Heritage, history, old-school comfort and hair-raising fun are all part of the package at Kulm Hotel, St Moritz – the oldest hotel in Switzerland’s glitzy winter hotspot, writes Nick Scott
After a series of business trips staying in urban guesthouses which resemble The Death Star’s hospitality wing – “stark minimalism” is the common press release platitude – there’s something truly refreshing about stepping into the warm, classical opulence of an old-school European hotel such as The Kulm, St Moritz.
This is a place whose unashamedly palatial décor – think belle époque furniture, grand pianos, chandeliers and neoclassical pillars and arches – never fails to make the visitor feel inclined to put on their finest clobber for dinner.
At The Kulm, pedigree and history seem to actually seep from the walls. When Johannes Badrutt founded it in 1856, he was unwittingly laying the foundation stone for St Moritz to become what it is today – the number one winter hangout for royalty, other prominent personalities and the über-rich.
It was within these hallowed walls, in the 1870s, that four upper-crust English army officers, having come to the Alps for the summer to recover from tuberculosis but ended up staying for the winter, conceived and built the famous Cresta Run – the hair-raising natural tobogganing track whose icy contours are regularly hurtled down by tweed-and-tie-wearing, heavily padded chaps with a competitive fire in their bellies. It was also here that the first ever electric light in Switzerland was installed, and the premises played host to the opening ceremonies of the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympic Games.
Even if history doesn’t rock your boat, The Kulm offers an abundance of other attractions for guests of all ilks, tastes and age groups. All of its 173 rooms are light, airy and ultra comfortable (the phrase “pillow menu” neatly sums up the hotel’s attention to detail when it comes to guests’ personal wishes and whims).
Some rooms are classic period, like the hotel’s public areas, others are more modern, but all are built from materials from the surrounds – wood from the nearby Swiss pine forests, for example, as well as fine local marble and granite. All have views of the surrounding mountainscape, while the south-facing rooms look over the silvery majesty of Lake St Moritz.
This part of the world was a renowned health and wellbeing destination long before it was the European cradle of winter tourism for the jet set – three millennia before, in fact – thanks to the spring waters of the Upper Engadine’s reputation for their restorative properties and 300 or so days of sun per year dishing out generous helpings of Vitamin B to visitors.
So it was an apt tribute to the area’s natural surrounds when The Kulm invested £8m in a new spa featuring a capacious Finnish sauna, steam bath, gym, Jacuzzi, relaxation room, salt grotto, 20-metre pool and – best of all by a long stretch – a steamy outdoor infinity pool overlooking Lake Moritz and the craggy, wintry backdrop beyond.
The best thing about The Kulm for this particular visitor, though, is it’s immensely helpful, proactive approach to helping guests enjoy the surrounding attractions. All skiing equipment hire takes place in a well-stocked, friendly boutique next reception, where visitors can also find lockers and ski hangers assigned to their individual rooms.
The staff will happily arrange your place on the weekly night ski, which takes place along a floodlit, 4km stretch of red run in nearby Corvatsch every Friday (the experience of hurtling down the starlit Alps alone, only the sound of one’s own skis cutting through the powder breaking the profound silence, should be on every winter sports buff’s bucket list).
The ski yoga programme, which sees participants strike a mountain pose between downhill dashes with the hotel’s very own qualified ski instructor and yoga teacher Sabrina Nussbaum, is another must for those inclined to find higher consciousness elsewhere other than the bottom of a glühwein glass.
Those of a nervous disposition, though, should politely decline any offers to do the Olympia Bob Run from St Moritz to Celerina – although safely wedged between a pilot and a brakeman, participants will cover 1,722 metres over 75 seconds, experiencing speeds of up to 135 km/hr and 4gs of centrifugal force.
Suffice to say, it was with a rejuvenated mind and a body coursing with lactic acid and adrenaline that I returned from what has to be the most life-enriching winter break I’ve experienced. The Kulm’s name is a German derivation of the Latin word ‘culmen’, meaning hill or crest. It’s a fitting appellation for a hotel that sits at the apex of modern hospitality for the tourist who’s hungry to be thrilled as well as chilled.
Airlines that fly to Zürich include Swiss Air and British Airways. The train from Zürich airport to St Moritz involves two changes, and takes approximately three-and-a-half hours. Or book through WEXAS at iod.com/traveloffers or telephone 020 7838 5976.