Here’s a tip: when travelling to St Moritz, it’s best not to mention the name of your final destination to the airport porters, drivers or waiters that you encounter on your journey there. Such a slip, as I discovered, will only lead to disappointment when you come to leave a tip (however generous the amount may be).
Once the star of Switzerland’s winter tourism, St Moritz is the original alpine resort, offering ski holidays to the super-rich since 1864. But in recent decades the town’s sparkle has begun to fade, as it now has to compete with the likes of Klosters and Gstaad for the custom of royals, oligarchs and glitterati in the market for a champagne-fuelled snow break.
It has to be said that there aren’t many signs of hardship on show in the town, which boasts more designer shops per square metre than fondue restaurants. In winter, the pricey restaurant chain Nobu opens a branch to ply visitors with black cod, while jetsetters work the hotel club circuit by night. However, if you can handle a week without these luxuries (and, granted, also minus the snow), the merits of an off-season stay during the summer, when the town is half-deserted, are plentiful — not least of all for a view of the mountains which isn’t obstructed by a sea of designer-clad Russians.
Getting there from Zurich, the preferred mode of transport for the very rich is private helicopter. Less exalted travellers have the option of arriving by European rail. My train offered something a sky ride couldn’t: an impromptu concert from a throng of Swiss nationals en route to a yodelling festival, dressed in traditional dirndls. A bit of early applause on my part was greeted with gentle scolding from their choirmaster — the song of the mountains is sacred.
The last leg of the journey, from Chur to St Moritz, navigates the mountains via a narrow gauge carved through the rock. We munched on cheese baguettes as we were pulled upwards. On arrival, we were greeted by the strong smell of pine trees, and the sight of rolling mountains paired with the sapphire-blue Lake St Moritz.
In winter, the lake becomes an ice rink, but in low season it is used for sailing. Alternatively, those with less of a penchant for water can rent a bike and explore the surrounding tracks. Perched next to the lake lies one of the town’s oldest hotels, Badrutt’s Palace. It was here that Alfred and Alma Hitchcock honeymooned, and the grand building is a reminder of the palatial European hotels of old. As you wander through the corridors, you notice that there is a chair outside every bedroom door. Why? For guests’ bodyguards to sit watch on while their employers sleep, of course.
With my humble entourage of one, I departed the palace and escaped into the mountains. The chairlifts operate throughout the year, and the off-season pass is a bargain. Many hotels even offer it free with your stay. Spend a day exploring the lookouts or visiting the Bregaglia valley and see if you can resist trying out a yodel of your very own. Travellers who can tear themselves away from the luxury of the town will find St Moritz’s real wealth is to be found up here in the clouds.