Think of Switzerland, and you probably imagine snow, winter sports, thick clothing and après ski. But the Swiss Alps are also an enticing place for a summer break, says Anwer Bati
Winter tourism began in 1864 in St Moritz in the Engadin Valley, then a village of 300 people, after a bet between celebrated local hotelier Johannes Badrutt and some of his British summer regulars. ‘Stay in winter’, he told them, ‘and I will refund your money if you’re not happy’. He won his bet, but St Moritz in summer is still a delightful place: bright sun glinting off the lake, clear views, lower prices than in winter and no crowds. You can relax and appreciate what the original tourists found so appealing before winter tourism took off, and why the five thousand locals prefer to stay put. Even getting there is a pleasure, taking the UNESCO-listed route aboard the Bernina Express 6000 feet above sea level.
Where else but the remarkable Badrutt’s Palace (known simply as ‘The Palace’), founded by Johannes’s son Caspar in 1896. Commanding superb views of the lake and surrounding mountains, the hotel has played host to an array of legendary guests from Alfred Hitchcock – who stayed no fewer than 34 times – to Roger Federer. You know you are in for something special from the minute the hotel’s blue Rolls Royce, with its liveried driver, picks you up from the station. It’s old school luxury in the best possible way: bell boys with pill box hats, the ever helpful frock-coated concierges, smooth but friendly service and grand public areas.
The traditionally designed rooms – half of them with balconies and lake views – are exceptionally comfortable, with modern facilities and free mini bars. The hotel has a range of restaurants including the gastronomic Le Restaurant (where an excellent, lavish breakfast is served) and bars, as well as a spa and fitness centre. The Palace is well geared to summer. The spa’s restaurant, La Diala, also has tables by the lake, and there’s an outdoor pool, tennis courts and other al fresco options including the hotel’s sailing boat.
The Palace’s own Michelin-starred restaurant, IGNIV, is closed in summer, but a short way outside town is the charming, family run Talvo, in a former farmhouse, one of the oldest buildings in the valley. The place may feel rustic, but Martin Dalsass’s beautifully presented, light, Mediterranean-inspired food is anything but.
A more modest choice, popular with locals is the friendly, lively Dal Mulin, where you will find simple ingredients skilfully cooked. Or try Balthazar, owned by a member of the Gucci family. Though it’s pretty glitzy, as you might expect, service is charming, the food good and the prices pretty reasonable – the pizzas are popular. It is also a cocktail bar, so you can just go for a drink. There is now also a fish-orientated offshoot restaurant by the lake.
You shouldn’t miss Chesa Veglia, owned by Badrutt’s Palace, but a destination in its own right as one of the best places in town and housed in its oldest building, dating from 1658. There are actually three restaurants, (though the Grill is closed in summer), with cosy Alpine décor. At Patrizier Stuben, the food is traditional, and smartly served in large portions. Or try the excellent Pizzeria Heuboden.
Go to the ornate café Hanselmann, going since 1894, for a pastry. It’s a local institution, as is Hauser. Both have tables outside, and Hanselmann has good views from inside tables. You can get full meals at both. For a light lunch try Pur Alps, a popular café with a food and wine shop. At Hatecke, in the pedestrianised centre of town, the speciality is traditional Swiss dried meat. And the traditional afternoon tea at Badrutt’s Palace is rightly famous.
There are few official sights in St Moritz, apart from the grand hotels, and the Engadine Museum of local history, in a charming old house. You can admire St Moritz’s own leaning tower, the remains of a 12th Century church; or visit the domed museum housing the Alpine paintings of Giovanni Segantini. Also take a look at Norman Foster’s Chesa Futura curved apartment block., and go to the town’s many high quality art galleries, including an offshoot of Hauser & Wirth.
It’s easy to stick to the centre of town, but don’t ignore St. Moritz Bad down the hill from the glitzy centre; a mainly residential area, it has restaurants on the lake.
You will find virtually all the major luxury brands dotted around town, particularly in Via Serlas. And local brands such as Jet Set. As you might expect, there are many winter sport shops, such as Ender and Dorina, which often have sales in the summer with big reductions. Both Hanselmann and Hauser have shops, so bring back some of the confectionary and specialities on offer, including Nüsstorte (nut cake) and crunchy schüttelbrot, a cumin-spiced flat bread.
St Moritz in the summer offers just as many leisure activities as it does in the winter: you can easily get to the lake from Badrutt’s by an escalator next door – the walls of which are a design gallery – and take a boat trip, or wind and kite surf, too. If you want to hike or bike in the mountains (the 10,000 foot Piz Nair is the town’s ‘home mountain’), they are easily reached by cable car or funicular. The restaurants and bars at the top, with sensational views, are a good incentive.
Take the train to explore local villages; taxis are exorbitantly expensive, but in summer hotels will give you a free Engadin Card which entitles you to use local transport, including mountain trains and cable cars. You might also be tempted go on a helicopter tour of the area, with prices starting at £120 per person.
Rooms at Badrutt’s Palace start at £330 per night; badruttspalace.com