Few places have become as synonymous with affluence as a resort where even the dogs are sometimes seen in fur coats. St Moritz emerged as a sparkling winter playground for rich Brits 150 years ago and still wears its exclusivity on its mink-cuffed sleeve. At many of the resort's five-star palaces, there are as many butlers as guests.
However, a few miles out of town, the newly opened four-star Nira Alpina blasts fresh air through old-money opulence, blowing away the dress code (jackets and ties encouraged, red trousers optional) in the process. That isn't to say the hotel has brought St Moritz within reach of the recessionary skier, but the missing fifth star is evident in its brass-and-starch-free approach.
An unprepossessing concrete block that crawls up the hillside, the Nira Alpina includes a covered footbridge that links it to the Corvatsch cable car station, offering direct passage from pillow to peak.
The top station, at 3,303m, gives access to the Corvatsch glacier while, back in St Moritz, a funicular takes you to the Corviglia area. There's plenty for skiers of all standards (you'll hope for better conditions than I enjoyed in December) although experts may wish to steer clear.
Regardless, skiing has never been the biggest draw here. Other activities include polo, cross-country skiing and the notorious Cresta bobsleigh run.
The Nira comes into its own after a day on the piste, when you can ski direct to the door. I started with a hot chocolate and brownie at the in-house bakery. Next stop: the vast spa, with its sauna, plunge pool and massage rooms. I went for the Alpine Journey, a pleasant affair that involved hot stones, Tibetan chimes and a rolling pin.
Later, I sampled the rooftop bar, where floor-to-ceiling glass revealed moonlit mountains. A glass-sided fire was surrounded by leather sofas and chairs draped with cow hides. A DJ set the tone as the barman bought me a prosecco.
The Nira has two restaurants – the traditional alpine Stalla Veglia (the gnocchi with chestnuts and mushrooms was delicious if impossibly filling) and Stars, next to the bar. Here I ate a succession of small plates of confused origin but impeccable quality, prepared by a team of chefs trained at top restaurants including London's Nobu. Highlights included succulent cubes of pork belly and quail tempura.
By morning, Stars is transformed by the sunshine for which St Moritz is famed (it claims 322 clear days a year). The sun illuminates the incongruous lifestyle photos of semi-naked models that hang throughout the building. I counted six nipples while eating my porridge. It's one thing to abolish a dress code, but quite another to offer breasts with breakfast.
The Nira claims to be St Moritz's first boutique offering. The décor, away from those poster girls, is sleek and modern – think furs and nude timber mixed with glass and steel. Comfort is the priority but never at the expense of style. You'll want to wear a shirt to dinner, but you won't bother tucking it in.
Nipples notwithstanding, the Nira has the St Moritz establishment shifting in its fur-lined boots. Don't expect to be treated like a minor royal, but do expect to relax and to ski (or, in the tradition of the place, just be seen).
The hotel sits above Lake Silvaplana next to the Corvatsch cable car, about 10 minutes' drive from St Moritz. For breathtaking views, take the train from Zurich via Chur. Returns start at £95 through the Switzerland Travel Centre (020-7420 4900; swisstravelsystem.co.uk). You can also drive from Milan or Zurich.
All rooms include balconies, beds to get lost in, and baths to swim in, as well as flat screen TVs, an iPod dock and a minibar. The larger junior suites on the top floor add more elevated views as well as a separate waterfall shower and dressing room. The décor is the same as the rest of the Nira, which includes a pouting model in each room. I'd rather have a dodgy watercolour of some mountains.
Nira Alpina, Surlej, Silvaplana, Switzerland (00 41 81 838 6969; niraalpina.com)
Double rooms start at Sfr475 (£325), including breakfast.Reuse content