Mountain High

If you’re booking a summer holiday now, be advised that Switzerland’s mountain villages St. Moritz and Pontresina aren’t just for exploring in the cooler months—these winter wonderlands transform into summer paradises.

By: 

Celia Shatzman

Published date: 

Jan. 1, 2018

Like many other things in real life, Switzerland’s mountains are much bigger and grander than they appear in the movies. As the peaks stretch toward the sun, it’s easy to see why the dramatic landscape was the perfect backdrop for several James Bond chases.

You’ll get to see those mountains up close and personal when you fly into Zurich and take the epic train ride to St. Moritz. Every little kid’s dream train set is brought to life as you travel along high bridges overlooking magnificent trees, lakes and charming villages. It’s enough to help you win the battle over jet lag when you can’t peel your eyes away from the windows.

A little more than three hours later, you’ll arrive in St. Moritz, the luxury resort town in the heart of the Engadin valley. St. Moritz made its mark as the birthplace of alpine winter tourism in 1864. It has hosted the Winter Olympics twice and people come from all over the globe to carve the powder on its magnificent ski runs, as well as hit the outdoor Olympic ice rink and the infamous Cresta Run, a natural bobsled run.

But here’s a little secret about St. Moritz: It’s just as striking in the summer, when the crowds have dispersed. That’s when you can trade in ice skates for a stand-up paddleboard and make your way to the center of Lake St. Moritz. Go early in the morning, before the boats hit the water, while the lake is empty, and the tranquility is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. As you paddle across toward the towering trees and away from the village’s shores, you’ll wish you could have brought a camera to capture the living postcard moment.

That’s not the only lake in town. Ride a bike up to Lake Staz, which is exactly how you’d envision a classic Upper Engadine lake. Right in between St. Moritz and its neighboring mountain village, Pontresina, it’s in the middle of an open clearing in the grand forest of Staz. After pedaling your way up through the hills, the trail leads you to the glittering Lake Staz, where you can take a dip. Or, sip on a spritzer or break for lunch to fuel up for the ride back.

Muscles feeling a little tight after those land and water workouts? Hit the spa at the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz. After tending to those aches with a massage, find a spot in the indoor-outdoor pool overlooking the lake and the mountains. You’ll want to spend the night at the glamorous hotel, too. The five-star spot dates back more 160 years and has the perfect balance of vintage luxe and modern amenities. The opulent décor offers the elegance of yesteryear, while the rooms and suites have all the contemporary touches you need — and the décor will have you rethinking your own decorating strategy. That also applies to the hotel’s Altitude Bar, where you can knock one back from a cozy armchair while enjoying the people-watching. Make sure to have a meal at the Kulm Country Club, where they are as generous with truffles as they are with the wines. For something a little more rustic, the hotel owns an old property in the valley of a glacier, where they barbecue for guests. Their skewers and salads bring new meaning to al fresco dining.

The Kulm Hotel is located in the heart of St. Moritz, so you can walk right out the door for a stroll through the picturesque town. The biggest names in fashion all have storefronts, so window-shopping through the winding streets makes for a great lazy afternoon. If that type of browsing isn’t your speed, right next door to the hotel is the Ferrari Museum at Kulm Park, where special race and road Ferraris are on display at the pavilion. From vintage to new, you’ll want to get behind the wheel of each one.

You won’t be able to take a Ferrari, so find another ride over to Pontresina, a neighboring village that trades St. Moritz’s glam and glitz for a quiet, rugged beauty. Take a tour to explore the fairy tale town and see old Engadine houses dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The standout is The Church of Santa Maria, a late-Romanesque parish church with striking 12th-century frescoes. There’s also Spaniola Castle, a tower built around 1200 for the noble Pontresina family. For an easy hike, walk along the Ibex trail. It’s home to one of the largest colonies of ibexes in the Alps; the best time to spot one is from the end of April to early June. But even if you don’t see any ibex, the beauty of the trail is enough. Be sure to fill up your water bottle at one of the springs for the cleanest, most crisp water.

If you’re looking for a more rigorous hike, there’s Morteratsch Glacier, the most massive glacier in the eastern Alps. As you make your way up, the vista changes every few minutes with the lighting. But first, fuel up with breakfast at Alpschaukäserei, a nearby working dairy farm that’s a veritable cheese heaven. Dozens of varieties are beautifully displayed, which you can spread over homemade bread with fresh butter and eggs. The thick milk transforms the coffee into a hearty drink, and there’s fresh yogurt too. Find a seat at one of the picnic tables in the shadow of the glacier and chow down before getting a lesson in cheese-making.

After all that hiking you’ll want a place to relax, and the historic five-star Belle Epoque Grand Hotel Kronenhof is just the place. It knows how to make an entrance with its dramatic lobby with a vista of glaciers. Wind down at its award-winning spa, where you can hop from sauna to sauna before lounging by the pool that’s in the middle of the forest. Stay in a Zen state of mind with an aperitif at Kronenhof Bar, a classic hotel bar overlooking the landscape with a pianist providing the soundtrack. Dine at the Grand Restaurant, which certainly lives up to its name. The vaulted ceilings are fit for royalty, as is the tasting menu.

On a rainy day, strike out at the hotel’s original 19th century bowling alley where traditional Swiss raclette is served. It’s also more proof that the majestic hotel is straight out of a Bond movie, and you’ll never want this flick to end.