Squirreled away in the south-eastern corner of Switzerland, St Moritz feels like the capital of another country altogether – one in which everyone wears Prada. But don’t let all the glitz distract you from the quality of the skiing. There are some gorgeous, intermediate-friendly pistes here.
Table of Contents
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
Winter Alpine holidays were invented in St Moritz more than 150 years ago by the British, and while other resorts have long since imitated its formula of snow and fun, few have come close to equaling it. The Maharajah of Hyderabad once arrived at his hotel in St Moritz with 500 trunks and 300 pieces of hand luggage. Ballet dancer Nijinsky gave his last public performance in the ballroom of the Suvretta House and other bygone guests to the hotel include such diverse figures as the Shah of Iran, Eva Peron and Lenin. The early visitors skated on the frozen lake and tobogganed on a steep slope that was to become the Cresta Run.
This is the leading all-round wintersports resort
These days, though, a couple of Louis Vuitton suitcases will suffice and there’s no chance of a Swan Lake performance – although cricket, golf, polo, horse- and greyhound-racing, show-jumping and golf are the unusual spectator sports on the frozen lake. St Moritz is certainly the epitome of an all-round wintersports resort and it’s set above and along the shores of a beautiful lake in the Engadin valley, three to four hours by road from Zurich.
But before we go on, you’ll need some essential orientation. St Moritz divides into Dorf and Bad, which are 3km apart. Together with Celerina, they provide direct access to the main Corviglia ski area.
Dorf or Bad?
St Moritz Dorf, on the shore of the lake, is the smart one that is home to most of the major hotels, restaurants, shops, and clubs. St Moritz Bad is generally less expensive and has a number of hotels dominated by the giant five-star Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains. Suvretta House, one of the resort’s most luxurious hotels, lies in splendid isolation at the extreme edge of the ski area in neither Bad nor Dorf.
Celerina is situated 3km from Dorf at the bottom of the Cresta. It is known as ‘Piccolo Milano’ because of its popularity with Italians and makes a charming and more intimate base. Samedan, slightly further along the valley, has its own beginner lift, while hamlets such as La Punt provide further accommodation. Lifts at Pontresina, Silvaplana, Surlej and Zuoz are also covered by the Engadin lift pass.
Yes, it’s smart. But it has great skiing too
With all that’s on offer, it doesn’t come as any surprise to find that the skiing, although good, is by no means the main activity. There’s certainly plenty of it though, and it’s pretty snow-sure. The region divides into four main sectors with a total 350km of piste. The main nursery slopes are at Corviglia, the closest area to the town centre, while Corvatsch, on the other side of the valley, has the more advanced terrain. Diavolezza and Lagalb are reached by train or bus.
Head-first tobogganing anyone?
However, it is the dangers of the famous Cresta Run that has the most allure. The Cresta is the home of the skeleton, an extreme form of head-first tobogganing. Skeleton is an Olympic sport for both men and women but the old school St Moritz Tobogganing Club still excludes women. It is exciting to watch, with speeds of 100kph often reached, and you don’t need to be a member.
The Cresta should not be confused with the bobsleigh. St Moritz has the world’s one remaining natural ice run that is rebuilt each winter with nine serpentine bends snaking down to Celerina. Not all the action here involves gravity, however. Skating, ice hockey and curling are also important activities, and the wide, flat Engadin valley is perfect for cross-country skiing. From time to time more eccentric sports take over – golf, polo, horse-racing, show jumping, greyhound racing, and even cricket are played in the winter here, and watched by St Moritz’s hedonistic clientele.
Fashion week on snow
However thrilling the sports, the resort has still been saddled with the image of Fashion Week on Snow – a place where designer ski suits never see the piste. Visitors to the glittering resort include a large splash of celebrities such as Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, and Princess Caroline of Monaco. Surprisingly for a place with such an impeccable pedigree, the architecture of St Moritz is far from being aesthetically pleasing. The beauty of the place lies not in the views of the resort itself but in the views from it.
Guide to the Mountain
There are three main skiing areas in St Moritz, and a few more minor ones, all separate from one another. Getting between them involves a tedious commute – but it’s worth the schlepp. There are some gorgeous, emptier slopes to be enjoyed away from Corviglia (the closest to the town), the mountain that attracts all the traffic.
These are the ski areas:
1. Corviglia: This is the core of the skiing, reached by funicular from Dorf and by cable-car from Bad. A modern gondola provides the link from Celerina, while Suvretta House has its own chair-lift. A 100-person cable-car goes from the top of the funicular up to Piz Nair at 3057m.
Because it’s the easiest to access from the main centres of accommodation, this is the busiest area, and should be avoided at weekends. But there is some great, high-speed, on-piste cruising to be enjoyed here mid-week, especially on the high slopes above Suvretta.
2. Corvatsch: Cold and mostly north-facing, Corvatsch is home to the best snow, and the most exciting pistes in the valley. The Standard Run off the summit, and down a broad, steepening ridge, is an absolute classic. We’ve skied here in January and found the place deserted. It’s reached from Sils Maria, Silvaplana and Surlej – and you can ski back down to St Moritz Bad on an easy black (the only difficulty lies in the icy conditions you’ll find at the bottom).
3. Diavolezza and Lagalb: The third area, made up of two mountains on either side of the Bernina valley (close to the Italian border), rises to a snowsure 3000m and is reached from St Moritz by bus or train. These days the two are linked by lift and offer some of the best expert skiing in the region. The 10km descent – with a guide – from Diavolezza down the glacier to Morteratsch, is the most spectacular run in the St Moritz area.
4. Zuoz: The little village at the far end of the Engadin Valley is far removed from the sophistication of its famous neighbours. But this is where you will find local families and free riders when the big-name resorts are crowded.
Cross-country skiing is an important sport here
This is as popular as the downhill variety of skiing in St Moritz, with tracks through the pine forest and along the shores of the lake at St Moritz Bad. The annual pro-am 42km Engadin Marathon attracts thousands of Langlaufers and is a highlight of the European cross-country calendar.
Okay for freestylers and those happy to cruise the corduroy
Corviglia is home to a big snowpark, which is rated as ‘one of the best in Switzerland’. And when it snows, there’s a vast amount of freeriding on offer across the three main areas. Problem is, it doesn’t snow here that often, or even as much as it does in Davos and Klosters, which lie in the next big valley to the north. So unless you can travel at the last minute – to take advantage of a recent storm – we wouldn’t recommend it for powder pigs. In other words, this is a place for freestylers, and those who are happy to cruise the corduroy.
Night owls can head to Corvatsch every Friday evening to ski on Switzerland’s longest floodlit piste. Gluna Plaina means ‘full moon’ in the local Romansh language, and during the winter there are several opportunities for night-time skiing on Diavolezza by moonlight.
Where to Learn
The main ski schools for both adults and children are Swiss Snowsports School St Moritz and Celerina. There’s also Engadin Snow and Fun in Celerina, and the Suvretta ski school and the Suvretta Freestyle Academy also operate in the resort.
Ski Cool is the most international of St Moritz’s schools: nearly all of its instructors are British, or hold BASI licenses. It does most of its teaching on Corviglia or Corvatsch, although they’re happy to take clients up to Diavolezza, Zuoz, or even Livigno in Italy (about an hour from St Moritz by car). The company also has a UIAGM guide on its books for anyone who fancies ski touring above the Engadin Valley.
The wealthy guests tend to book private guides
A high number of the resort’s wealthy guests book private guides, which has resulted in the establishment of a number of specialist organisations: Private Ski Instructor Association St Moritz/Engadin, AAA, Bergsteigerschule Pontresina, and St Moritz Experience. Heli Bernina, and Air Grischa Helicopter can arrange heli-skiing. If you’d like to try kitesailing, you can learn the ropes at Kite Sailing & Surfing Silvaplana.
Many of the hotels are family-friendly
Hotel Schweizerhof has daycare for children over three years, as does Badrutt’s Palace Hotel with its Palazzino Kids Club. Suvretta House has a kindergarten for small guests from 12 months old, and a children’s restaurant. Kempi Kids Club, in the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains, officially takes children from three years, although it will also care for baby guests. The The Kulm nursery accepts children from three years and organises a daily children’s supper.
In fact, all the major hotels can arrange babysitting, and the ski schools accept children from four years of age. There’s also a Club Med in town – down in St Moritz Bad. It attracts a very international clientele, which means English is spoken as widely in as French. Ski school for adults and children, and childcare for 4-17 year olds are included in the all-inclusive package price, and the hotel has an indoor swimming-pool.
Parks for small freestylers
The Salastrains and Provuler Kids’ Parks give children the chance to try out freestyle tricks. Located in the St. Moritz Corviglia ski region (Salastrains) and above Celerina on Marguns (Provuler), both have a kids’ fun box, a kids’ rainbow box, a kid’s up-and-down box, waves, steep curves and a mini-roller. Freestyle instruction is also on offer for children.
Where to Stay
Moritz divides into two originally separate communities: Dorf and Bad, although in recent years the development of hotels and apartments mean that they have in effect joined together. It’s a 3km walk from the far end of one to the end of the other, but both have lifts up to the Corviglia ski area.
St Moritz Dorf, which lies on the shore of the lake, houses the majority of the important hotels, restaurants, shops and clubs. St Moritz Bad is more tranquil and home to the five-star Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains. Also worthy of note is the small resort of Celerina, which lies at the foot of the Bob and Cresta Run and offers a more intimate alternative base to St Moritz, along with easy access into itself.
Another bed base is the sedate town of Pontresina, which acts as a gateway to the third major ski area in the Engadin valley: Lagalb and Diavolezza. You can also stay at Silvaplana near the Corvatsch ski area, and in Zuoz which has its own small ski area.
Badrutt’s Palace Hotel is home of the resort’s landmark tower and is the most famous establishment in town. It’s a vast establishment with an old-money atmosphere and seven restaurants, a spa and its own ski school. The King’s Club, St Moritz’ key party place, is also here.
Rumour has it that the resort’s luxury boutique hotel, The Carlton, was originally built as a summer residence by Tsar Nicolai II in 1913, but even if this is untrue the Carlton’s a fabulous place. The bedrooms are enormous and all completely different, and the views from the windows over the lake are to die for. The Kulm is the customary choice of Cresta riders. Its bedrooms and suites are sumptuously decorated with fine fabrics and have the latest in technology discreetly hidden away. It also houses the famous Dracula Club nightspot.
The area’s first truly ski-in ski-out hotel, the Nira Alpina, opened a few years ago in the hamlet of Surlej, adjacent to the Corvatsch cable-car. It has 70 rooms and suites, 14 of which are family rooms. The hotel’s bakery serves gourmet sandwiches for skiers eager to spend an uninterrupted day on the slopes, and a shuttle bus runs to and from St Moritz.
But no accommodation list of St Moritz is complete without the five-star Suvretta House, which is stuck out on a limb neither in Dorf or Bad, and is a small resort in its own right with its own skating-rink, nursery slope, ski-lift, ski school and three mountain restaurants.
A base in St Moritz Bad
Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains is a slick five-star set on the cross-country track in St Moritz Bad, and is a Russian favourite. It houses a sumptuous spa, a kids club, the smartest wine bar in town, and a casino. Hotel Arte has a pizzeria and nine nationally-themed bedrooms including African, Australian, Japanese, Venetian, and Mexican.
Going (slightly) down the price scale
The Steffani has a loyal following of guests who return year after year. It is a traditional family-owned hotel that is conveniently set in the centre of St Moritz Dorf and houses three eateries including the resort’s oldest restaurant and a Chinese restaurant. The in-house swimming-pool is gorgeous. Hotel Schweizerhof is renowned for its Acla and Clavadatsch restaurants, and its basement Hofkeller. It has a bar with live music and a free nursery for three-year-olds and over. Hotel Soldanella is an Art Nouveau style place with some of the bedrooms overlooking the lake. It houses the popular Zoo Bar, the Bacchus Wine Cellar and a spa. Hotel Waldhaus am See is a comfortable place that is famous for its vast whisky collection and its food, but it is situated a brisk walk from the town centre. Art Boutique Monopol is a four-star boutique hotel with a restaurant serving Italian cuisine, and two bars – one on the rooftop with glass walls to make the most of the lovely view. Hotel Hauser is a three-star in the middle of Dorf, and houses the popular Cafe Hauser.
Private chalets and apartments abound, but one you can book is Snow White, an amazing apartment built on the shore of the lake and offering spectacular views. It is located 100 metres from the town centre, next to Badrutt’s Palace. It sleeps up to seven people on a single large floor and has a spacious living room, adjoining dining room, a modern kitchen, and a spa area with a whirlpool, sauna and massage room.
Staying in Silvaplana
Hotel Bellavista is set in discreet little Silvaplana, and describes itself as: ‘traditional yet not old-fashioned, creative yet not bizarre, up-to-date yet by no means trendy’. It also happens to have a wellness centre and one of the best restaurants in the area. Hotel Juler P(a)lace has various types of rooms and apartments available, including categories called ‘nice rooms’ and ‘noisy rooms’. There’s a creative kitchen, a kids’ area, and a free shuttle bus to the Corvasch skiing. If you’d rather stay in a luxury chalet then Chesetta is a substantial property with six bedrooms and a modern interior. Deep squashy sofas and Swiss antiques decorate the huge space, along with contemporary art and some quirky finds from Portobello Road.
Pontresina and offbeat Zuoz
Grand Hotel Kronenhof is an elegant Baroque hotel which is also the oldest five-star in the Engadine area. The kitchen is renowned for its gourmet cuisine, and there is a vast spa. Hotel Misani is delightful place to stay, and is best known for its three restaurants – offering regional, Mediterranean and traditional cuisine. Hotel Saratz is Art Nouveau style with a good restaurant.
You can also opt to stay in considerably quieter Zuoz, which has its own small ski area. Hotel Castell is an architectural and artistic feast. It contains an impressive art collection, serves innovative cuisine, and offers cutting-edge comfort. Hotel Engiadina, set among a collection of 16th-century farmhouses, was built in 1876 and has large, high-ceilinged rooms typical of the Victorian era.
Where to Eat
The St Moritz restaurant scene has reached stratospheric heights, especially on the mountain. On Corviglia, Mathis Food Affairs has a justified reputation as the best (and most expensive) high-altitude lunching experience in the Alps. Owner Reto Mathis serves caviar and truffle-rich dishes in a stately style – it claims to sell more of both than any other mountain eatery in the world. No list of the best mountain restaurants could be complete without Mathis, or La Marmite as it is still known to its faithful regulars. Mathis caters to the every whim of his rich and often famous clients, following in the footsteps of his father Hartly. From the outside, the building is a gaudy banana yellow, but inside it is culinary heaven and at peak times in the ski season you must book several weeks in advance. Try the buckwheat blini with caviar and sour cream or the mashed potatoes with caviar.
Our favourite eatery here, El Paradiso, is also in the Corviglia area. It has candelabra on its outdoor bar, sheepskin-covered benches, and wall-to-wall magnums of Champagne. It’s a real contender for best mountain restaurant in the resort, with excellent service, and food to die for. It’s also open in the evening, with diners taken back and forth by snowcat from the Chantarella car park.
Suvretta House owns three mountain eateries, smartest of them is Chasellas which is a charming gourmet restaurant where specialities include veal sausages and air-dried beef. In the evening it transforms into a secret destination for gourmets, with a fusion of local seasonal produce and Italian haute cuisine. Family favourite is Trutz, with specials such as tortellini or polenta with gorgonzola and tempting puds such as Apfelkuchen and Kaiserschmarrn. Also affordable is Chamanna, which serves local dishes such as Rosti and raclette.
Hotel Salastrains is located on the plateau above St Moritz, with the Corviglia slopes passing by the front door. As a hotel, its three restaurants are as popular by day as by night. Starters include deer carpaccio, homemade linguini or ravioli, and tagliolini with fresh lobster.
Our favourite on Corvatsch is Alpetta, a mountain hut renowned for its game dishes. The place is stuffed with cowbells, antlers, and other assorted mountain eclectica. Dorigo, the charismatic owner, is on hand to tell wildly improbable stories of how he either shot or ran over your lunch in his Range Rover.
At Diavolezza, try Berghaus Diavolezza at 3000m – it claims to have the highest hot tub in the world, as well as having a table-service restaurant, self-service and a Stubli. At Lagalb you can eat high-altitude and high-quality cuisine in Bergrestaurant Lagalb (+41 81 842 61 82).
If you ski down to Celerina, where the Cresta begins, you’ll find the glittering designer hotel, the Misani, which has a cellar containing The Bodega. Eat here for lunch or in the evening and you’ll be treated to a choice of some 30 tapas dishes and tasty Mediterranean wines.
It’s Champagne with everything – even the pizzas are gourmet
After skiing it’s time to pop into Hanselmann, the 100-year-old coffee house, for tea and cakes. Later on, try Chesa Veglia, which is a rustic farmhouse owned by Badrutt’s Palace Hotel since 1935 and containing three different eateries – none of them cheap. Choose from pizzas at Pizzeria Heuboden, Swiss specialties in Patrizier Stuben or sophisticated dishes at Grill Chadafo.
Nobu has a Belle Epoque interior and is in Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. It serves gourmet sushi and other Japanese cuisine. The Sunny Bar at The Kulm serves Peruvian cuisine with an Asian influence. The Suvretta’s Mountain restaurant, Trutz is open for evening fondue and raclette. The Grischuna at Art Boutique Monopol is warmly recommended. Caruso, in Hotel Laudinella, has 60 different types of pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven.
A reasonably-priced venue is tiny Veltlinerkeller in St Moritz Bad, which has 30 covers and is more down-to-earth than many of the restaurants in this resort. Try its homemade pasta, or the fish and meat cooked on a charcoal grill.
Eating out of town
Out of town, but still close by, is La Baracca (+41 79 270 0775) on the outskirts of St Moritz Bad on the road to Champfer. It’s a nondescript shack in the middle of a parking lot, but it serves delicious food. The lack of polish is deliberate, and it’s a refreshing change from the rest of St Moritz. Inside, the place is buzzing, with a boho atmosphere and a mix of locals, tourists, and ski bums.
Talvo By Dalsass in a frescoed house dating back to 1658 in Champfer. It’s open for lunch and dinner, has a Michelin star and is renowned for its venison and game. Even though this is outside St Moritz, don’t expect prices to be any lower than in town! Stuvetta Davidoff, in the same building, is in a small cosy Stubli with an old Engadine stove.
Half and hour’s walk from St Moritz centre is Hotel Restaurant Lej da Staz in a secluded spot on Lake Staz in Celerina. The restaurant serves traditional Engadine dishes in simple but cosy surroundings at lunchtime and in the evening. Restaurant Saratz is in the hotel of the same name in neighbouring Pontresina. The Art Nouveau style restaurant serves market-fresh cuisine, combining Mediterranean and local influences.
In the village of Zuoz, try Restaurant Castell (+41 81 851 5253) where you can dine on creative cuisine beside the open fire, and Dorta which is one of the Engadine’s oldest farmhouses – hay soup is one of the rustic specialities here. In La Punt village there’s Restaurant Krone, in the Gasthaus of the same name, which serves pleasant cuisine in a local Grisons atmosphere. The restaurant has four pine-panelled rooms – Stuvetta, Stuva, Kronenstube and Golfstube – each with its own ambience. Especially attractive is the Golfstube decorated with 19th-century oil paintings and Wilson St Andrews golf clubs from the same period. The restaurant has been awarded 14 Gault Millau points and the Guide Michelin gives it a good rating. In Plaun da Lej, Restaurant Murtaol offers fish dishes. Hotel Bellavista in Silvaplana has a superb restaurant.
Where to Party
Start at Hotel Salastrains, which is located on the plateau above St Moritz, with the Corviglia slopes outside the door. It has two large terraces, a snow bar with live music and DJs. For something a bit more sedate, don’t missHanselmannin St Moritz Dorf, which is a 100-year-old coffee house that is a resort meeting place after skiing, serving coffee, pastry and delectable ice cream. Another excellent cafe is Hatecke, which also produces the best Buendner Fleisch (dried meat) in the region and serves snacks. But you won’t be dancing in your ski boots at either of these venues.
This is where the trust-fund kids come to play
After dinner is when St Moritz warms up. Moroccan-themed King’s Club is in Badrutt’s Palace Hotel and is the top nightclub in St Moritz and indeed in the whole of Switzerland. This is where the celebrities come to party, with ever-changing DJs and a dress code of ‘dress to impress’. The Stubli at Hotel Schweizerhof has late-night dancing on tables: after 10pm it’s said to be “so crowded that you couldn’t possibly fall off”. Cava in Steffani is extremely popular too, as is the cult Hemingway’s Club (+41 81 832 32 12) which stays open until the last person is standing – usually around 6am.
The bar in Art Boutique Monopol is a modern and relaxing place and there’s a separate smokers’ lounge. Best value is Bobby’s Pub, an English-style pub with 20 types of beer, billiards, darts, an internet area, and a jukebox with over 20 million titles.
Other non-skiing entertainment
St Moritz makes good use of its beautiful (frozen) lake – with myriad spectactor sports on offer during the day and sometimes floodlit at night. These include cricket, golf, polo, horse- and greyhound-racing, show-jumping and golf. St Moritz is certainly the epitome of an all-round wintersports resort.