Johannes Badrutt, "the most important man" in St Moritz as our guide Guido Ratti tells us, watched the British guests at his Kulm Hotel pack their bags and get ready to head back to London, exactly 150 years ago. They had just spent their summer in the beautiful Swiss getaway, but winter was coming and it was time to return.
"We are going to hate London. It’s so dreary," they sulked. And then Guido lowers his voice and says dramatically, "So he told them, ‘Why don’t you come back here in the winter? The sky is clear and the sun is shining. If you don’t enjoy it, I will pay for your fare back.’"
They came, and they stayed on. And ever since that day, the rich have been flocking to St Moritz (named after Saint Maurice, a Christian saint from southern Egypt who was martyred in the 3rd century).
They do all the things we know only the rich do – ski, toboggan, sip 80-year-old wine or aged whiskey in front of a bonfire, eat cheese and still stay skinny, go for black-tie dinners, live in 20,000 Swiss Francs-a-day hotel suites, and burn those credit cards at Chanel and Ralph Lauren.
For me, leaving Mumbai in March and going to the colder St Moritz for three days was about dropping into a romantic time, one where people dress up for dinner, ride in horse-drawn carriages and drink hot chocolate as they take in the snow. For the rich, St Moritz is where the slopes and the good folk are. For me, the trip was my
The lap of luxury
My royal ride started as I sat in the Air France lounge at Charles De Gaulle airport, Paris, eating my first croissant of the trip, and drinking the creamiest hot chocolate I’d ever had.
The tiredness of the eight-hour journey from Mumbai seemed to be melting away like the bread in my mouth. By the time I was eating my Ladurée macaroon on the Air France flight to Zurich, I was set for some pampering.
Cut to St Moritz’s Badrutt Palace. Dressed in a black dress and pumps for a black-tie dinner, I stood on the balcony of the Alfred Hitchcock room which faces the frozen St Moritz lake. “One day, Hitchcock saw the crows flying over the lake, and that’s how he thought of his movie
(1963),” says Lars Wriedt, director of sales at the Palace. “Or so they say.”
More recently, music composer Alexandre Desplat told the staff that this hotel had inspired him to write the score for the 2014 film
The Grand Budapest Hotel
, which won him an Oscar. We walk through corridors that look like they could be haunted, packed as they are with mirrors, old phone booths and paintings of people who could only be royalty.
Of course I take a selfie, holding an old-style phone and pretending I am a Hollywood star calling her lover. And after dinner (the highlight of which is a dessert table with 15 types of sweet somethings) I know I could get used to this moneyed life – if only I were born into it.
That’s the St Moritz vibe. Everywhere you go it’s about fancy living – with nonchalance. It’s about taking luxury for granted. It’s about taking in the beauty of it all.
On my first morning there, when I woke up at 5am thanks to the time difference (St Moritz is three and a half hours behind India), I made coffee and stepped into the garden space outside my room. There was a mountain right in front of me and I walked into soft snow. It was calming, this mountain, and I suddenly wanted to live here forever.
After our first breakfast, where the cheese platter was the guest of honour (I love cheese!), we head to the Romantik Hotel on the tip of the Muottas Muragl, one of the highest mountains of the Engadin Valley where St Moritz nestles.
There, as we look at the snow-capped mountains while a haze of snow surrounds us, Guido points out to a tiny hut far away, barely visible and says, “That was the home of the painter Giovanni Segantini, which is now a
restaurant. He built it so he could be inspired.”
It is inspiring to be out here, engulfed in the whirling snow. I end up feeling alone, and in the best way possible. The romantic in me can imagine Segantini making a hot cup of tea in a steel kettle and sitting and painting all day as he watches the mountains. That’s as rustic as one can be in St Moritz.
As we take a lazy walk after lunch (the cheese craving is lessening now. Bread, too, looks daunting) through the main square of St Moritz, I am suddenly Carrie Bradshaw and even though I can’t afford anything, my head is reeling.
There’s Ralph Lauren, Gucci and Hermés (there is no place for H&M here). I gaze at a woman in fur with the mandatory tiny dog and man in a fine suit and cravat in tow. She also has a tiny Chanel shopping bag! It must contain diamonds. Or maybe a tiny black dress? Where could she be going, wearing that dress? And will George and Amal Clooney be there? They could be, right?
I almost feel drunk with the wonder of it all. But I’m not. I will soon be really drunk, however, because I’m going whiskey tasting at the hotel Waldhaus am See, which has the largest whiskey selection in the world (2,500 types). Single-malt whiskey brands make special whiskey for the hotel; the Queen of England is the only other entity with that privilege.
I may be the wrong person to do this, because you can’t teach an Old Monk drinker to appreciate fine whiskey at one go. So in my endeavour to be classy (it’s St Moritz, after all), I wipe that cringe off my face and drink it like a shot. And then another and then another. I feel good.
As I should, because everything in St Moritz is designed to make you feel as if you’re getting the best in the world, and it’s exclusive to only you. If you want big-city thrills, Zurich is only a few hours away by train.
Zurich is only a few hours away by train.
The top of the world
It’s not rocket science to figure out why St Moritz is the luxurious, expensive hot spot it is. It’s all about location, location, location. The snow-capped mountains that surround St Moritz are as perfect as the ones they show in the movies.
Yes, yes, like in all those Yash Chopra movies, just less mainstream. It has glaciers and frozen lakes and miles and miles of snow as far as you can see. In the summer, it’s miles and miles of green.
* Take an Air France flight from either Delhi or Mumbai to Paris and then a connecting one to Zurich
* Buy a rail pass on raileurope.co.in before you travel and take a three-hour ride to St Moritz
* In St Moritz, stay at the Badrutt’s Palace or the more economical yet luxurious Nira Alpina. It has a private entrance to the ski slopes
How rich must you be to visit St Moritz? The good news is that the town has realised that to keep up its standard of living, it needs to open its arms to the less rich. And it seems to be doing that, with cheaper hotels opening up by the dozen, and food and wine options for those without 20,000 Swiss Francs handy in their purses.
As I spend my last morning in St Moritz drinking coffee and eating eggs (because by now I can’t even look at cheese and bread anymore), I realise that the only reason to return to St Moritz would be to feel like royalty but at 20 per cent of the cost.
As Guido says: “In the older days, nobody knew where the celebrities stayed. Now it’s all over the papers. Then you can head over to those hotels and get a piece of the action.”
For St Moritz, that can only be a good thing.
(This trip was sponsored by Tourism Organisation Engadin St Moritz, Air France and Zurich Tourism)
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From HT Brunch, May 10
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