It's home to the exclusive Cresta Run and Cartier polo matches, but there is more to St Moritz in Switzerland than posh sports, glamour and shopping. Intermediate skiers and foodies will love it
St Moritz in Switzerland is one of Europe’s most exclusive resorts, often referred to as "more ritz" on account of the glamour on display in its main shopping street, which rivals anywhere in the world. Ever since its natural ice-toboggan slide, the Cresta Run, was established by Major Bulpett in 1884, St Moritz has retained its upmarket appeal. Set amid splendid scenery, it overlooks the lake of the same name which freezes over and becomes a winter playground for the international jet set, featuring the spectacular White Turf horse race and the Cartier Polo World Cup.
St Moritz is one of the oldest ski resorts in the world, established after Johannes Badrutt opened his hotel here in 1856. Since then, it has become the ski destination of choice for wealthy German and Italian tourists, known for its sun-kissed pistes with more than 300 glorious, sunny days per year.
The town is divided in two by the lake. On one side lies St Moritz Dorf, where the swish hotels and restaurants are; on the other is St Moritz Bad, which offers ski access to all areas. (Dorf cannot be skied to from any of the main areas). So popular are its glamorous off-slope activities (shopping, horse racing, polo and even cricket), skiers will benefit empty pistes which are well-groomed and served by a state-of-the-art lift system.
There are three main ski areas – Corviglia (substantial), Corvatsch (varied) and Diavolezza/Lagalb (challenging). It is best to ski each sector on a different day, because not all are inter-linked. However, a good bus service (typical of the Swiss) runs between all three.
The closest ski area to town is Corviglia, reached by funicular, cable car, gondola or chair. From here, you can head to the snow-sure peak Piz Nair via a 100-person cable car, descending via lots of blue and easy red runs. From here you can head down into Dorf and Bad, and via the lower lift junction of Marguns to Celerina. There are also 14 mountain restaurants.
A bus ride away is Corvatsch, which has great snow conditions but not much sun. Use the cable car at Surlej, which takes you up 1,500m in two stages. To ski back to St Moritz, use the Hahnensee run. There are two snowparks at Corvatsch too.
While the un-crowded prepared pistes on the mountain are among the best for intermediates, St Moritz can get overlooked for its amazing off-piste which offers some seriously steep and challenging pitches amid stunning scenery on largely untracked snow. The upmarket price and feel of the place tends not to appeal to the free-style market.
St Moritz is not ideal for beginners, with steep slopes and awkward progression routes – but nursery areas are located at Salastrains and Corviglia, and just out of town at Suvretta. Of the ski schools, try Swiss Snowsports School (00 41 081 830 0101), Suvretta (00 41 081 836 3600) or Engadin Snow and Fun School (00 41 081 837 5353) in Celerina.
This is a resort that's perfect for intermediates. The slopes on Corviglia and Corvatsch are very well groomed with gentle red runs ideal for cruising. Corvatsch is wide and expansive, with plenty of choice, the Hahnensee run standing out. Beginning at the north end of the ski area and running from Giand'Alva down to St Moritz Bad, this not-so-difficult black run is four miles long and brings you to within five minutes' walk of the cable car up to Corviglia. A fast quad serves the Diavolezza area which has plenty of relaxed intermediate runs. However, this is where there is some good off-piste potential for experts.
There is not much to challenge experts on the pistes, and mogul fields are scarce. The other problem is the spread-out nature of the black runs. The best places to try are Lagalb with its Minor run down from the cable car, and Diavolezza.
Three favourite runs
The Hahnensee run is an obvious choice. It leads back into town, is a good challenge for intermediates and offers enjoyable cruising with great views. Murtel to Surlej in Corvatsch is a fun red run from the main cable car down the valley, finishing near the beautiful forest path. For picturesque views and wide-open spaces, head for Diavolezza. From underneath the main cable car, this enjoyable run takes you past the peaks of Piz Bernina and Piz Palu.
ST MORITZ AT A GLANCE
Number of lifts 56
Chair lifts 18
Drag lifts 27
Lift capacity per hour 65, 000
Mountain restaurants 31
Total piste length 147km
Number of pistes 97
(18 green, 61 blue, nine red, nine black)
Beginners' pistes 16 per cent
Intermediate pistes 71 per cent
Expert pistes 13 per cent
Linked areas Corviglia, Corvatsch, Zuoz
Pros and cons
More than 300 sunny days per year
Great off-slope activities
Lots of fine-dining mountain restaurants, plenty of choice, great views
Snow-sure and perfect for intermediate skiers
Poor or non-existent linking between areas
Runs lack variety
Expensive, with town lacking in character
If dialling from the UK, prefix all the telephone numbers below with 00 41.
St Moritz has an enviable reputation for keeping the well-heeled well- fed. There are currently 32 of its restaurants listed in the Gault Millau gourmet guide, making this is one of the world’s greatest gourmet ski resorts – rivalled only by the fellow Swiss resort of Zermatt.
Marmite (081 833 63 55). At the top of Corviglia, Marmite serves gourmet food (caviar, truffles) at ostentatious prices, together with Champagne and cigars. If your budget – or your palate – is not this rich, there is the option of self-service right next door. Also nearby is the Paradiso Ski Hut which has a lovely sunny terrace on which to enjoy regional rustic specialities.
Muottas Muragl (081 842 8232). Equally suitable for an evening meal, this hotel restaurant is located near Pontresina and Samedan on the way to the Bernina Pass. Take the funicular up the mountain and enjoy great food and spectacular views.
Hahnensee (081 833 36 34). For better value and a relaxed atmosphere, try the fun Hahnensee on the run back down into St Moritz Bad in the Corvatsch area. Great, tasty lunch – and remember the way, as you'll be back for the après-ski later.
Corvatsch Berg Restaurant (081 838 73 83). At the Corvatsch mid-station, this is another place to enjoy a meal with wonderful views.
Piz Nair (081 833 08 75). At the top of Piz Nair, this lovely place to eat has great views and traditional mountain food.
Restaurants in St Moritz
Some of the best restaurants in town are to be found in the hotels. There you will find excellent, fine traditional cuisine. Elsewhere, these are favourites:
Secondo (081 834 99 90). Centrally located, this is a great all-round restaurant with everything from Mexican food to pizzas and pasta and local cuisine. Affordable prices, unpretentious atmosphere, great food.
Acla (081 837 07 07). Situated at the Hotel Schweizerhof, this fine-dining restaurant is one of the best in town.
Best for romance
Johri's Talvo (081 833 4455). A five-minute taxi ride out of town at Chamfer, this converted barn serves meals in beautiful surroundings lit by candlelight. The owner, Roland Johri-Tanner, is one of Switzerland's best chefs. Book in advance. Note, this place is very expensive.
Best for pizza
La Botte (081 833 39 88). On the way out of Dorf towards Bad, this excellent pizzeria is relaxed and casual but serves great food.
Best for fondue
Acla Clavadatsch (081 833 55 30). Central, in the main square at the Hotel Schweizerhof, this place serves excellent fondue.
Best for a quick bite
Bobby's Bar (081 834 42 83). This is the place to go for hot dogs, burgers, fries and chicken.
Best place to start the evening
Roo Bar (081 837 50 50). This open-air bar on the main square is a great place to have a drink if you're still in your ski boots.
California Bar (081 833 61 88). American-inspired diner bar.
The Cava Bar (081 836 96 96). Literally a hollowed-out cave, with low lighting and a cool atmosphere, this is a novel place to drink cocktails, beer or wine and listen to live music.
Best for live music
Stubli (081 837 07 07). Usually packed, and always popular with tourists, this great bar is in the Hotel Schweizerhof where you'll find a great range of drinks and good music. Also, in the Hotel Schweizerhof are two more bars – country-music Muli and the jazz-inspired Piano Bar.
Best for cocktails
Cascade (081 833 33 44). On Via Somplaz, this is a relaxed place that's great for a cocktail or a sampling of the vast wine menu.
Best of British
Bobby's Bar (081 834 42 83). Located in the shopping centre, this is a friendly place for a pint and a game of pool.
King's Club (081 837 10 00). Expensive – and full of the town's wealthiest visitors. Located in Badrutt's Palace. €20 gets you through the door and buys your first drink. Dress smartly.
Diamond (081 834 97 69). Popular with a young, trendy crowd, this hip nightclub also attracts the wealthy to spend money on expensive Champagne and cocktails. Top DJs bang out dance music, hip-hop and house as you dance until you drop.
Vivai (081 833 6939). Located near the Hotel Steffani, this club's top DJs and live music make it popular with a young crowd.
Bonaparte (081 837 58 60). Again, this cosmopolitan club at Plazza dal Mulin 2 has top DJs. Dress code is smart casual.
St Moritz has the biggest concentration of four- and five-star hotels in Switzerland. If you want luxury, you can't fail to find it.
Hotel Suvretta House Via Chasellas 1. Located in nearby Champfer, this is the place to be if you really want Swiss luxury. Don't let the location put you off, as the hotel has its own lift connection to the Corviglia mountain.
Kulm Hotel Via Veglia 18. Luxurious setting, friendly staff, wonderful location next to the lake and shops.
Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains Via Mezdi 27. Located in St Moritz Bad, this place has the usual luxuries plus the best spa in town, a kids' club, a wonderful wine bar and a casino.
Badrutt's Palace Via Serlas 27. One of the Leading Hotels of the World stable, Badrutt's offers luxury and top-class levels of service, with wonderful lakeside views.
Hotel Schweizerhof Via dal Bagn 54. Comfortable and centrally located, this hotel has lakeside rooms offering fabulous views. It also has a good adjoining Italian restaurant.
The Crystal Hotel Via Traunter Plazzas 1. This is one of the best-value four-star hotels in St Moritz.
Hotel Monopol Via Maistra 17. Ideally placed, just two minutes' walk to the Corviglia cable car; a welcoming and relaxed hotel.
Hauser Swiss Q Hotel Via Traunter Plazzas 7. Right in the centre of Dorf, this is a nice, cosy family-run hotel with tasty homemade food and friendly service. Rooms have heated floors.
Hotel Soldanella Via Somplaz 17. Just a five-minute walk from the town centre and the Corviglia cable car, the Soldanella has stunning mountain views, a lovely restaurant and friendly service.
Best budget hotels
Hotel Bellaval 2* Close to the train station and the centre of St Moritz Dorf, this comfortable hotel has room rates from less than €75 per night.
Youth Hostel For backpackers and those who want just the bare minimum, this place offers bed and breakfast for €22 a night.
Fly to Zürich (121 miles from the resort, approximately three hours by road).
Take an international train to Zürich and change there for St Moritz. Connections run every hour, changing trains at Landquart.
Use the Zürich-Chur-Thusis route, either over the Julierpass – or, if the weather is bad, through the Thusis-Samedan car-train tunnel or the new Klosters-Susch Vereina.