + Leisure.

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