The problem of resorts is that the people who enrich them are apt, at any phase of the moon, to abandon them in favor of others just over the hill. One phenomenal survivor of the vagaries of fashion is St. Moritz, the Swiss Alpine village that was the first of all the world's playgrounds to be called a winter resort and has long been the foremost haven of the rich and royal. This winter St. Moritz entered its second century of fancy visitation and pleasurable profit. The porters were in their places (above), the teatime view of snowy peaks and lapis lazuli sky from the stately old Palace Hotel (right) was as satisfactory as ever and no well-bred pet went cold for want of a mink coat. Turn the pages for more of Artist Fran√ßois's impressions and a guide useful to all St. Moritz travelers, rich and otherwise.
TRAVEL FACTS: OLD LADY WITH YOUNG IDEAS
You have seen, no doubt, those maps of the U.S. drawn from the point of view of a New Yorker: half of the country is made up of Manhattan and Long Island, separated by an abysmal stretch of desert from The Coast. Until last winter, I would have drawn St. Moritz with the same sort of astigmatic perspective. Looming over a frozen lake would be the balconied and turreted Palace Hotel, surrounded by Rolls-Royces and inhabited by gigolos and aging ladies with lap dogs. Speeding downhill from this scene on the icy Cresta toboggan run would be a suicidal Englishman on a fragile piece of metal aptly called a skeleton. All the rest would be marked terra incognita.
Last winter, after a visit to the Innsbruck Olympics, I was compelled to visit St. Moritz. In a disastrous season it was one of the few places in Europe with skiable snow. I steeled myself for what I imagined would be a sort of Monte Carlo in the mountains where the very decadent and the very rich begin their day at lunchtime, play bridge at $10 a point all afternoon and dance the night away at fancy-dress balls.
The Palace Hotel is indeed a fabulous belle époque pile—it is also one of the great hotels of the world. The Cresta is a suicidal creation, but only Englishmen and Italians are considered cowards if they come to St. Moritz and do not run it. Filling in the rest of the Engadine topography is like peeling off a thick crust of preconception and finding underneath a dazzling reality.
There is more winter sport to be had in St. Moritz and the villages tucked into the neighboring valleys around it than in any other place in the world. To the infinite variety of uphill facilities that lace the enormous snow fields benefit the towering Piz Nair and Corviglia, site of the 1928 and 1948 Olympic Alpine events, there have been added in the last two seasons three entire mountain complexes—all reached by cable cars. The Dowager Queen of winter resorts has no hardened arteries.
In addition to the superb skiing, there are seven ice rinks, eight curling clubs, one of the world's best bobsled runs, and on the frozen lake a 2,000-meter flat-and-harness-racing track with a grandstand for 10,000 spectators. When the horses end their season in February, car races are held on the lake by the light of the moon—speed is a passion in St. Moritz.
As surprising to the first-time visitor as the variety of the sport is the variety of living accommodations. In addition to the internationally famous deluxe hotels there are on every hand pensions de famille where one gets three meals and a bed that is an immaculate sea of down for $7.50 per day. And while there are fancy-dress balls, there are also on every side cozy caves with small combos or discoth√®ques where the fanciest dress is jeans and a turtleneck. One can emulate Stavros Niarchos and ski one glacier after another by helicopter—at $70 per hour—or for $30 a week have access to all 40 lifts in the upper Engadine. For those as misapprised about St. Moritz as I, herewith a guide to it and its surroundings.
St. Moritz is at an altitude of 6,000 feet, in the sunny bowl of the Engadine Valley of southeast Switzerland—125 miles from Zurich and Milan, 250 miles from Munich. The train takes four hours from Zurich, nine from Munich. From Milan the Eurobus makes the trip in five hours. It is a good idea to rent a car on arrival—without one, transportation to the four separate ski areas can be both tiresome and expensive. Buses are packed in season, and taxis charge $4 for a ride from one area to another. Hertz and Avis-Swissways both have local agencies. Rates go from $4 to $8 per day, plus 6¢ to 9¢ per kilometer.
In St. Moritz at the Palace, the Kulm, the Suvretta House and the Carlton rates start around $25 per day, American plan. The Kulm has marvelous food (its R√¥tisserie des Chevaliers is the best grill room in town). The Bernasconi and the Crystal are both well located close to the lifts. Rates start at $9 a day, American plan. The Chantarella is a fairly large hotel (160 beds) splendidly situated bang in the middle of the ski runs. A room with bath, American plan, is $12.50 up.
Close to St. Moritz there are several delightful villages. All are less expensive. The village of Pontresina, four miles from St. Moritz, is a particularly good choice for serious skiers who do not care about a jumping night life since it is close to the Diavolezza glacier runs and the new Lagalb lift. The U.S. Olympic squad trained here last winter. All the other villages—Champf√®r, Celerina, Samedan, Sils, Cresta, Silvaplana—are within six miles of St. Moritz proper, and they all have plenty of accommodations of the pension type. The Engadine villages are filled with medieval farmhouses, painted pastel colors, with charming architectural designs etched around doors and windows.
The specialties of the region—B√ºndnerfleisch (dried beef), chapunets (spinach-bacon-and-cheese croquettes), maluns (fried potatoes)—are simple and savory. It is the kind of food that appeals to both hearty appetites and sophisticated palates. The place to try it in St. Moritz is the Chesa Veglia, a big, cheerful restaurant with deep window-sills full of geraniums blooming in the sun and a bowling alley and pizza bar, all built into a 16th century farmhouse. A three-course dinner with wine costs around $8. At the Tzigane restaurant, next to the tourist office, kids with tight budgets eat the Tzigane dollar special—it consists of beef covered with mustard, spices and oil and roasted over an open fire—and drink the local wine, Veltliner, at $1 the half bottle.
The good skiers quickly find their way to the new Piz Corvatsch and the Diavolezza and Lagalb trails. Corvatsch is a permanently snow-clad peak 11,263 feet high. There are as of last year two cable cars carrying 80 skiers in eight minutes to the midway stop at 8,865 feet, and then up to Corvatsch in five minutes more. Corvatsch provides an eight-mile run from the top down to St. Moritz-Bad on the lake, or five miles to the west, ending at Sils.
Diavolezza's glacier skiing is almost perfect—the pistes undulate down the beautiful mountain in pitches that range from intermediate to expert, and you always know where you are—you cannot get lost and there are no crevasses to worry about. The slopes face north and northeast.
Just down the road from Diavolezza is the precipitous Lagalb Mountain, opened last season with a 60-passenger cable car. It faces west, and the two mountains make a good team—when one ices up the other is likely to be still in the sun. The runs on Lagalb are steep enough for the most schuss-happy skier, yet wide enough for the intermediate to feel at home. An eight-day ski-lift ticket for the entire upper Engadine costs $30, a 15-day ticket, $45. Ski school is $14 per week. A very good investment, as anywhere in Europe, is a private guide. It will cost $12 per day in St. Moritz, and in such an enormous area it is more than worthwhile. Not only will your skiing improve, but he will take you where the skiing is best under any weather condition.
St. Moritz devotees say, "We come back every year, see the same people and believe we are not getting any older." To foster this illusion, chic strollers wear high-necked silk pullovers to conceal double chins, swathe themselves in furs or Old World capes and parade with their pedigreed pooches along the village paths. Skiers line up for classes with well-bred rumps straining brightly colored tights. Others who are less active—but forever young—snuggle under bearskins on a horse-drawn sleigh festooned with balloons and a footman who wheezes an accordion.
Tradition compels all gentlemen of spirit, especially Englishmen of this aristocratic desperado's kidney, to plunge at 60 mph down the famous Cresta Run on tiny skeleton sleds.