Summer in St Moritz? The famous Swiss ski resort is arguably at its best when the mercury heats up, says Andy Silvester
Mention St Moritz to your average Brit and it will conjure images of glamorous skiers carving down pristine Alpine pistes. Not for nothing is St Moritz, nestled in the Engadin Valley in south-east Switzerland, known as one of the world’s most exclusive ski resorts, with lashings of high-end hotels and bars catering to the jet set’s every need.
Yet St Moritz was originally a summer destination – and on a recent visit, Director saw why this beautiful pocket of the Alps should be on everybody’s list this summer.
While winter in the Engadin Valley is all about the slopes, summer revolves around the water. Three lakes – St Moritz, Silvaplana and Sils – lie in the valley, each with its own charms.
Lake St Moritz, the northernmost of the trio, is a sailor’s paradise thanks to the Maloja wind that whistles through with almost unnerving regularity at lunchtime all summer long.
Tickling the anemometer at a very respectable 20-25 knots, the wind is more than enough to provide enthusiasts and beginners with an adrenaline-filled afternoon courtesy of a hire boat from one of the local sailing clubs, such as Segel Club.
Escorted by one of their experienced captains, beginners are left holding the tiller of a stunning 26ft yacht within minutes, crisscrossing the lake between stunning summer scenery.
Reasonably priced – five people can head out on a yacht with a skipper for CHF 125 (£100) – and with kids encouraged to take part, this is a family outing with a difference. For those who might not have their sea legs, the club’s restaurant offers a fine line in traditional Swiss fare.
Down the valley at Silvaplana, the action moves to the air – as the afternoon wind whistles in, the kitesurfers head out. The sight of dozens of multi-coloured kites dancing across the air above the water is quite unique – and it’s impossible not to want to have a go yourself.
While beginners are unlikely to get on the water for at least a few hours, some patient coaching from the local surfing school’s trainers sees Director flinging the kite about with ease – admittedly safely on dry land.
But it isn’t all about the wind. Silvaplana’s beach club opens up every morning for stand-up paddleboarders.
This relatively new sport – similar to surfing but far more placid – sees paddlers attempt to stand up on their wide board and coast around the lake.
Director’s guide Carl has us speeding around the lake within half an hour, and once the comfort level increases it is a gloriously serene experience to rest in the middle of this stunning valley and look up to the still snow-covered peaks of the Alps surrounding you on all sides.
Paddleboarding lends itself to those with a lower centre of gravity, and as such parents should note that children will almost certainly be up on the board and looking comfortable rather sooner than those a little taller.
Although children will no doubt find it hilarious to see their parents land themselves in the water, for those who’d rather let the kids have all the fun there is a conveniently located café.
Food for thought
While you can pick up delightfully filling sausage and cheese right across Switzerland, the Engadin and St Moritz’s culinary scene is by no means a one-trick pony. The valley is dotted with dozens of wonderful restaurants, not least Mulets in Silvaplana.
Situated beside the crystal-blue lake, you’d half expect the food to be an afterthought but that is not the case at Mulets, whose menu veers around risotto and pasta to pizzas that would be comfortably at home a few miles south over the Italian border.
For a more cosmopolitan affair, the four-star Nira Alpina hotel offers a remarkable view across the entire valley in addition to a gloriously opulent cocktail bar. Stars, the hotel’s airy restaurant, fuses the best of Alpine staples with a touch of Asian flavour.
And no meal in St Moritz would be complete without a drop of Swiss wine, which is unfairly ignored on the global scene. The Swiss are rightly proud of their wine; so proud, in fact, they drink almost all of it before it can be exported.
Sweet valley high
Some of the valley’s highest-end hotels are closed for the summer, but the Parkhotel Margna in Sils is open for the whole season.
Equipped with an extensive, recently refurbished spa, Margna’s unique repurposing of a grand 19th-century mansion sees each room given its own character.
Alpine in character, Margna also houses three restaurants, the most intriguing of which is the wood-panelled Stuva. For the fishing enthusiast, the hotel’s chefs are willing to fillet and cook any catch you might reel in from the nearby stream.
If the weather holds, and it usually does, afternoon tea and supper in the Margna garden with a view of the 3,451m Mt Corvatsch is a rare pleasure. A nine-hole golf course tops off the hotel’s impressive facilities.
Margna is conveniently located close to one of the valley’s most beautiful walks, on the Chaste peninsula. Challenging without being too demanding, a walk to the end of the peninsula rewards the intrepid rambler with a view across Sils and much of the Alps that must be among the best in Europe.
Train to St Moritz
One of the delights of a trip to the valley is the train journey from Zurich. With a Swiss Travel Pass offering unlimited travel across the country, it’s possible to get from the airport to St Moritz in just under three hours.
While a rail trip at the end of a flight might sound like a miserable way to start a holiday, nothing could be further from the truth: the Rhaetian railway, a UNESCO world heritage route, winds through the Alps taking in viaducts and tunnels and stops off at St Moritz. This place is a delight in winter, but it’s even better in summer.
Getting there and accommodation
Swiss flies to Zurich from Birmingham, London City and Heathrow, and Manchester, Edinburgh and Gatwick in season, from £67 one-way. A standard double at the Parkhotel Margna, Sils in the summer season starts from CHF 350 (£285). For more information visit MySwitzerland.com.