Descend into the cellar of the Grand Hotel Kronenhof in Pontresina and you will see material testimony to the key role of St Moritz in the history of skiing. The charming medieval village of Grisons, a few kilometers of ski from the Bernina Pass from St. Moritz Gucci and Chanel shlosstemptation, he is quiet, intelligent and downright rude with the health of the mountain air.
For over 100 years he has also practiced winter sports; tourists started coming here in the 1850s to admire the restoration, grand cru air and wander the pretty, winding streets with their characteristic ‘graffito’ plastered houses, the opening of the Kronenhof in 1848 provides an idyllic playground for central Europe belle époque in 1900.
British skiers will follow, coming here season after season, storing skis and poles in the wine cellar, leaving handwritten labels tied to the bindings, all ready for next year. Sadly, many of those original tweedy downhill fiends have not returned from the trenches of WW1 for one last run, but their beautifully crafted wooden gear – stacks and stacks of locally made skis and poles, still tagged and waiting – remain as testimony to the sacrifice of the old soldiers, Alpine audacity and tourist loyalty.
The Weinkeller, unmodernised and made blissfully atmospheric by its vast upturned wooden vats and myriad chandeliers (all salvaged from the Kronenhof’s recent renovation) hanging from the vaulted ceilings, now serves as a delightful party venue and wine bar – you’ll want to stay there all night long. Raise a glass of the local ‘Sanct Valentin’ Chardonnay to the brave lads in their furthest fours, then knock down some pins in the adjacent wooden bowling alley.
And upstairs? Wowsa. After the multi-million Swiss franc makeover in 2021, the neo-baroque Kronenhof, Old World / The greatness of Wes Anderson is still there, but things are more, the opulence of the jet set now, the interior of the cocktail bar – all marble cabochons, light leather and Macassar ebony counters – chosen in that fabulous emerald green that Kiera Knightly wore devastating effect in Atonement. Stroll through the long corridors to discover a wooden cladding smoker and a billiard room and mountain-facing fireplace room — the Chimney Room — furnished with original 1950s Charles and Ray Eames lounge chairs. We drank gin and tonics the size of goldfish bowls, getting up the next day, at a very civilized hour, to take us up the Firn slopes of the Engadine’s Diavolezza ski area and onto Switzerland’s longest glacier run.
Due to its height – the famous Piz Bernina is 4,049 meters above sea level – it is possible to ski in the Diavolezza for six months of the year. The mountain opens in October and won’t close until the snow is gone in May. Hike the Pers and Morteratsch Glacier and you’ll discover a mountain hot tub in the most spectacular location. The skiing here is glorious, fast and incredibly challenging – it’s worth knowing that the name La Diavolezza translates as “She Devil”.
Downstream in St Moritz, skiing and people-watching are the two most exciting ways to spend an afternoon. Stay at the Kulm Hotel, a fabulous Grand Budapest style hotel that is absolutely delightful.shloss-ness – and you get the full “House of Gucci” experience. The Kulm’s original owners, the Badrutt family, were the first innkeepers to pioneer the idea of a winter season, offering their maverick 1864 British guests a money-back guarantee if they didn’t enjoy the snow. “Come back and spend Christmas in St Moritz. It’s sunnier and less rainy than London,” Badrutt suggested. “If you don’t like it, I’ll pay for your travel expenses. If you do, you can stay as long as you like. Four English guests took up the challenge and stayed in St Moritz from December until Easter.
The family also founded the famous (and resiliently men-only) St Moritz Cresta Run, whose rather wonderful club-house – a sort of Hard Rock Cafe for wintering toffs – is still hopping about in the basement of the Kulm hotel. Cresta Run memorabilia is everywhere; he photographs trophies, bibs and ephemera. There are sledges hanging from the ceiling and dangling ropes suggesting that some sort of bar challenge might occur from time to time. A famous Cresta racer and St. Moritz Tobogganing Club regular was American fighter pilot Billy Fiske who was killed in the Battle of Britain. Billy went on to be one of the founders of the Aspen Colorado ski resort, but he was best known around here for his drunken jumps over the many chandeliers in St Moritz.
Now owned by the Niarchos family — Stella McCartney, Orlando Bloom, Kate Hudson and Princess Beatrice all stayed at the Kulm when Dasha Zhukova married Stavros Niarchos III in 2020 — the Kulm is a maximalists dream and the Roman columns in the lobby are clad of chintz. Old Euro-aristo types in Tyrolean knitwear, septuagenarian German tycoons in the latest Moncler and dapper, new money types from China and the UEA all break for tea by the spa’s rooftop pool.
After some skiing, a long lunch, and an invigorating outdoor jet from the spa, I went for a walk and admired the scenery. First the impossibly chic Hanselmann chocolate shop, then Via Serlas with its layers of Bond Street clothing. Louis Vuitton, Versace, Cartier, Dior, Loro Piano, Miu Miu, Hermes, Bulgari all have shops here (much easier to buy a Birkin bag at St. Lamm Cashmere House on Via Maistra, which has been keeping the premises warm and On the same street is an art gallery owned by model maker and dealer Vito Schnabel.
Just down the road is the Cresta Run itself and the spectacular home of ‘Mr St Moritz’ Rolf Sach, formerly a ski clubhouse built for the 1928 Winter Games. Then it’s a short slippery walk to the award center adjacent to the finish line of the Cresta race, oddly by the sea, all very “Accidentally Wes Anderson” but strictly members only.
The Eispavillon in Kulm Park, part of the Kulm hotel, more relaxed and welcoming to outsiders, was built over 100 years ago for the Winter Olympic Games (held in St Moritz in both 1928 and 1948) and was recently updated for the 2017 World Ski Championships, by English architect (and St Moritz resident) Lord Norman Foster. The pavilion is now woody, curvaceous, sexy and gorgeous, its gold medalist Altitude Bar cocktails and ideal for an apres ski session with your new friends, the Niarchoses and Schnabels. But don’t forget, in St Moritz it’s Mwah, mwah, MWAH – Three kisses, meine Lieblinge.
How to get there
SWISS (Swiss.com) flies from London Heathrow and London City to Zurich; from there, take the train to the Engadine (sbb.ch).
The Kulm Hotel St. Moritz (kulm.com), in winter, doubles from CHF 1245 (about £1,080) for two people on half board.
Grand Hotel Kronenhof (kronenhof.com), doubles from CHF665 (about £590) for two people on half board.