Notes on...

You don’t have to be super-rich to enjoy St Moritz in summer

The snow is gone, but so are the designer-clad Russians and their bodyguards

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

Here’s a tip: when travelling to St Moritz, it’s best not to mention the name of your final destination to the airport porters, drivers or waiters that you encounter on your journey there. Such a slip, as I discovered, will only lead to disappointment when you come to leave a tip (however generous the amount may be).

Once the star of Switzerland’s winter tourism, St Moritz is the original alpine resort, offering ski holidays to the super-rich since 1864. But in recent decades the town’s sparkle has begun to fade, as it now has to compete with the likes of Klosters and Gstaad for the custom of royals, oligarchs and glitterati in the market for a champagne-fuelled snow break.

It has to be said that there aren’t many signs of hardship on show in the town, which boasts more designer shops per square metre than fondue restaurants. In winter, the pricey restaurant chain Nobu opens a branch to ply visitors with black cod, while jetsetters work the hotel club circuit by night. However, if you can handle a week without these luxuries (and, granted, also minus the snow), the merits of an off-season stay during the summer, when the town is half-deserted, are plentiful — not least of all for a view of the mountains which isn’t obstructed by a sea of designer-clad Russians.

Getting there from Zurich, the preferred mode of transport for the very rich is private helicopter. Less exalted travellers have the option of arriving by European rail. My train offered something a sky ride couldn’t: an impromptu concert from a throng of Swiss nationals en route to a yodelling festival, dressed in traditional dirndls. A bit of early applause on my part was greeted with gentle scolding from their choirmaster — the song of the mountains is sacred.

The last leg of the journey, from Chur to St Moritz, navigates the mountains via a narrow gauge carved through the rock. We munched on cheese baguettes as we were pulled upwards. On arrival, we were greeted by the strong smell of pine trees, and the sight of rolling mountains paired with the sapphire-blue Lake St Moritz.

In winter, the lake becomes an ice rink, but in low season it is used for sailing. Alternatively, those with less of a penchant for water can rent a bike and explore the surrounding tracks. Perched next to the lake lies one of the town’s oldest hotels, Badrutt’s Palace. It was here that Alfred and Alma Hitchcock honeymooned, and the grand building is a reminder of the palatial European hotels of old. As you wander through the corridors, you notice that there is a chair outside every bedroom door. Why? For guests’ bodyguards to sit watch on while their employers sleep, of course.

With my humble entourage of one, I departed the palace and escaped into the mountains. The chairlifts operate throughout the year, and the off-season pass is a bargain. Many hotels even offer it free with your stay. Spend a day exploring the lookouts or visiting the Bregaglia valley and see if you can resist trying out a yodel of your very own. Travellers who can tear themselves away from the luxury of the town will find St Moritz’s real wealth is to be found up here in the clouds.

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  • Damaris Tighe

    St Moritz in the summer was my first visit to Switzerland (before the Russians). I can thoroughly recommend the Alpine resorts in the summer, & have always thought that you miss 99.9% of their glory when seeing them covered in snow. I’ve done the rail journey from Chur to St Moritz or Arosa many times. I can also recommend the drive over the mountain passes from Italy to St Moritz if you feel brave. The South Tyrolian Italian/former Austrian resort of Merano is a good place to start.

    • van Lomborg

      If you have been to Chur then you must go to Vals next. I will also recommend the un-tolled Spluegen pass road to Chiavenna and the cuisine to expect in Sondrio.

      • Damaris Tighe

        I can also recommend the cuisine at the station buffet at Chur.

  • explain that

    Designer-clad Russians and their bodyguards have disappeared everywhere around Europe. Only those travelling a bit will have actually noticed that years ago.

  • Sean Grainger

    Ms Balls I am a huge fan of boondoggles but there are some rules. You simply can’t talk to us in 2015 as though we haven’t been to all these places. Davos’s skiing pedigree is as old as its Engadin valley rival’s and those of us who can manage the turns on Schwarzseealp have been having lunch at Ruth Guler’s joint in Klosters for decades although in my case blessed by not running into Charlie when he stayed there. And while yes the Swiss are not averse to money Davosers are very welcoming of impecunious Brits who keep returning. And in the dear old Eighties my snow breaks were as champagne fuelled as anyone’s. In that decade one could buy Dom P in Belsize Park Oddbins for £28 — imagine. And we are virtually Gstaad gastsaufern from following Taki in these pages. I know coming up with an intro is difficult for the unpractised but one has never seen a porter in an airport so that sort of doesn’t work. I thought dirndls were Bayerisch but I’ll take your word for it. The winter host of that silly horse race is the St Moritzersee and if you must translate it maybe lower case lake. And the main deterrent from skiing the excellent Corviglia and Corvatsch is the power of that damn Swiss franc not the Russians. Other than that okay.

  • Mc

    Avoid the famous resorts. They’re not only heavily overpriced, but are often crowded by ghastly brutalist modern architecture. Add to that, they are often not in the most picturesque of settings. Non-famous alternatives – especially outside of Switzerland – offer stunning scenery and top accommodation for as little as €45 pp.

  • rtj1211

    Have you ever been brave enough to ask some denizens of St Moritz why they aren’t part of Austria?? Geography would suggest that the Inn valley should all be part of one country, but for some reason Switzerland has got hold of the uppermost parts of many valleys apparently more geographically linked to Italy or Austria.

  • omgamuslim

    It is dear old Blighty for me. If not that, then the backwaters of Bangladesh in memory of the empire.