Swiss luxury: Playground of princes, playboys and plumbers

Tristan Davies enjoys the glitz of St Moritz

I was nervous about going to St Moritz. I hadn't skied since I was 17, if skiing you could call it. My foggy memory of Bavarian winters in the 1970s is of aquaplaning icy rocks in leather boots attached by nylon straps to planks the length of fir trees. Snow would bring skiing to a standstill. By the time the blinding blizzards had cleared it would be time to pack up and hobble home.

I was nervous about going to St Moritz. I hadn't skied since I was 17, if skiing you could call it. My foggy memory of Bavarian winters in the 1970s is of aquaplaning icy rocks in leather boots attached by nylon straps to planks the length of fir trees. Snow would bring skiing to a standstill. By the time the blinding blizzards had cleared it would be time to pack up and hobble home.

Twenty-five years later, I wasn't going to take any chances. St Moritz: to the 17-year-old me, a small green packet of menthols that somehow managed to make you look marginally more foolish than a Gitanes smoker. St Moritz: to the man now standing at the top of the Corviglia, an infinite world of pampered, Christmas-card snow; the birthplace of alpine winter holidays (invented here, by the English in the 19th century); the cradle of civilised skiing. A winter wonderland, no less, of potential humiliation.

I could quite happily have stayed rooted to the spot all day by the sheer, head-numbing beauty of it. Anything to put off joining the slalom swishing its way nonchalantly and Guccily down the mountainside. This is where it pays to swallow your pride and book a guide. Brix from Flexiski is your man; not only will he not remark upon your George at Asda one-piece; but within a couple of hours he'll help you find your feet, keep them attached to your carvers and map out enough runs to last you a week. So, after 25 seasons of Ski Sunday and as many days of fretting, I was up, down and away.

The slopes of St Moritz can be reached by a funicular from the centre of town (known as Dorf) or by cable car from Bad, the slightly less good side of town. People who seem to know what they're talking about say the resort is not ideal for Bambi-legged beginners as the pistes are so spread out; they say, too, that there aren't enough thrills for white-knuckle shussbombers. I say, I can't see what they're on about. Thrill seekers can always hang up their skis and take a bob on the famous Cresta run. Too dull? Then hire some ice-hockey boots and skate down it. For the sane and able, the scenery alone is enough to quicken the pulse. Anyway, some of the cheapest thrills are to be had in observing the wildlife.

Sable, mink, fox: the endangered species of the fur-wearing classes are alive and shameless in St Moritz. This is their natural winter habitat: the town may not be Alpine-village pretty, but for those who care about these things it has the best high-street this side of Beverly Hills. When not shopping at Prada or Cartier, the smart money stays at Badrutt's Palace, which has been the playground of princes, playboys and south-London plumbers since 1896. The hotel dominates the townscape with an enormous tower; its beautiful oak-panelled rooms command the best views of the mountains and overlook the frozen lake, which hosts some of St Moritz's more exotic après-ski (horse-racing, polo and cricket among them).

Badrutt's, like St Moritz, is a wonderful extravagance. And St Moritz, like Badrutt's, is a one-off. There may be better skiing to be had. There may be cheaper drinks to be drunk (a table at the hottest nightclub, the King's in Badrutt's, is yours for a guaranteed tab of £165). Unless you've married or murdered well, you may not be able to afford to come here every year. But, like a Martini in the Oak Room of the New York Plaza or a weekend in Venice, it's a trip everybody should try to take once in a lifetime.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

How to get there

Tristan Davies to St Moritz with Flexiski (0870 90 90 754; www.flexiski.com), which offers four nights at Badrutt's Palace Hotel from £1,035 per person, based on two sharing. The price includes return flights from London, private transfers and four nights' half-board accommodation.

Badrutt Palace's in-house ski centre offers ski passes for Sfr65 (£29) per day or Sfr170 (£76) for three days. Ski hire starts from Sfr50 (£22) per day. Private ski lessons start from Sfr330 (£150) for a full day, Sfr190 (£86) for two hours, and group lessons start from Sfr45 (£20) for two hours.

Where to stay

Badrutt's Palace (00 41 81 837 1100; www.badruttspalace.com) has double rooms from Sfr450 (£200) per night, the price includes breakfast.

Further information

Engadin/St.Moritz Tourism (00 41 81 842 6573; www.engadin.ch), Switzerland Tourism (00800 100 200 30; www.myswitzerland.com).

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