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Located in the Engadin Valley to the southeast of Zurich on the borders of Italy and Austria, this is one of Europe’s most chic summer and winter resorts. Other nearby resorts include Davos and Klosters; Cellerina, only 15 minutes away, is known as Milano Due because of the many Italians who come up from the city for the weekend. St. Moritz is blessed with some of the best weather among all of the ski resorts, with an average of 322 days of sunshine each year. The town lies along the shore of a large lake, and is nestled at the base of Piz Nair, where the main ski slopes are located. Its sunny location has spared St. Moritz from many of the avalanche problems that confronted surrounding regions in recent years. Popular pastimes include skiing and hiking, nearby there is also the world famous Cresta Run toboggan course. The year round population is 5,600 with some 3,000 seasonal employees. This population supports hotels and rental units with a total of 13,000 beds. St. Moritz has been the host city for the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics. It was also the one-time host of the 1940 Winter Olympics before a squabble between the Swiss organizing group and the IOC. It also hosted the 1934, 1974 and 2003 Alpine Skiing World Championships. It is one of three cities, the others being Innsbruck, Austria and Lake Placid, New York in the United States, that have hosted the Winter Olympic Games twice.
Hotels and lodgingEdit
- The Palace Hotel is in the center of the town both physically and socially. Luggage checked in New York on Swiss Airlines or American Airlines will miraculously be spirited from the train to your hotel room by The Palace’s accommodating staff (see below). The Palace has a commanding view of the lake and a spa with a pool that is cleaned by an ozone system (rather than chlorine) and is the favored gathering spot apres-ski. It is located near world-class shops and wonderful restaurants. The ladies may delight in the idea that Hermes, Prada, Versace and Valentino all have a significant retail presence there. Palace Hotel 837-1000; fax is 837-2999
- The Kulm is more modern and is within walking distance in ski boots of the Bergbahn lift up Piz Nair (the main ski mountain), but has less character and is not very child friendly in the pool area. Kulm Hotel 832-1151
- The Suvretta is very elegant, recently refurbished, but is not located within the town. A dedicated lift will get you on the slopes first, but you’ll always need a taxi to get into town.
- The Steffani is a big step down by comparison, although right in the middle of town.
- The Kempinski, which is part of a chain of international hotels, recently opened in the Bad (the lower part of the village), but if you knew ahead of time that the locals refer to it as the “Kamp-Ruskie” you would probably give it a pass.
- A chic little family run hotel called the Languard (+41 81 833-3137 or firstname.lastname@example.org) in the middle of the village has a view of the lake from almost every room, where some of the rooms even have paneling that is centuries old. They only serve breakfast, and there is no night desk.
- The Meierei Landgasthof is owned by the Degiacomis, and is a converted 17th century farmhouse with 10 rooms, located a mile outside of town on the lake with views of the town farmed by the alps. WARNING: Be sure not to book into the hotel that backs onto the Napoleon Bar, as it doubles as a bordello and you will have a very difficult time explaining that one to your children. In any case, ask your hotel whether they have access to any of the other hotel-based spas, as weekly memberships are often available.
- There is plenty to do in addition to alpine skiing if downhill is not your thing. Around the lake are wonderful hiking and cross-country skiing trails that wind through fir copses, and a winter carnival in February features Winter Polo, ice cricket and “White Turf” horse races on the frozen lake. There are also spa facilities at The Palace Hotel and an indoor equestrian center in the village.
- St. Moritz is famous for the Cresta Run and for its over-the-top nightlife. The Cresta is a one-man luge, on which competitors travel ¾ of a mile face first down a frozen bobsled run at speeds of up to 90 mph, holding on to a sled that is little more than a tea tray while steering with their toes. In 1885, two Englishmen and a Swiss (Badrutt) laid out a snow-banked run down a gully from St.Moritz to the village of Cresta. In 2002 the sport was added to the Olympics, and a Cresta rider from the St.Moritz Tobogganing Club won 4th place at the Olympics in Salt Lake City.
- There is an alternative to the Cresta that may be less hair-raising. It involves taking a sledge (a small wooden sled) between Breda and Marguns (as well as one from Muottas Muragl) on what are hiking trails in the summer. You can have dinner at one of the restaurants before taking a train back up to St.Moritz. Ask your concierge or your ski guide for more information. There is also a four-man bob run that parallels the Cresta and is driven by a professional.
Maps and transportationEdit
Getting to St MoritzEdit
- Checking Baggage: Do not underestimate the value of checking your bags directly through to the train station in St. Moritz when you check-in at the airport, regardless if you are traveling on Swiss Airlines or another carrier. Traveling to St. Moritz requires changing trains twice, which is very difficult to do with skis and baggage. For a nominal additional fee of $15/bag, your bags will be shipped all the way to St.Moritz, and you will not have to handle them either at baggage claim, at customs in the airport, or on the train.
- You can purchase train tickets online 2 weeks before you leave at www.raileurope.com under “Fly Rail Baggage”. In three business days you will receive baggage tags and a customs declaration form that you will need to fill out and attach to each piece of luggage. On your outbound trip, you will effectively check your bags at the departure terminal, and pick them up at the train station in St.Moritz. A representative will carry your bags from the plane in Zurich through customs and onto the train without your even having to point them out to him. Just tell your concierge upon arrival at your hotel that you’re expecting bags, and give him your claim checks. The hotel will usually send a taxi down to the train station to fetch them when they arrive a few hours later on the next train. I’d carry a small bag with a toothbrush, a fresh shirt and a bathing suit to hold you over until your bags do in fact arrive. When coming home you will need to check your bags at the train station by 5:30pm the night before your departure. You can either ask your hotel to arrange this for you, or you can go to the train station yourself where you see the sign for “Gepack”. Because of security issues, you cannot check your bags directly to the U.S.A. from St.Moritz, but that is a small inconvenience. When you arrive at Zurich Airport, simply go to the reclaim desk that is part of the Swiss train office (SBB CCF) to retrieve your luggage and then proceed to airport check-in nearby. As a reminder, you must, DROP OFF YOUR BAGS AT THE TRAIN STATION BY 5:30PM THE NIGHT BEFORE YOUR TRAIN DEPARTURE. Your bags must precede you on the return trip in order to ensure that they arrive at the airport on time. Nevertheless, it is well worth the expense of paying for roundtrip baggage transportation in both directions.
- Rail Transportation: The best way to travel to St. Moritz from Zurich other than by private jet is by train. After collecting your luggage at baggage claim (assuming you didn’t do “Fly-Rail”), you can catch the train, a model of Swiss efficiency, from the basement of the airport. You must change trains twice, but you will arrive in St. Moritz faster than if you had had a chauffeur pick you up and drive you to St. Moritz. You must first go from the airport (Zurich Flughafen) to the center of the city (Zurich HB), change for the train to Chur, and make a final change at Chur to the cog railway up to St. Moritz. There is no direct train to Chur from the airport, and the trip up the mountain requires that you take a cog railway car. The whole trip takes approximately four hours. Although trains depart from the airport to the city every 15 minutes, and the trip in takes only 10 minutes, you should only get on the train that takes you from the airport to Zurich HB in time to make the connecting train from Zurich HB to Chur. Trust me, the airport is a better place to kill time than the train station in Zurich. The trains from the airport to Zurich HB to Chur depart hourly. A schedule of trains can be found online at www.sbb.ch. Reservations on trains are not required. If you are going to use the train only for the purpose of getting to St.Moritz from the airport, and you don’t plan any additional tourism during your ski holiday, you should buy a “Swiss Transfer Ticket” (approx. $122 1st class/$80 2nd class) from the www.raileurope.com website, selecting “single country”, “Switzerland” then “Swiss Transfer Ticket” from the drop-down dialogue box at the top of the page. A roving trolley cart on the train provides food and drink. Certain trains have dining cars. Train tickets can also be booked through your travel agent or purchased at the Zurich airport. Although there is not much difference between first and second-class service on the train to Chur, you will want to be in first class for the trip up the mountain on the cog rail train. Be sure when planning your flights that there is a train that will get you to the airport in time for check-in on the return leg. The morning departures from Zurich are a problem since the train trip is so long. Remember, it requires the same two changes of trains in Chur and Zurich HB to get back to the airport. There are no direct trains, and there is no scheduled train service that would require less than two changes.
- Car Transportation: Rental cars are available from all of the major U.S. agencies at the airport and in St.Moritz, but a one-day rental of a station wagon costs more than taking your family on the train, you will pay through the nose to park your car in St. Moritz, and the trip will take exactly the same time as the train. Alternatively, The Palace Hotel can hire a chauffeur to take you to/from St.Moritz, but be prepared to spend $500 each way.
- Air Taxi: The Samedan airport provides exclusive private jet service for those who own or rent their own aircraft. The facilities were recently upgraded, and it is even possible to fly in when weather conditions are poor. Unfortunately, there is no scheduled charter service between the Zurich airport and Samedan anymore, but if your party is large enough you can always consider a one-way charter through Jet Aviation (+41-58-158-8470 or www.jetaviation.com) for up to 8 passengers. Excess baggage would have to be sent by train, but they can help you with that when you arrive.
Exploring St MoritzEdit
Practical information and resourcesEdit
- St. Moritz is a formal resort where jacket and tie are required every evening. The Palace Hotel itself requires jacket and tie in their dining rooms and in the nightclub after 7:00 PM. A blazer with tie and gray flannels will be appropriate for the men, and for women guests the best philosophy is “less is NOT more”. Rest assured that St. Moritz is not a Fur-Free Zone, and diamonds after dark is the rule. Be sure to take snow boots, as some walking through the streets is necessary.
- If you want a fun and romantic evening, ask the concierge to book you a sleighride up to the Fextal, where there is a small hotel in the back of the valley that serves the best fondue. This would be an excursion in the outdoors. For this activity, turtlenecks, sweaters and warm coats are recommended. The sleigh will wait for you to bring you back. They charge by the hour and prefer cash.
- Lift tickets: You must buy your pass using a credit card at the Bergbahn (Blue Train) station on Via Stredas in town for each day that you wish to ski. A ski pass for several days will be cheaper than buying one each day. Rates are generally half that in the United States because the insurance liability in Europe is much lower. Your ski pass also entitles you to free bus transportation from the Schulhausplatz to any of the other ski areas in the Engadin Valley, including Diavolezza and Corvatsch (The glacier), as well as use of the ski lifts at those areas. These high-tech passes are like an EZ Pass for the body and need not be removed from your pocket to admit you to the lifts.
- Medical: There is something about St. Moritz with its combination of mountains, ice, gravity, and money that brings out a degree of insanity in people. It is not an uncommon sight, therefore, to see minor European aristocracy, landed British gentry, and moneyed Americas hobbling around on crutches as a testament to people’s wild streaks. There is a doctor in town, and there are pharmacies (Apotheke), but you should bring a full supply of any prescription drugs, rather than try to have them filled in Switzerland. The Palace Hotel has a doctor on call, and he will visit the hotel if needed. You should always consider purchasing travel insurance given the cost of a trip to a place like St. Moritz, and the hotels’ cancellation policies. You might also look into purchasing special medical evacuation services such as those provided by Medjet Assist (+1 800-5ASSIST or www.medjetassist.com) before you go.
- The medical care you receive in Switzerland is among the best in the world. There is a well known orthopedic specialist facility called Klinic Gut in St.Moritz, and a hospital in Samedan not far away (Ospedal Engadina). Be sure to check with both if you need help.
- Ski Instruction: One of the best deals in Switzerland, ski instructors cost less than half what they do in the U.S. (St.Moritz Ski School - +41 81 833-8090). The best in St.Moritz is a young man named Zeno Medici (email@example.com) whose family comes from the Italian side of the mountain. For a number of years he trained the 5 and 6 year olds to race, so you can imagine that everyone in the valley trusts him, and his English is amusing if not perfect. If Zeno is busy, ask him for a recommendation, including his current girlfriend (Jenny) or for Alwin
- Special Bonus: Ask Zeno to arrange a helicopter flight to the top of the Corvatsch glacier on the other side of the valley. The helicopter ride is $50/person, and takes 15 minutes. It will save you 1 hour plus of travel, and start your day with an incredible view. You can ski down to the bottom at the end of the day. Alternatively, a breathtaking experience is to ski on the Morterrasch Glacier. It is an all day event that includes a little walking uphill and some traverses, but not with seal skins on the bottom of your skis, and it will leave you with a deep understanding of the difference between skiing in the Rockies and skiing in Europe. The glacier is not always open, and you must always go with a guide, so book ahead.
- Hanselmann’s (833-3864), a confectionery shop in the heart of town, serves the best hot chocolate and freshly squeezed blood orange juice imaginable.
- Unlike the United States, lunch is a major event in Switzerland even on powder days. St. Moritz has a number of fabulous restaurants on the side of the mountain that are run by the farmers whose cows graze on these pastures in the winter. They are usually mid-slope in small stone huts with snow-laden roofs. Their outdoor terraces usually face south to take full advantage of the afternoon sun.
- Restaurant Mathis (833-6355), which is in the tram building at the top of Corviglia. It is a 5-star place serving champagne and caviar burgers.
on Piz Nair
- Alpina Hutte just above the top of the Corviglia lift
- Paradiso Hutte near Suvretta
On the Corvatsch Glacier
- there is a small restaurant between the top and mid-station whose name I can’t remember, but has a view to die for.
Dinner Evening meals are sensational, although you’ll be surprised how expensive wine is.
- Chesa Veglia (832-2800) owned by the Palace, just up the hill from the hotel is among the best. There are two dining rooms, the grill (fancy), and the pizzeria (not as casual as it sounds).
- Chadofo Grill
- Patrizier Stueben
- Pizzeria Heuboden.
- I love the sleighride in the Fextal to a little hotel for fondue, or the Engadin in town.
- Krone on via Tinus (less formal, family style, with beautiful paneling) is great for its raclette.
- Near the Suvretta House on the edge of town is Restaurant Chasellas.
Te nightclubs are lethal
- Dracula’s Ghost Riders Club for after-dinner until the wee hours
- The King’s Club, in what was the indoor tennis court of The Palace Hotel, is a favorite after-dinner spot into the wee hours.
- Another hot spot (in the Chesa Veglia) know simply as The Club, or Club Privee to the cognoscenti, is open to members only and to their friends (the proprietor is Peppo Vanini, a Swiss-Italian from Lugano, who opened Regine’s and Xenon in New York).
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