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A place that stole my heart: St. Moritz

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

Small, cozy, and and 322 Sunny Days a Year. Saint Moritz is a jewel amidst the Upper Engadin lakes district in the southern side of the Alps.

I have been a big city dweller for 27 years (I was born in Milan) and even though my hometown is the most beautiful place in the world I perfectly know what it means looking forward to escaping from stand-still traffic, air pollution, crowded streets and endless grey sidewalks. Even if my big city had so much to offer to me in terms of leisure activities, amazing clubs, wellness and new spots to be discovered I felt the need of regenerating myself after the tough week and since my family lived in an apartment near the city centre (15 minutes from the Milan Cathedral) I did not have a backyard to transform into an oasis… However, I never imagined that one day I would move to one of those quiet places to which people normally goes to escape from the daily routine and even if sometimes I miss the crowded city chaos, I enjoy this landscape and look at them with the same amazement of the first time.

I have never been a mountain person. If you asked me 2 weeks ago which is my ideal situation to achieve the highest grade of relax possible, I would reply: lying back on a sunny beach without hesitation. It is said that your personality decides what kind of landscapes you like: if you are a mountain person you are an introvert and you appreciate your own presence over other people’s and can get some valuable time alone. If you are a beach lover instead and prefer to sip a drink with your mates on the hot sand it means you are rather outgoing. With regards to this assumption, I think that also personal tastes must be called into question here and not just personality, because you can meet as many people at the beach as well as at the mountain and lying on a beach does not necessary imply you are going to socialize with tons of people if you want to be by yourself.

If you ask me where I want to be right now to blow off the steam I would answer Saint Moritz!

Small, cozy, and and 322 Sunny Days a Year. Saint Moritz is a jewel amidst the Upper Engadin lakes district in the southern side of the Alps. It belongs to Canton Grisons, one of the 26 Cantons of Switzerland. At 1,856 metres above sea level it offers picturesque landscape both during winter and summer season. It is probably the most famous winter holidays destinations in the world and its name is acknowledged worldwide for high-level services, high quality of lifestyle with its top hotels and restaurant, elegance and class. Everything one expects to receive from a classy holiday destination like that.

Attracting visitors from all over the world, thanks to its top sport facilities and services, Saint Moritz hosts events on the world stage. And even if it is a pretty small town the atmosphere gets distinctly cosmopolitan during the many events taking place all over the year, so sometimes you have the impression of being in a big town. Because this village combines the typical lifestyle of a winter sport location with the high-end services that only a big city can deliver: first class hotels, award-winning restaurant, clubs and upscale boutiques (like Louis Vuitton and Hermes, to name a few), can be unexpectedly found in the city vibrant center. It is no surprise that this is the preferred location of upper classes and international jet set to spend vacations.

The 5 stars Kempinski Hotel

The Cartier boutique in the centre of the city

The 5 stars Badrutt's Palace Hotel

Inside fine Asian cuisine restaurant Hato

The main shopping street with luxury boutiques

Inside the 5 stars Suvretta House restaurant

The "Chesa Veglia" Restaurant, the oldest farmhouse in St. Moritz built in 1658, with three restaurants and two bars. The historic house was purchased in 1935/36 by Badrutt's family and converted into a classy and award-winning restaurant.

However, besides the sparkling lights of its city centre, the pearl of the Engadin hosted the Winter Olympics games two times, in 1928 and 1948 and the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in February 2017. For that occasion, the exhibition entitled “St. Moritz – The origin of winter sports” was arranged at the Saint Moritz Design Gallery inside the Parking Serletta. 31 pictures from various different epochs grouped in sequence to give the viewer an insight into the winter sports history of this place.

St. Moritz - THE ORIGIN OF WINTER SPORTS The St. Moritz Design Gallery February - June 2017

Downhill Racer René Beckert, 1934

Start downhill race, 1934

Kilometer - Lancé, Speed skiling, ca. 1935

Horse racing on the frozen lake, ca. 1930

Bobsleigh in St. Moritz, ca. 1925

Cresta rider on start, ca. 1930

Henri Oreiller, downhill and combined, 1948

Start slalom at the World Championship, 1934

Finish area slalom, 1934

Time keeping, 1934

Transport sound system, 1934

Kulm Park with "Eispavillon", 1928

Olympia Stadion, 1948

Sonja Henie, Legend in figure skating, 1928

Hockey competition, Olympic winter games, 1948

David Zogg, Ski racer, 1934

I just posted some pictures from 1920s to 1940s here, though the exhibition showed many images from other various decades.

St. Moritz hotel pioneer Johannes Badrutt. He first introduced the sport of curling in the region on December of 1880 to promote the winter sport among his guests. Fascinated by technical innovations, he bought a lighting system in 1878 at World Exposition in Paris. He built a small power station near his hotel and the first electric arc lamps in Switzerland were burned in the dining room of its hotel, the Kulm hotel St. Moritz in 1879. He introduced further technical innovations in his hotel like telephone, water closets, hydraulic lifts and warm air heating.

St. Moritz in the 19th century was known as a summer Mineral spa town where the rich took mineral cures during the months from May to September. The history of winter resort took place 152 years ago, in September 1864 when St. Moritz hotel pioneer Johannes Badrutt made a bet with his English summer guest in his hotel, the Kulm Hotel: before the check-out he invited them to come back also in winter and, in the event they would have not liked the place during the cold season, Mr Badrutt would reimburse the travel cost. If the snowy village was to their liking they would have been his guest as long as they wished. Guess what? They came back that winter and during the same year the first Tourism Office settled in Saint Moritz. The dry Engadin climate proved to be very appealing to city dwellers who were suffering from lung diseases caused by polluted air. Thanks to this wager, winter tourism in St. Moritz and the entire region of Engadin had officially started.

Johannes Badrutt with his family, ca. 1865

Johannes Badrutt's The Kulm Hotel in 1860

The dining room of the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz, The first room in Switzerland to be lit by electric light in 1879

Reading room at Kulm Hotel, ca. 1890

Ladies riding "Cresta Run", a natural ice skeleton racing toboggan track in eastern Switzerland ca. 1880

Sledge run below the Kulm Hotel, ca. 1880

The entrance of Kulm Hotel today

The entrance of 5 stars Badrutt's Palace Hotel

Thanks to the investments made by the tourism sector, the popularity of Saint Moritz grew rapidly: 1882 the town hosted the first European Ice-Skating Championships and in 1889 the first golf tournament in the Alps were held. And again, the first bob run and bob race took place in Saint Moritz in 1890. In 1896, St. Moritz became the first village in the Alps to install electric trams and, during the same year, the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, built by Johannes Badrutt’s son Caspar, was built. A horse race was held on snow in 1906, and on the frozen lake the following year. In 1929 the first ski school in Switzerland was established in St. Moritz.

Exterior of the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains by night

At the center of Saint Moritz Bad, the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains was built in 1864.

It underwent important and extensive renovation throughout the years giving to the building the neo-gothic characteristic and it prestigious heritagewe can appreciate today.

The Carlton Hotel in Saint Moritz

Originally planned as summer residence for the czar Nicolaj II – according to the legend - in 1913 the Carlton Hotel St. Moritz opened its doors for the first time.

In the 30s the hotel experienced real glorious years. According to the newspapers of the time, afternoon tea times were regularly spent in the hotel by celebrity guests from London, Amsterdam and Paris.

After having been closed in 1939 because of the second world war and because of financial matterst 1948, it took 7 years before the hotel accommodated guests again. It was successful for a while though this was followed by a series of ownership changes.

Finally, in 1987 the Carlton finally found a new owner, who did invest a lot of money to re-instate the hotel as a top property. Since then the Carlton Hotel has gained its place among the most attractive hotels in Switzerland.

The Suvretta House during the summer season

The Suvretta House, a grand hotel with a view of Champfèr and Lake Silvaplana, was opened on 16 December 1912. Its inauguration took place during the winter snowy days which had transformed Suvretta House into a storybook castle in the midst of spellbinding winter landscape. Guest were enchanted by the elegance and the luxury of its interiors where they could also find rooms for bridge and billiards, a library, a music salon and generously designed banquet and dining rooms. The hotel was very exclusive and hosted many celebrities from the arts, the movie industry, politics, and business, such as the Shah of Persia, Gregory Peck and Evita Perón to name a few. As it always happens for the hotels, the Suvretta House changed ownership several times through the years and underwent renewal phases.

If you think that Saint Moritz is just winter sport, top level hotels and boutiques and award winning restaurants you would be gladly surprised by the number of cultural monuments, churches and rummy spots you would find out roaming around the small village. It is plenty of attractions that surely worth a visit.

The Leaning Tower. Built in 1570 with its 33-metre-high, the tower has a 5.5 degree tilt, thereby exceeding even the incline of the world-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa!

“La Bellezza liberata della materia”. A sculpture of Leonardo Bistolfi. A memorial to Giovanni Segantini.

The White Turf St. Moritz, a unique race of its kind. From 1907 this international horse races takes place over the frozen lake of Saint Moritz and attracts thousands of spectators from all over the world to witness the excitement and entertainment of the races against the magnificent backdrop of the mountains of the Engadine.

Cresta Run is a natural ice skeleton racing toboggan track built in 1884 and 1.2125 km long. It is one of the few in the world dedicated entirely to skeleton.

Streetlamp. On 18th July 1879 the first eletric lights glow at the Kulm Hotel's dining room. For that Johannes Badrutt let built the first electric power station in St. Moritz and in Switzerland.

Regina Pacis Chapel. The chapel was built in 1928 in historicism style.

The original Heidi mountain hut from the Heidi film shot in the Engadin is located above St. Moritz and can be visited by children and adults alike. Access is free.

The Olympic Stadion. The stadium to the Olympic Games of 1928 and 1948. It part of the Kulm golf course in summertime. The long neglected building has been restored by Rolf Sachs, long-time visitor to St. Moritz. It is now his private residence.

English Church St. Moritz. Between 1860 and 1900 the English parish priest A.B. Strettell would travel to St. Moritz to spend the summer and in 1864 the plan to build an Anglican church was supported by Johannes Badrutt. The neo-Romanesque church was officially consecrated in 1871 and named St. John’s.

French church "Au Bois". Former French-Calvinist church built between 1875 and 1877 by Nicolaus Hartmann. It is a neo-gothic church with slender frontal spire and cross gables.

The most exclusive of European mountain, with its soft and powdery snow kissed by the shining sun, has always attracted top celebrities, nobilities (most of all) and highborn personalities thanks to its life quality and high services delivered. They have always considered Saint Moritz as the top of the world.

Clementine Churchill during her winter holidays in St. Moritz, 1937

Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli with Her Daughter Gogo in St. Moritz, 1934

Ethel Margaret Whigham (Duchess of Argyll) skiing at St. Moritz, 1920s

Princess Alexandria of Greece escorted by the Marquis of Milford Haven, 1939

Spanish Marquesa Christine d'Albuquerke vacationing at fashionable winter resort in St. Moritz, 1947

US Skier Andy Mead in St. Moritz with the Olympic Team, 1948

Sir Henry Deterding, chairman of the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, skating wih his children in St. Moritz, 1930s.

Bettina Bergery, sporting an Elsa Schiaparelli ski ensemble in Saint Moritz in the early 1930s

Marysia Ulam Krauss in St. Moritz, 1939

An English couple have fun in St Moritz in 1930, when the location was a magnet for the British high society

Fancy a drink ... on the ice skating rink?

During the 1930s the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains had the mind blowing idea to make a bar on the ice skating rink. This was such an ingenious idea and it had great success not just among the hotel guests but every high-born personality staying in Saint Moritz during that period was curious to drink a Martini in the middle of a fronzen lake.

In 1930s LIFE magazine sent their photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt to witness the luxury life those happy people led among magnificent landscapes of Engadin. By this way, the oldest hotel in St Moritz became famous for serving of drinks on its ice terrace by skating waiters, as the photographer was in the right place at the right moment to capture the scene.

Head waiter Renee Breguet serving drinks on Grand Hotel ice rink: St. Moritz , 1932

It took some practice getting the rest of the staff to improve -or learn- skating with a tray full of glasses...

... not without any speed bumps!

Waiters inside the Kempinski Hotel watching their colleagues trying to improve their skating skills ...

Fourth Arabesque and your Martini is served!

Of course the bars were made out of ice too

Cheers on the frozen lake!

Restaurant on the skating rink

This video is mind-blowing! This is pure allure from an era that will never come back...

Saint Moritz is a place that definitely stole my heart. These words by LIFE Magazine journalist Alfred Eisenstaedt spoken after his stay in the Engadin village in 1947 truly reflect my feelings:

"The exiled royalty, minor princes, beauties, near beauties, sportsmen and bankers of the International Set consider St Moritz the place to spend a winter holiday. It is not just because this village, tucked high in the Alps of southeast Switzerland, is world-renowned as a winter sports center, with a famous Olympic bobsled run, unparalleled ski slopes and miles of beautiful mountain trails. It is mostly because St. Moritz is the most fashionable village in Europe. For more than half a century royalty has assembled on its Alpine slopes, at its outdoor cocktail bars and in its luxurious dining rooms. St. Moritz has always been the place to see the world’s great."

— Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE magazine, 1947

"Saint Moritz" by Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka, 1929

Saint Moritz in advertising posters



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