THE lift doors opened and, there, standing in the grand foyer of St Moritz’s Suvretta House, stood a woman who seemed to epitomise this luxurious Swiss hotel. Tall, elegant and effortlessly chic in her glossy fur coat paired with long, expensive black boots, she oozed European-style opulence. Behind her, the stunning alpine view glinted in the sun, framed by huge windows. On a lead, she held a slim, aristocratic dog – the type you’d find in haute couture advertising.
I had to blink twice to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. But then, I’d alreadyfound that the perfect picture postcard appeal of St Moritz and Suvretta House was quite often having that effect. The boutique shops, well-heeled guests and the jaw-dropping grandeur of the hotel itself – nestled like a wintry fairytale castle beneath miles of inviting ski runs – make this stunning corner of the Engadine Valley feel like another world, even though it is roughly a five-hour journey from London.
And what a journey it is. From City Airport, it is just an 80-minute jump to Zurich, followed by a three and three quarter hour rail trip, winding past glistening lakes, deep gorges with heart-stopping vertical drops, and pristine snow-capped villages. The landscape is so fresh and magical it feels like entering Narnia – if that fictional wonderland had really good shops.
DISCRETION AND REFINEMENT
Arriving at the station, we were met by Suvretta House’s trademark vintage Ford old-timer for the 2km trip to Suvretta House, a venerable five-star hotel whose solid foundations were laid 100 years ago next April.
St Moritz, of course, is famed for its jet-set and Hollywood high life, excessive parties and international glamour. But the team at Suvretta House, managed for two decades by husband and wife team Helen and Vic Jacob, pride themselves on discretion, culture and refinement and personal attention. And despite the majestic surrounds, it is also very much a family hotel.
Generations of genteel European families come here, with many leaving their ski wardrobes on site between seasons and repeatedly booking the mandatory two-week Christmas/New Year stay to celebrate in style. It boasts a kindergarten with adjoining “Teddy’s Club” restaurant. And when the lucky youngsters aren’t tucking into kiddy meals with nanny, they take an early lesson in fine dining – dressing formally for dinner in the wood-panelled, and aptly named Suvretta Grand Restaurant. This being a fairy-tale realm (or perhaps because these mostly European children are well-schooled in table manners), the shirt and tie-bedecked juniors were eating quietly, with not a DS in sight.
It would be easy to be lulled into a cossetted round of eating, drinking and people watching. I would happily have spent my days gorging on the vast array of dishes offered at the buffet breakfast, sunning myself and drinking tea by the windows of the vast lobby, wandering the seemingly endless and wide-as-a-room corridors, sipping early evening cocktails with a piano accompaniment in Anton’s Bar and alternating between cosy dinners in the Swiss-styled informal restaurant and the fine dining world of amuse-bouches, foams and crusts created by Suvretta House’s monster kitchen. Well, I would have...if there wasn’t such great skiing just outdoors.
Walk out the back door of the hotel and you can catch a lift straight up to the heart of the Corviglia ski area – one of three in St Moritz. The other domains are the high Corvatsch peak and the glacier descent of the Diavolleza. But if, in St Moritz style, you wanted to completely escape the hoi polloi you could always opt for one local version of heli-sking, which involves catching a flight to the top and skiing down the pistes.
With a ski instructor from Suvretta House’s own on-site school, Suvretta Snowsports, I was free to explore the vast and varied runs, which, like many of the designer-clad skiers on them, were exceptionally well-groomed. My young and god-like instructor explained that he had grown up in a neighbouring village, attended a school dedicated to snow sports and had just seen one of his former close competitors claim gold in the grand slalom in the Winter Olympics. Aged 23, his repeated knee injuries had put him out of the race. I was momentarily sorry for him, until I realised his terrible fate was to spend his days teaching the sport he loves in St Moritz. It’s hardly Sisyphus endlessly pushing a boulder uphill, now
It’s fitting that, in a resort that claims to have been the birthplace in 1864 of the “white winter holiday”, the moutain-top facilities are excellent. Between long ski runs, pit stops to soak up the amazing alpine views and the incredible sight of local teams practising for a formation skiing contest, I was able to indulge in some of those famous cheese and potato, carbohydrate-loaded Swiss meals at Suvretta’s piste-top restaurants, Trutz and Chasellas. Somehow, the thought of quickly grabbing a plate of chips to see you to the next chairlift doesn’t gel with the olde worlde Suvretta House experience.
Back at the hotel, relaxed after a day of skiing (and the pure heaven of someone else carrying and putting your skis away), the final indulgence was an hour in the huge glass-covered pool, followed by a quick dip in the mist-laden outdoor spa. Sitting amidst the foaming bubbles, I breathed in the fresh alpine air and admired the snow-capped peaks in the distance. Just in front of me, a smiling grandfather took to the ice rink to give his beautifully dressed granddaughter her first taste of skating. As the picture postcard pair grinned at each other, completing their first wobbly circuit, I wondered – not for the first time – whether this was all staged for my benefit.
SUVRETTA HOUSE HOTEL
Winter rates: Low season rates, from 4 December, start from €263 per person per night, including service, VAT, half board, including use of pool, spa, and regular return bus service to the centre of St Moritz.
Rail travel can be booked through Switzerland Travel Centre 00 800 100 200 30: www.myswitzerland.com
Flights: Swiss International Airlines: 0845 601 0956: www.swiss.com/uk
Hotel Reservations: 00 41 81 836 36 36