Lay of the Land
“I repeat myself yet again – this upper Engadin is the most beautiful abode in the world. I do not easily speak of happiness, but I almost believe I am happy here.”~Thomas Mann
Many people know St. Moritz, the fabled Swiss resort town near the Italian border, which claims to have invented winter tourism some 150 years ago. In reality, it is just part of a ski region that expands well beyond St. Moritz, into the scenic Engadin Valley, running from Maloja, near the Italian border, thirty-five miles northeast to Zernez, an hour’s drive from Davos.
Almost from inception, in the mid 1800s, St. Moritz drew British royalty who came here to escape the miserable London winters. Hollywood and the jetset followed in the 1950s and ‘60s and even today, St Moritz is a town for those like to be seen — and those who don’t bat an eyelid when faced with a €50-plus appetizer. Streets are lined with the usual suspects: Dolce & Gabanna, Bottega Veneta, Prada and Bogner, the latter of which carries a line designed and sold exclusively here (think embellishment of bling and fur). Locals have long grumbled about the “Monte Carlo-ization” of their town, but while Russian oligarchs may have replaced the Kennedys and Brigitte Bardot, it’s undeniable that the town has always had an air of exclusivity, old-world wealth and insider status.
Rising behind St. Moritz town is Corviglia / Piz Nair, the fabled ski area where World Cup races are staged annually and where fine mountain dining draws non-skiers as well, who can access many of the restaurants via gondola or on foot.
The other ski areas not to miss are Corvatsch / Furtschellas, the region’s highest mountain station, Diavolezza / La Galb, and the family friendly, smaller mountain at Zuoz/Pizett. Especially U.S. based skies should know that these ski areas are not connected and can only be accessed by car, bus or train. The closest to ski in/ski out are the high-priced chalets in the Suvretta area, where skiers can also access the Corviglia/Piz Nair region. For the most part, though, skiers have to understand that there will be some travel involved between slopes.
Not to be overlooked when visiting this area are the tiny, much more quaint and authentic villages that dot the valley around St. Moritz. Running up the valley towards St. Moritz, there are S-Chanf, Zuoz, La Punt, Bever and Pontresina, whose more modest, local hotels and hearty restaurants all offer versions of light-wood-paneled, red-and-white-striped Swiss Gemütlichkeit (cozyness).
From Zurich and Milan (Italy), St. Moritz can be reached in three hours by car. From Munich (Germany), it’s about a four-hour drive. There’s also an excellent train connection via Chur, then switching to the ever-efficient Rhaetische Bahn, which looks like it’s straight of a storybook. It makes stops in every town in the valley. If you fly private, the St. Moritz Airport can accommodate jets of all sizes. The Greek Niarchos family, who is the largest private landowner in St. Moritz (they also own the Kulm and the Kronenhof hotels), has landed its 737 here, and world leaders like Angela Merkel and various Hollywood celebrities have arrived in large jets as well.