Jul 25, 2017
Swiss pin-up resort St Moritz is famous for glitz and glamour, but it hides age-old traditions experienced only by a handful of clued-up visitors. To step into this past, lace up your hiking boots or take the slow train through the Engadin Valley.
Ask any St Moritz local and they’ll tell you a special light exists in the Upper Engadin Valley. It’s the altitude, some will say, while pointing to snow-dusted, craggy mountaintops. Others will describe how the sun flits through golden larch and pine forests, shimmering off the town’s mirror-like lake (above). Or they’ll tell you how almost magical light constantly bursts from ever-changing skies.
It’s hyperbole such as this that has perhaps given St Moritz an image problem. Unashamedly glam in its heyday, the mountain resort has long been flushed with high culture and cash and still, today, it’s an alpine Xanadu where women drip with diamonds and men act like movie stars (sometimes, because they are). It’s not unknown, I’ve heard from friends, for a local to pay for zopf (honey-brown plaited bread) with a 200CHF (US$201) note.
There’s a hint of truth in all of this. The hotels are fabulous, the shops expensive, the top-notch restaurants and champagne bars as sophisticated as anything you’d find in New York or Shanghai. That five five-star hotels – six if you include Grace St Moritz opening next summer – are cosseted in such a small intersection of cobbled streets shouldn’t be scoffed at.
The heart is in the hotels
The Narnia-like fortress of Badrutt’s Palace (above) is where I start my journey to unpick the locks of St Moritz’s secrets. At the height of summer or winter, the hotel contains one of the world’s richest concentrations of millionaires. Outside, in the shadow of the hotel’s fairy-tale silhouette, the best in bling – Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Chopard, Valentino and Bulgari – cuddle side by side on Via Serlas, the alpine version of Fifth Avenue.