From the moment you turn up in the Swiss resort of St Moritz you feel you’re playing a part in some kind of theatrical production. It’s no bad thing and adds to the fun of a visit to one of the most singular of ski resorts.
Even as the train rolls into the station, liveried chauffeurs from one of the many impressive hotels scan the carriages for their clients. Suitcases and rucksacks are prised from your hand to save you the indignity of having to carry your own luggage to the darkened privacy of your waiting limousine.
Initial impressions for any first-time visitor is that this is a destination that is dripping with style – I’m lucky enough to have visited a number of times, but I still relish each time the undeniable atmosphere of unabashed hedonism. Unlike one of my regular ski pals, who not only has an allergic reaction to reading itineraries, but also travels with a backpack of inadequate capacity for accommodating a jacket and tie.
The net result was that his jeans and open-neck shirt were deemed unsuitable for the Grand Restaurant of the five-star Kulm Hotel, where we are delighted to be laying our heads that night, and he was politely shown the door.
Not to worry, he assured us he had a perfectly delicious kebab, including unnecessary salad leaves, from a mobile outlet near a bar in town while we had to put up with a five, or was it six-course, gourmet extravaganza prepared by Chef de Cuisine Hans Nussbaumer at the Kulm. To be fair, knowing St Moritz, it probably was a far superior kebab to the variety available in Watford town centre of a Saturday night.
St Moritz is pulling out all the stops to celebrate 150 years of winter tourism – all started of course by the wintersports-mad, and more than slightly crazy Brits. In 1864, enterprising Engadine hotelier Johannes Badrutt made a bet with four English summer tourists that they would enjoy the sunshine in St Moritz even in the winter. If not, he would cover their travel costs. And if winter here didn’t appeal to them, they could still stay for as long as they wanted at his expense.
They duly turned up in time for Christmas – and loved it. Herr Badrutt couldn’t get rid of them until after Easter. I understand they even brought jackets and ties so they were welcomed in the restaurant each night. They spread the word when they got home – and winter tourism in the Alps was born.
Sledging and bobsleighing (with St Moritz’s Cresta Run leading the way), curling and skiing were all to follow in due course.
We’re celebrating the anniversary in some style. The skiing, considering it’s December, is as five-star and beautifully-groomed as the Kulm. Extensive runs are available on the two main areas of Corviglia and Corvatsch. At Corvatsch we were able to ski right down to the bottom station (the run was technically closed but it was fine so shhh, don’t tell anyone).
And at Corvatsch we witnessed an extraordinary circular rainbow over the slopes around a shining light that was plainly a heavenly salute to the anniversary from the snow gods.
The skiing has been punctuated by lunch stops of distinction. The Alpetta on the Corvatsch slopes is an enticing warren of grotto-like caverns, where we enjoyed the perfect ski lunch of goulash soup and frankfurters and potato wedges. At the famously posh Marmite at Corviglia (housed inside an unremarkable, even ugly, funicular railway station where you would least expect to find a gourmet restaurant), events took an extreme turn. An amuse bouche of crayfish cocktail was followed by the most extravagant pizza I have ever encountered, and one that I believe is not available at Domino’s, certainly not at the Hemel Hempstead branch. Local cheese and white truffles (98 francs). Incredible. But that was just the warm-up.
Next was a simple plate of various pates of duck and goose foie gras, smoked salmon and gravadlax, fig salad and lobster (62 francs). Caviar would have been an extra 325 francs. And the main course was yet to come. Rack of venison with mushrooms, truffle-scented polenta and melon (64 francs).
But they do a simple burger too, if you’d prefer that. The veal, duck liver and truffle burger – 168 francs.
Ah, nowhere like St Moritz for the simple pleasures of life…