The Kulm Hotel, St Moritz
St. Moritz, the birthplace of winter tourism, remains one of Switzerland’s most exclusive alpine resorts. Snow-seeking jet-setters fly in each year for world-class skiing, sports, spas, and shopping. The best address in town? The Kulm Hotel. St. Moritz first, founded over 160 years ago.
Legend has it that in the autumn of 1864, as the already well-established summer season was coming to an end, Johannes Badrutt sat by a fire at the hotel that would eventually become the Kulm with his favourite English guests. He had been spending his winters in St. Moritz, and told the Englishmen of the mountains’ idyllic off-season beauty – the sky was blue, the sun shone brightly, and the landscape was coated in a dazzling blanket of pure white.
The guests scoffed at the hotelier’s claims, as they knew all too well their own dark, unforgiving winters back in Britain. How could spending the end of the year somewhere colder be an improvement? It led to a now infamous bet. Badrutt suggested they return in December and if they did not enjoy themselves he would pay for everything. Tempted by the promise of mild, sun-filled days, they accepted. There was nothing to lose. They returned in December to find a temperament so sweet they couldn’t bring themselves to leave until Easter. Badrutt won his bet, and winter tourism was born.
From there St. Moritz developed an impressive reputation for winter sports. Most notably its skiing, Cresta runs, and polo on the frozen lake. The town has remained a favourite with the British, Swiss, and nearby Italians, but like all places that rely on the patronage of the wealthy, an influx of international money has kept the town afloat. The Kulm, for example, was resuscitated by the illustrious Niarchos family, of Greek shipping renown.
Today the Kulm is equipped with 170 individually designed rooms, seven restaurants, numerous bars and lounges, a state of the art spa, and a country club complete with a natural ice rink. The hotel’s name comes from a Swiss word meaning hill or pinnacle and generally used to describe a building occupying an area’s highest elevation. Although there are now properties built further up into the mountains, the Kulm’s enviable position in the centre of town still boasts convenience and breath-taking lakeside views.
The hotel has recently taken home Gault Millau’s (a hotel and restaurant guide, rivalling Michelin) 2018 hotel of the year award, for the second time no less, helping to further solidify its acclaimed foodie credentials. You’ll find everything here from the most casual of pizzerias up to silver service, white-gloved dining.
The Grand Restaurant provides a six-course menu that comes as standard with rooms booked on a half board basis. It is served in an impressive ballroom, which when lit with soft candlelight takes on an altogether more intimate ambience than at breakfast time. The food here is mainly of French origin, with occasional Swiss and Mediterranean influences. We dined on classic dishes prepared to a good standard such as vichyssoise, scallops with caviar, seabream en Papillote, stone baked quail, and Grand Marnier parfait.
As a seasonal hotel that closes several months of the year, it is tricky to organise a big name, Michelin vying chef to set up a permanent base. Instead, the Kulm invites eminent cooks from across the world to undertake brief residencies in a space they call The K. This winter the kitchens are joined by Tim Raue, whose Asian influenced Berlin restaurant currently holds two stars. At the K he is serving many of his classic dishes, including the infamous wasabi langoustine – a taste revelation not to be missed.
Elsewhere the hotel’s Sunny Bar, famous for its association with the Cresta runs, creates tantalising Peruvian small plates under the guidance of Chef Claudia Canessa. The Bob Restaurant and Chesa al Parc both serve classic Swiss cuisine. Chesa’s cheese fondue is a local favourite and comes with soft green peppercorns that bring the ubiquitous dish to life. A casual Pizzeria, a nod to St. Moritz’s close proximity to the border, offers tasty and well-cooked Italian fare.
The Kulm Spa contrasts directly with the historic architecture and colonnades of the main building. A monolithic extension of steel and stone forged into the side of the mountain, it offers 2000 square metres of relaxation space and unbelievable views of the Engadin Valley. Features include a large swimming pool, exquisite outdoor hydrotherapy pool, various saunas and steam rooms, and a relaxation room fitted with sumptuous waterbeds. The usual array of facials and body treatments are available, along with some tried and tested signature therapies.
One of the jewel’s in the Kulm’s crown is its country club. Recently redesigned by architect Norman Foster (of Gherkin, Reichstag, and City Hall fame), the club is a contemporary oasis of softly sanded pine and buttery beige leather upholstery. Downstairs is a stylish bar area perfect for gluhwein pit-stops or a clandestine tête-à-tête. Upstairs a restaurant space serves an informal but indulgent menu of delicacies such as saffron butter lobster or game with Peruvian purple potatoes. Both the bar and restaurant look out over a gorgeous natural ice rink, free for guests of the hotel to use.
Striving to keep holidays as stress-free as possible, the Kulm is able to organise most of the activities that St. Moritz has to offer. Skiing takes place at various nearby slopes including those at Corviglia and Corvatsch, the latter of which offers spectacular night skiing on Fridays. Snowboarding and cross-country skiing are also ever popular. Daredevils will appreciate the Cresta runs, a sport that puts every last nerve to the test. Gentler are the snowy hikes and sledging or even horse-drawn carriage rides around the lake, sure to delight the little ones in the family.
Via Veglia 18, 7500 St. Moritz, Switzerland
There are several ways to get to St. Moritz, including by private jet, helicopter, or car. Most affordable is to fly into Zurich and travel on by train. The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round trip from airport to resort and is priced from £112. For more information on visiting St. Moritz and Switzerland see www.MySwitzerland.com.