St Moritz. The Oldest Winter Holiday Resort in the World.

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Switzerland – ‘Did you enjoy the Alps? Did you feel fabulous?

My favourite question from a friend on my return from Switzerland. The answer of course was YES! I did. I still do. I always will have elated feelings about my #SwitzerlandwithSWISS trip.

Especially as I think back on my time in St. Moritz which is currently celebrating 150 years of Winter Holidays. 

Dating back to 1864, this cosmopolitan town which is aptly described as chic, elegant and exclusive is located at 1856 metres above sea level in the Upper Engadin lake region. Build up on the site of therapeutic hot springs enjoyed from the start of history, its here at Switzerland’s highest lying mineral spa that a healing energy bubbles up to benefit and draw visitors to the region.

Yet I was to learn from Stephanie Elmer of the Tourismusorganisation Engadin St. Moritz that it was a wager not a cure that led to St Moritz’ establishment as a top holiday destination. ’150 years ago Hotelier Johannes Badrutt promised his English summer guests heaven on earth: he made a bet that even in winter they would be able to enjoy the mild Engadin sunshine on his terrace in shirtsleeves; if not he would reimburse their travel costs – both ways’. The guests took up the challenge, coming back at Christmas only to return home at Easter tanned, relaxed and happy. And so winter tourism in the Alps was born. The British flocked to the region each summer leaving their mark in the form of polo, cricket and an appreciation for the harmony between rustic tradition and upper-class service that can still be felt here today…

   This tradition and elegance is indeed matched with an average of 322 days of sun a year to provide that dry champagne climate that they’re know for. I was there on the 1st September, there was a fresh sprinkling of powdery snow on the mountain tops, the sun was out and the setting was picture perfect.

   On arrival we were transferred the short distance to the Schweizerhof Hotel where we spent the night. A family owned four start hotel located in the middle of town, with my room overlooking the square. Offering convenience and every amenity, as well as a small healthy facility, fine dining room and helpful staff, the most appealing part for me that you can walk everywhere from here. That and the little temperature indicator in the bedroom window guiding me on how to dress …

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From my hotel room looking towards the town square, this indication that it’s pretty cold out there.

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  Three different cultural regions converge in St. Moritz. The Romansch language of the Swiss, close proximity and influence of Italy and local German speaking population. Seeking out the best of these worlds, our afternoon was spent with our guide Mario; charming, friendly and Italian, who took us on a walking tour, my favourite way to meet a place. Here he is looking rather dapper as he offered his anecdotal accounts of growing up in St Moritz and all it has to offer.

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   We walked down to Lake St Moritz to take in the views. These spyglasses thrilled me. When you look through them across the lake you get a visual of what it looks like all frozen over in the Winter time. Horse racing and ice polo at play. Such a fun idea.

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   Whilst walking the streets I heard of the need for St. Moritz to protect its name as a trade mark – the first resort to do so – and how it is now registered in around 50 countries. Also about all the famous guests who had frequented this place which embodies such style, among them Alfred Hitchcock, Brigitte Bardot and Gunter Sachs as well as Charlie Chaplin, Henry Ford, Greta Garbo, Thomas Mann, the Kennedy family and the Shah of Persia. The reason is obvious …

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Loved the detail on the buildings.

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Murals above the arch way.

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Church in the middle of town.

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From the nature trail looking back, I couldn’t resist a selfie.

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Church on the side of the shores of Lake St Moritz.

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Oh, and probably the best big brand shopping imaginable! Whether its designer clothing, a Maserati or fine Swiss Chocolate you’re in the right place and the shopping bags are about the right size for the spree.

Be it Winter or Summer, you will find every sport on offer in this outdoor paradise from hiking, mountain biking, skiing, sailing on offer here. Actually they told me at the Hotel that the only thing they couldn’t organise for me was deep sea fishing … Love that humour.

As for the numbers, in 1830 St. Moritz counted only 200 inhabitants which has increased to about 5400 today. During high season I’m told that 21000 guests and employees join the ranks and leave the town bursting with a sense that adventure based happiness is within easy reach.

I loved the sun shining down and the dry crisp champagne air, the towering mountains at the start of Autumn, and would much recommend a visit at this time. Although as the World’s Oldest winter holiday resort, and as a nature lover, I’d love to go back when the lake is frozen over and glühwein forms a crucial part of your daily diet.

Congratulations to you St Morritz on 150 Years of Winter Tourism! Here’s to millennia more …

My St Moritz recommendations:

  1. Try the local nut cake or Bündner Nusstorte – so very good!
  2. Book a guide if you can, well worth it to learn more about the various buildings and the significance they hold in the town’s history. It also diversified the route taking us up a circular nature trail and off the main roads.
  3. In the Design Centre take the escalators down to the terrace overlooking the lake, we took them down but walked back up … (to combat the nut cake indulgence). That said, a leisurely stroll around Lake St. Moritz and past its picnic spots and look out points is a must.
  4. Stock up on chocolate. Its Switzerland!
  5. Visit the Tourism Office for their comprehensive maps and kind assistance, one of the best I’ve encountered.
  6. Visit the original Heidi Hut on the mountain just outside town.
  7. Take the funicular up to The Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl which at 2400m above sea level boast the most beautiful vantage point in the area. Endless beauty, sublime locally sourced food at their Mountain Dining Restaurant and ambiance for days.
  8. Go in the Spring time when you can have the place pretty much to yourself … Go back in Winter to find out what he celebrations are all about.

An indulgent, healthy, adventure based, beautiful place to visit.

Contact Stephanie Elmer of Tourismusorganisation Engadin St. Moritz at stephanie.elmer@estm.ch  | www.engadin.stmoritz.ch. There’s a great App too that will help with your planning.

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Dawn JorgensenDawn Jorgensen
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The Incidental Tourist

The Incidental Tourist is a Personal Travel Blog of a conscious traveller with a deep love for Africa, its people and the environment.

Here I bring you narratives, stories, video and photographs from my travels around the globe, including accounts of gorilla trekking in Uganda, tree planting in Zambia and turtle rescue in Kenya, accommodation and restaurant reviews, as well as details of the conservation efforts that I support.

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