Not only did Badrutt’s guests lap up the winter landscapes and genteel pursuits, such as skating on the lakes and fur-swaddled horse-drawn carriage rides, they imported curling and cricket and, discovering the exhilarating potential of careening down icy roads on sleds (leading to no small number of bloody accidents), invented bobsleigh racing. Next, they pioneered skeleton on the now world-famous Cresta Run, which still reunites a crew of gutsy global bluebloods each season to risk life, limb and the esoteric initiation rites of the St Moritz Tobogganing Club. (Female riders, incidentally, are not allowed. Yep, this place is that old school.)
Which is why, having spent a bracing morning snowboarding silky pistes on Corvatsch, one of St Moritz’s four ski mountains, we found ourselves back on the Kulm’s manicured grounds at the Olympia Bob Run St Moritz-Celerina for a 269-Swiss-franc, 75-second ‘taxi ride’. I was more than a little nervous climbing between pilot and brakewoman into the giant bullet that was about to shoot me at speeds of up to 135 kmh down the 1,722m run, dialling the G-force up to 4.5, and I wondered fleetingly ‘am I dead?’ as we catapulted out of a sharp turn and my helmet smashed against the track’s ice wall, but the adrenaline rush afterwards beat any cocktail hands-down (just to be sure, I necked the complimentary glass of prosecco in the clubhouse at Olympic speed).
As St Moritz’s profile has continued to soar, the best addresses in town have diligently kept pace. Recent enhancements at the Kulm include an extension of its sumptuous spa to 2,000 sq m (not unusual in this town – the Kempinski’s stretches to nearly 3,000, while Badrutt’s Palace’s vast pamperdrome features a 25m oval infinity pool encased in floor-to-ceiling glass), with a spectacular outdoor jacuzzi that’s plenty big enough to swim in, framed by panoramic valley views. British ‘starchitect’ and part-time St Moritz resident Lord Norman Foster has sleekly reinvented the Kulm Country Club. Decorated with fascinating black-and-white photographs from the resort’s history, the elegant, light-filled space is now home to one of the chicest smart-casual restaurants in town. (Foster’s hand can be seen in several landmark buildings around St Moritz’s striking if strangely inharmonious townscape, notably in Chesa Futura, an apartment building with a curvaceous sci- silhouette, clad in 250,000 larch shingles.) And interiors architect Pierre-Yves Rochon has added 66 ‘Alpine-contemporary’ rooms and suites, a welcome complement to the slightly chintzy, if supremely comfortable decor that is the hotel’s signature look (its traditional appeal clearly still works – other hallowed old-world fixtures include a strict dress code in the Grand Restaurant, high tea in the lobby and daily bridge drives).
The pride the Kulm’s staff take in plugging their guests into the experiences that make St Moritz unique is palpable and the next challenge they offered us was skijoring, which involves being towed on skis by a horse and was once the preferred conveyance of lady visitors to St Moritzon shopping sprees. Viano-delivered to the frozen Lake Silvaplana on a dazzlingly sunny February morning, we found the scene alive with locals and guests devouring their leisure pursuits of choice. Snowkiters swooped across the lake, snowshoed hikers marched on forest trails, skiers and snowboarders whooped down pistes on both sides of the valley, while in the foreground a hundred or so racing cross-country skiers hared into view. (We don’t doubt that Via Serlas, with its Gucci, Jimmy Choo and Valentino outlets, dubbed ‘St Moritz’s Rodeo Drive’, was equally busy. The combination of ritzy retail, fine dining, wellness and other indoor indulgences keep 60 percent of visitors off the ski slopes, making a beautifully uncrowded 350km of world-class pistes another of St Moritz’s USPs).
The following day, Lake St Moritz was the scene for White Turf, a three-weekend horse-racing series that sees a sparkling-white tent city spring up on the ice, with banks of stadium seating overlooking a track where international jockeys on thoroughbreds thunder past every 30 minutes, out in pursuit of prize purses totalling around half a million Swiss francs. Gleaming marquees also host champagne bars, caviar stands, live-music stages and pop-up bookies and attract some 35,000 visitors (disappointingly few rocking Ugg-skimming minks and giant Dior shades).
But our stay’s biggest high was to come. That evening, the Kulm invited its guests to Glüna Plaina, an exclusive event on Diavolezza mountain (whose ski operations it happens to own). Just twice a season on the night before full moon, guests ride the gondolaup to 3,000m for a gourmet dinner at the mountaintop restaurant and skiing or snowshoeing by moonlight. As our group of around 40 rose into the night, stubborn cloud looked certain to spoil our fun and we peered disappointed into the gloom, straining to glimpse the mighty Diavolezza glacier below. But, as our boozy fondue dinner drew to a close, Kulm director Heinz E Hunkeler called for silence with triumph in his eyes. “Nature has smiled on us,” he announced. “The cloud has cleared. The moon is out.” Surrounded by jagged peaks silhouetted against brilliant stars, just 13 of us buckled into skis and snowboards at the top of the wide, freshly groomed Minor run beneath a huge, ice-white moon that set the slopes glowing an almost ultra-violet blue. Tentatively at first, we made turns that quickly gathered pace as the swooping 2 km piste opened out at our feet and the strangeness of the experience gave way to a thrilling descent so perfectly joyous there was more than one teary eye as we climbed, elated, into the waiting Kulm limos. Utterly, unforgettably priceless.
‘St Moritz is the new Venice’ wrote one Swiss newspaper of the local art scene and, while that’s rather overstating matters, the village’s charming Segantini Museum has been joined in recent years by the Vito Schnabel Gallery and Galerie Gmurzynska, which show challenging contemporary works. And interesting architecture abounds here.
In January and February, the frozen lake hosts two of St Moritz’s flamboyant signature events – the Snow Polo World Cup and White Turf horse-racing series, respectively. January also welcomes superstar chefs from all over the world to the Gourmet Festival. Summer highlights include the Festival da Jazz and any number of classic-car rallies, which culminate here in showers of champagne corks.
For more about St Moritz, visit www.stmoritz.ch.
Rupert’s journey was sponsored by www.myswitzerland.com.
Photography courtesy of Kulm Hotel