Take a train ride through pine forests to lush alpine meadows laden with flowers, a cable car over dreamy mountain lakes and majestic glaciers, cycle through the myriad red, orange and yellow autumn colours that burst at you through the hills—St Moritz stuns with its varied natural feast. As Hi! Blitz discovers, all this wonder is packaged with incredible chic elegance, reflective of the discreet wealth that this resort town attracts. Like someone described it, St Moritz is like sparkling, dry champagne.
It is where the rich and famous come to escape, many having bought homes here. St Moritz as they would say reeks discreetly of old money. It does not try too hard to seduce you with anything other than what its god-given landscape has to offer. Maybe that’s why Bollywood has not reached this part of Switzerland; its chic casualness is not overwhelming or picture perfect. Rather it disarms you and helps you find yourself.
I took a stroll through the tiny holiday village with my guide. The town clearly sets its wealthy tone with its hotels and shops. This tiny mountain village contains six five-star resorts and 39 hotels; for a small place that’s an incredible amount of hotels. The shops are all the world’s leading luxury brands and so confident are they of the eclectic well-heeled clientele here that fashionista friends who have scoured leading boutiques in cities for a particular design in vain have finally found their much-coveted bag here.
St Moritz was of course discovered by the English. In 1909 it was the all-powerful British Empire that set where it was trendy to holiday. A local visionary Johannes Badrutt challenged some famous holidaying types from England to come to St Moritz, stay at his hotel during the winter as long as they wanted and—this was the deal breaker—if they didn’t enjoy the experience they did not have to pay him anything. Further, he would fund their travel bills to and fro as compensation. The challenge was accepted and as they say the rest is history. St Moritz arrived on the winter holiday map of the world’s wealthy, a position it has retained through dogged determination and some extraordinary vision and effort from the local government. Today, St Moritz plays host to glamorous events like the British Classic Car Meeting, the Festival da Jazz and the Match Race.
Everything in this town is geared for skiing, but if you want to skip the adventures of ice and snow and prefer a more amiable climate, this alpine resort town charms with its fun activities. A big thrill is e-biking that allows you to pedal at double your normal efficiency. If you are a bit lazy, like me, take in the delights on an electric bike. The additional power provided by the electric battery makes pedalling a lot easier, and the numerous rental outfits and recharging stations make exploring the countryside on bike very easy. The hills of St Moritz are generously strewn with biker tracks that allow you to cycle through woods, past waterfalls, scenic villages, up mountain slopes and through meadows. Kids are delighted to explore nature in such a happy energetic way. Your hotel will organise a small picnic basket just in case the heart and body yearn to linger anywhere. I decided to take in a lazy brunch at a cheese farm, Alp-Schaukaserei Morteratsch, in the woods. There I gorged on a resplendent variety of Swiss cheese all freshly manufactured by the owners who then thoughtfully took me on a tour of the place to show me how handmade cheese is crafted.
The Swiss Alps are a feast of icy peaks. To get the full force of its magnificent glory, take the Diavolezza cable cars that transport you efficiently and quickly and from which you get a fabulous view of the peaks of Bernina, so close you almost feel you can reach out and touch them. Catch a romantic lunch at the Segantini hut or if you are lucky enough like me to be greeted by fresh snowfall, do the Bollywood thing and run through the snow singing songs and even build a mini snowman. Apparently there is even a seven-day walking tour of the Bernina massif that allows you to enjoy the spectacular trail at close quarters, but alas I am not so intrepid, so like a good Indian I settle for the cable car.
A Swiss holiday is incomplete if you do not experience the gentle relaxation of a train journey through hills, meadows, forests and villages. I took the Rhatische Bahn train from Zurich that transported me to St Moritz in about four hours. The train ride prepares you for the more intense wonders ahead. It also harks back to nostalgic days of your childhood when you were not a hostage to time. The superb Swiss railway allows you the endearing return of those salubrious train journeys as you stare wondrously at the moving marvels outside. The train is sparkling clean, but do carry water with you as the Swiss are not used to catering to water guzzling Indians like me.
So enraptured was I by this train journey that I took another one, this time on the Bernina Express which is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites as the highest altitude mountain railway. It links St Moritz to the Mediterranean town of Tirano in Italy. (One is always amazed at the easy access of Switzerland to its neighbours. A lady I encountered at lunch at Hotel Schweizerhof’s famous restaurant Acla told me how she drives from Munich to St Moritz almost every second weekend.) To return to the Bernina Express, one travels through 55 tunnels and 196 bridges. It is an incredible feeling to journey from glaciers that seem close enough to touch and eventually wind up in a sunny Mediterranean village dotted with palm trees. All this in just two hours! And back in time to take a lovely stroll down to the Engadine Museum where I walk through a magnificently restored mansion that shows you exactly how the Engadine people of the region lived in the old times. The furniture here would be an interior designer’s delight.
And talking about homes is that LN Mittal’s house I see up on the hill? My guide concurs. Ah well, one of our desi rich and famous have managed a parking address in one of the world’s most exclusive residences. Très bon!
This article first appeared in January 2014 issue of Hi! BLITZ magazine