St Moritz: not just about glitz and glamour
We had another one of those days today – you know: blue skies, brilliant sunshine, incredible scenery… Just the usual.
Having arrived late yesterday afternoon into St Moritz on the Glacier Express we didn’t really get much time to explore the town. So first on the agenda for today was an early morning walk around town to see the sights; then I thought we could catch the cable car up to Corviglia and Piz Nair for some epic views; and, finally, go for a hike around Lake St Moritz, through the Stazerwald (as the forest around here is called) to Lej da Staz (translation = Lake da Staz). Shane took a little convincing, but he too thought it was a great plan…. eventually.
After I had fortified Shane with some of St Mortiz’s best caffeine, we took a look around St Moritz. Turns our St Moritz is very small and incredibly pretentious. The town is cute enough, in a very 19th century “continental Europe” kind of way. Gone are the wooden chalets we saw in Zermatt and central Switzerland; here it’s all stone and concrete villas, apartment buildings and giant hotels perched on impossibly steep mountainsides.
St Moritz is one of the world’s most famous (and expensive) holiday resorts and attracts over 250,000 visitors ever year – most of them more interested in “being seen” than anything else (not us). The town’s reputation as a winter hang-out for the rich and famous started in the late 1800’s, when local hotelier Johannes Badrutt literally invented winter tourism* and pitched his marketing at Europe’s elite. Badrutt’s hotel is still here and still attracts the creme de la creme every winter.
*The story goes that in September on 1854, Johannes Badrutt made a wager with 4 wealthy British summer guests staying at his hotel: that they should return in winter and, in the event that the town was not to their liking, he would reimburse their travel costs. If they were to find St. Moritz attractive in winter, he would invite them to stay as his guests for as long as they wished. Needless to say they returned and loved it and spread the word that St Moritz was the place to be in winter. This marked not only the start of winter tourism in St Moritz but the start of winter tourism in the whole of the European Alps region. The first tourist office in Switzerland was established the same year in the town.
Located high in the Engadine Valley, on the shores of lake St Moritz, the town is busiest in winter when thousands flock here to ski the slopes of famous mountainsides like Diavolezza and Corviglia. The town has hosted the Winter Olympics twice (1928 and 1948) and, even though it’s not winter, we wanted to check out the local slopes. So we caught the little cog train up to Mt Corviglia (2,468m) from central St Moritz, and from there the cable car to Piz Nair (3,057m). The scenery on the way up wasn’t as green and picturesque as we’ve seen in other parts of Switzerland; the mountains here are far more rugged and barren. Perfect in winter for skiing, of course, with no trees to get in the way, but quite desolate at this time of year. Still, it was quite spectacular standing up at Piz Nair, looking across at all the mountains around us.
It was a little chilly to go swimming (maximum temperature in St Moritz today: 19C), but walking around both lakes kept us warm. This being Switzerland, in all its sophistication and civilisation, when we reached Lake da Staz we found a restaurant there (of course). And not some crappy little take-away serving soggy meat pies and yesterday’s sausage rolls (which is what you would find in Aus in such an isolated spot, if you were lucky); this was a great little place serving traditional Swiss fare with a definite rustic bent to it. I had the fresh-water trout (caught 50m from the restaurant in Lake da Staz) with salad, and Shane indulged in some local veal with thick onion gravy and potatoes. Man I love this place – 5 star meals in a glorious natural setting!
We stretched lunch out for as long as we could, but eventually had to head home. Another easy (i.e. flat) hike through the Stazerwaldand we were back in our little studio apartment, marvelling at how great our time in Switzerland has been.