Weekends Away: St. Moritz
Photos courtesy of Engadin St Moritz Tourism
St. Moritz is known for its posh side, the one that conjures images of skating white-coated waiters brandishing trays of champagne and caviar and horse drawn carriages ferrying fur bedecked women between flashy five-star hotels and nightclubs.
Origins of St Moritz
However, it’s good to remember that St. Moritz, which is named after the first Black African saint, a Roman soldier who was executed for defending Christians in the Swiss Alps, is actually a 3,500-year-old pilgrimage destination with healing powers. It’s even better to go there with family, like we did, in the summer and discover its many charms as a kick-butt mountain town that won’t break the budget.
The location and views alone can stun even the most jaded European tourist. The town is seated in the heart of the flat and wide Engadine Valley and surrounded by some of Switzerland’s most impressive peaks: Piz Bernina, Piz Corvatch and Piz Nair. Called the “Ballroom of the Alps,” the valley floor features large, crystalline lakes like the Silvaplanersee and the Silsersee, known for their fierce gusty winds and for hosting international wind- and kite-surfing competitions.
The iron-rich mineral springs or “waters” of St. Moritz, which feed these lakes were said to have spiritual healing powers and in fact, in 1519, Pope Leo X granted absolution to all who pilgrimaged here. Although our dog was the only one in our group to actually drink directly from these waters, St. Moritz worked its magic on all of us, and, come to think of it, the dog seemed to feel pretty good too.
With another family visiting from the U.S., we booked two suites at the Randolins Familienresort St. Moritz, which turned out to have a great balance of family-friendly and dog-tolerant amenities without the feeling of a Disney cruise.
Photo courtesy of Randolins Familienresort
It’s located in Suvretta, a few kilometres above St. Moritz, and the prices, especially considering it was August 1, Swiss National Day, were extremely reasonable. The one-bedroom suites house a family of five fairly comfortably and floor-to-ceiling windows along the front side showcase the area’s best feature: the view of Piz Rosatch directly across the valley.
Dracula Club and Festival da Jazz
We arrived in the evening, and our first stop was a concert by the Earth, Wind and Fire Tribute Band. This may seem analogous to going on a mountain getaway, but this show, part of the annual Festival da Jazz brought us close to the mountains and into the inner sanctum of the St Mortiz scene: The Dracula Club at the Kulm Hotel. The club is named after its founder (Dracula) Gunter Sachs, an ascot-sporting German 60s/70s jet setter who was president of the St. Moritz Bobsleigh club for many years and famously married to Bridget Bardot from 1966-69.
Photo courtesy of St Moritz Festival da Jazz
The private club, usually closed to the public, opens its doors for Festival Da Jazz, which hosts all of its shows there. The hotel and club are set into the mountain at the start of the St. Moritz Bobsleigh run and the bigger shows, like ours, play outside. So, for 60 chf, we were allowed entrée into the Dracula Club’s outdoor area and, with the stars above us, spent the next several hours in the fresh mountain air and with visions of 1970s rec rooms dancing in our heads.
Hiking in St Moritz
After breakfast the next day, we decided to use the free all-mountain transport passes that our hotel (and most other St. Moritz hotels) offer guests. They are good on all the gondolas, lifts and local buses and trams in the St. Moritz area. We wanted to hike and see good views with kids in tow, so we took the took the Surlej Corvatschbahn to the top of St. Moritz’s highest peak, Piz Corvatsch.
At the top of Piz Corvatsch, it’s hard not to get waylaid taking photos, as the views up and down the Engadine are stunning, but eventually we set off hiking down the mountain. The trails are well marked and safe for kids of any age, and we ambled past pastures, streams and some cranky cows that actually started chasing us down the hill.
Photo courtesy MySwitzerland
After several hours, we got to the bottom, walked through town and headed back to the hotel where we ate dinner, took a dip in the outdoor infinity spa and got ready to celebrate August 1st. We were ready and loaded with our own fireworks, which we selected meticulously from the ALDI parking lot the day before. We originally planned on joining the bigger town celebrations along St. Moritzersee, but the hotel said we could shoot ours off directly from the hotel into the valley, as long as we looked out for the local “Kühe” (cows).
We were glad we did this because from our hotel we saw other firework displays, some of which were distinctly and possibly dangerously DIY like ours, and some that showed a bit more artistry.
Ropes Course at Pontresina
The following day, we headed to Pontresina to tackle the high ropes course. (Pontresina is a small town located a about 8 km from St. Moritz. The ropes course is set in a gorgeous shady wooded area in and around the gushing waters of the Inn/En River. Although we booked ahead, (highly recommended) we still had to wait 20 minutes before getting to the window and another 30 minutes to get suited, belted, helmeted and trained. But it was worth it. The course was fantastic and offered thrills for every age and ability level.
Photo © Go Vertical GmbH
The platforms at the beginning of the courses are high and a good test of a climber’s feelings about being in the trees. After waiting around and chatting about climbing, one 13-year-old in our party scrambled to the top of the first platform, looked down and declared, “Oh yeah, I’m afraid of heights.”
He was able to climb down, get his bearings and go up again, but it’s worth mentioning that high ropes courses might not be every kid’s cup of tea. Anyone who likes dangling amidst the trees and tight-rope walking from small platform to platform and zip-lining across rushing waters, however, will be more than satisfied.
For lunch, we crossed the Punt’Ota, a bridge that likely dates back to the 1200s, and had lunch outside near the river at the Station Hotel, and planned our next helmeted adventure:
A sport gaining in popularity in Europe and the U.S., pump bike courses are bumpy but relatively low and designed so that the biker “pumps” his or herself through the course more than pedals, similar to the way some of the “bump” courses work on the mountains.
Photo courtesy of Pontresina Sports
For 10 chf, we rented fat-tire bikes and helmets and got a five-minute instruction course (i.e. “don’t pedal or crash”) from Pontresina Sports next door, suited up and went. Bruises and cuts were payment for getting used to this type of biking, and we tried not to be daunted (or, more accurately, shamed) by the Swiss four-year-olds who were actually learning to bike for the first time alongside us. An hour later, tired and hungry, we handed in our gear and went back to the hotel to rest and change before dinner at the Chesa Veglia Pizzeria Heuboden.
This venerable institution, now owned by Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, whose name means “Old House” in Romansch, is alleged to be the oldest house in St. Moritz. It’s been lovingingly and luxuriously restored, from its thick low-slung beams to its native carvings in a “rustic chic” style that has left little to one’s 17th Century imagination.
While we couldn’t talk the kids into ordering the highly recommended truffle pizza, the food was exceptional and the adjacent Polo Bar is a great place to wait for your table.
Hiking and Biking Details
The hiking, panoramas, lake hikes or glacier hikes there are endless options.
Article written by Jennifer Lisle. Jennifer is a Zurich-based freelance journalist who has written for The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and Elle, among many others.
Tags: festival da jazz st moritz switzerland, Go vertical ropes course Engadine Switzerland, origins of St Mortiz Switzerland, Pump biking pontresina sport, Pump biking St Moritz, The Dracula Club St Moritz, Weekends Away: St. Moritz, what to do in St Moritz in the summer