Stay the night: Kulm hotel, St Moritz
The venerable hotel is the birthplace of snow-sports tourism. Stay here and you could ride the Cresta Run, says Simone Kane
Sunday 13 February 2011
My dreams were shattered when my mobile phone woke me at 6.40am.
The voice at the other end of the line told me that the Olympia Bob Run would be closed to the public for the duration of my two-day stay. Yet I had travelled to St Moritz to try the new Need for Speed packages from the historic Kulm Hotel – birthplace of snow-sports tourism.
For the first time, the hotel is offering winter breaks that include riding the legendary Cresta Run (men only), and bob-taxi training courses, or a single bob-taxi ride (for men and women) on the Olympia run.
I should have been hitting speeds of up to 135km/h (84mph) in a piloted bobsleigh, taking the famous Horseshoe bend in a vertical position. But, thanks to the warm weather, the world's only handmade ice run was melting and had to be preserved for the European Championships due to start within days. Only the experts were being allowed on to practise.
My Olympic hopes dashed, I surrendered to the luxurious surroundings of the Kulm. Founder Johannes Badrutt certainly picked his spot back in 1856, establishing his original hotel in the stunning Alpine landscape of the Upper Engadine valley. A £46m, 10-year renovation programme has preserved much of this grand hotel's 19th-century elegance – the Belle Epoque plasterworks, and Badrutt's original office – while also bringing the property's amenities up to date.
In the Great Hall and lobby, guests chatter in easy chairs in opulent Wilhelminian surroundings. And, what might initially seem like over-the-top, chintzy decor is revealed, on closer examination, to be beautiful hand-stencilled untreated silk, stretched over – not stuck to – the walls. The warm combination of yellows and reds and rich, tactile furnishings, the soaring columns and giant chandeliers is beguiling.
I sat back and enjoyed afternoon tea, drinking in the views, and my disappointment, like the ice, melted away.
The 173 rooms are divided into 13 categories – from standard and superior to deluxe and junior suite and right up to the presidential suite. The decor moves through subtle colour schemes, depending on which part of the hotel you're in. But local pine is used appropriately and, in some areas, bedroom doors display magnificent Italian craftsmanship in the inlaid wood designs. Many rooms are interlocking, catering to families. And all have some kind of stunning view – my deluxe was laid out like a salon, with chairs and table, floor-to-ceiling windows and balcony overlooking the lake and imposing massif. And a huge, comfy bed. (I loved the pillow menu, which allowed me to choose different densities and even herbal infusions.) The marble and chrome bathrooms feature showers, some with baths, and the spirits are lifted by the L'Occitane toiletries.
The food and drink
There are five dining options. Choose between gourmet restaurant, The K, and the Grand, where Hans Nussbaumer's menus combine classic international influences with local Engadine cuisine. (This is where the superb daily breakfast buffet is laid out.) The Pizzeria has delicious homemade pasta and other Italian dishes, while the Sunny Bar – meeting place of the Cresta Run club – serves Japanese specialities. Down the road, Chesa al Parc has a lovely sun terrace overlooking the hotel's ice rink. Guests can take half-board allowances to nearby sister property, the Grand Hotel Kronenhof, in pretty Pontresina, to sample its fine-dining menu.
The Panorama Spa and Health Club offers the full range of treatments and facilities. There's a generously sized pool, saunas and gym. Treatments use Decléor, Carita and the certified organic Feuerstein Essentials Switzerland.
There is one room adapted for guests with mobility problems. Children can take advantage of the free Marmotta Club, which organises a range of fun activities, from pizza-making to sledding. There's even a free laundry service for children under 12 years. Dogs are welcome.
Prices start at £362, half-board, for a standard double based on two sharing and including taxes (minimum three-night weekend in winter). Need for Speed prices start at £642 per person for the Bob Taxi Ride package (Sunday to Thursday), which includes two nights' half board, a bob-taxi ride and sea-salt hydrotherapy bath. Simone Kane travelled to St Moritz courtesy of Swiss International Air Lines (0845 601 0956; swiss.com/uk), which has return flights from £89. Switzerland Travel Centre (0800 100 200 30; swisstravel system.co.uk) sells a round-trip Swiss Transfer Ticket for £79.
Kulm Hotel, CH-7500 St Moritz (00 41 81 836 8000; kulmhotel-stmoritz.ch).
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