St. Moritz is a ski resort town located in the Engadine Valley in Switzerland. It first became famous thanks to its mineral springs, which were discovered 3,000 years ago and established the town as a summer spa resort early on. Then 150 years ago, the hotelier Johannes Badrutt made a bet with his English summer guests. He promised them that Engadine in winter would be just as sunny as Engadine in the summer (just a lot colder). He told them that if they didn’t like it, he would cover their travel expenses. They accepted his bet and ended up staying until Easter. They went home tanned, refreshed, revitalised and very happy.
With its 300 days of sunshine, there is a reason why St. Moritz trademarked the sunshine logo as its emblem. Even thought the weather was fantastic, the guests suffered from boredom, as there was very little to wile away the hours. To amuse themselves the British tourists teemed up with the St. Moritz locals and established Switzerland’s first curling field. This was followed by the Cresta Run in 1884, the first golf tournament in the Alps took place here in 1889, the Bob Run from St. Moritz to Celerina began operating in 1904 and one of the first ski lifts in Switzerland began running in 1935. St. Moritz is not only the birthplace of white winter holidays, but also the true home of Alpine winter sports. It therefore no coincidence that the first Winter Olympic Games were held in Engadin in 1928. Today St. Moritz is one of the world’s most glitziest and most renowned winter sports resort.
St.Moritz is acclaimed for having the first electric light, the first ski school and the first electric tram in Switzerland. Engadin also has a history of hosting major events: two Winter Olympic Games (1928 and 1948), soon-to-be five Skiing World Championships (2017) and Europe’s first ever Snowboarding World Championships (1987) are testament to this proud tradition. To prevent its good name from being exploited, St. Moritz was the first geographical location to register as a trademark in 1986 and its name is now protected in around 50 countries.
Skiing and Other Activities
If you thought that St. Moritz is all skiing and snow, you could not be more wrong. It remains the best all-round winter sports resort in the world, boasting a myriad of on and off-snow activities.
Among the most popular pastimes in the resort town include: skiing (obviously), snowboarding, and hiking, as well as visiting the nearby world famous Cresta Run toboggan course (the Cresta is the original and infamously men-only home of skeleton). Its eponymous frozen lake is the setting each winter for skating, curling, golf, polo, horse racing, show jumping, and even cricket. In March, St. Moritz hosts the Engadin Skimarathon, Switzerland’s largest cross-country race with as many as 13,000 entrants.
The ski area of St. Moritz is excellent, especially for intermediates. It has 58 lifts and 350km of pistes and is divided into four separate sectors. The bottom lift is at 1,800m and the top of the ski area at 3,305m. The resort itself has a rather complex geography. It is divided into three separate villages around or near the lake. Beware booking a hotel in one, only to find you thought you were going to another. Dorf, on the shore of the lake, is the glitzy one with most of the five- and four-star hotels as well as the pick of shops, nightlife, and restaurants. St. Moritz Bad is less than 2km – a four-minute drive – away, and an altogether quieter and less showy location. Celerina, 3km away on the other side of Dorf, also has its share of sumptuous hotels. All three link by lift into the core of the ski area at Corviglia at 2,486m.
St. Moritz’s ‘house mountain’ the Corviglia, boasts the steepest start slope in Switzerland with the Piz Nair Wall’s (the start of the men’s 2003 World Championship downhill)100 per cent vertiginous drop. Toboggan riders plunge down the icy run which is one of the oldest natural ice bob runs in the world. For winter hikers there are 150 km of winter walking trails and for cross-country skiers there is a track network of about 200 km. The snowboard fun park, curling and altitude training are just some of the other winter sports facilities.
- Moritz Polo World Cup on Snow – the prestigious winter polo tournament on snow attracts around 15,000 spectators to Lake St. Moritz each year (January).
- White Turf St. Moritz “International Horse Races since 1907” – these exclusive horse races on the frozen expanse of Lake St. Moritz are the highlight of the social calendar (February).
- BSI Engadine Festival – enjoy classical music at its finest (August).
- FIS Ladies Alpine Ski World Cup St. Moritz – look forward to excitement on Corviglia, when the ladies of international skiing compete in the Super G and giant slalom disciplines (December).
Eating out in St. Moritz
You don’t have to be a celebrity or a millionaire to enjoy St. Moritz, although it may help if you are. If you’ve got Swiss francs to burn, and an appetite for the finest food with astounding views, then you certainly won’t be disappointed here. St. Moritz offers the most seductive of dining experiences and is something you have to try at least once in your lifetime. With its mountain scenery, extravagant hotels steeped in history, and gourmet fare, it is as close to gastronomic heaven as you will ever get. Its proximity to the Italian border also adds a delightful rustic influence to menus, and in some venues there’s a cosiness that you might not immediately associate with high-end dining.
Altitude Dining – There are more than 30 mountain restaurants at incredible heights, offering magnificent views as a backdrop to mouthwatering dishes. Mt Corviglia is the main ski area above the town, and it’s also where St. Moritz’s most famous chef Reto Mathis presides over a remarkable foodie emporium comprising seven different dining experiences. Cream of the crop, if you want to truly indulge, is La Marmite, which specialises in truffles and caviar. Another nearby option is Ski Hut El Paradiso where you can dine inside or sprawl on the sun terrace (book ahead for a luxuriously padded ‘beach chair’) and enjoy the mountain and lake scenery in style. Even higher up, at 3057m, is Piz Nair and the Panorama Restaurant, which certainly lives up to its name. Enjoy hearty Swiss dishes, perhaps veal sausage with Rösti potatoes, while the dreamy views make a rushed lunch an impossibility.
Food Festival – The annual St. Moritz Gourmet Festival has been held since 1994 and attracts international chefs of the highest calibre, with a specific theme promoted each year. In 2015, the festival celebrated 150 years of British travel to the region, with Michelin-starred chefs including the UK’s Jason Atherton, Angela Hartnett, Isaac McHale and Nathan Outlaw wowing diners with their creativity.
Chocolate and Cheese – Switzerland is famed for its chocolate and cheese and in St. Moritz you won’t be disappointed on either front. There are several semi-hard ‘mountain cheeses’ specific to the Engadine region that are deliciously nutty and mild. But most foodie visitors are keen to try fondue (a pot of melted Emmental and Gruyère cheese mixed with white wine and kirsch liquor into which you dip bread) and raclette (a cheese that is melted over a rack oven and scraped onto plates, served with boiled potatoes and meats). Many places on via Maistra (the main street) offer these Swiss staples, but for something quirky head out to nearby Pontresina to try Restaurant Gondolezza. When it comes to purchasing artisan chocolate, your best bet is Läderach, a ‘chocolate boutique’ in operation since 1962 with an intoxicating array of treats. Hauser also has a fine chocolate selection; try the truffles made with organic Swiss sloe gin.
Special Dishes – If you think it is all cheese and chocolate and typical Alpine cuisine, you will be pleasantly surprised to know that there is so much more on offer. Foodies will be familiar with veal and venison, which are very popular in St. Moritz, featuring in many hearty local dishes, but what about yak from the Upper Engadine? Adventurous diners will certainly appreciate Kurt Röösli’s creations at the Hotel Waldhaus, such as consommé of yak from the Val Fex with green cabbage, chervil root and raviolini with braised yak filling. Care to try marmot? After blanching the meat several times in boiling water, and giving it a long, slow braise in the oven Kurt adds dark chocolate and a herbal liquor (Braulio Amaro), which gives the meat a smooth taste.