Sitting at the entrance of St. Moritz Dorf, the so-called Palace (all locals drop the Badrutt’s) is a massive building with turrets and a large tower that serves as an iconic landmark of this famous resort town. It was opened in 1896 by Kasper Badrutt (the son of Johannes, who opened the Kulm as St. Moritz’s first hotel in 1856) and remains in the Badrutt family to this day, though longtime managing director Hans Wiedemann is slated to take it over from the aging owners.
The Palace is the buzziest, most jetset of the St. Moritz hotel scene, as is displayed in the lobby lounge, which is packed tight with tables and cushy armchairs, and is known locally as St. Moritz’s living room. This is the address for those who want to flaunt their newest purchases, be they fur-clad Tom Ford boots or bejeweled Bogner ski suits. It’s no surprise that the hallways are often referred to as the catwalks St. Moritz.
Considering the hotel’s gilded reputation, it is perhaps surprising that the staff could not be friendlier, creating an atmosphere of warmth and generosity. The views of Lake St. Moritz are stunning, not only from the lobby lounge but also from the many other common spaces and from more than half the rooms that face the toward the valley. There are 155 in total spread across eight stories and featuring a classic or more modern design scheme. Even the more updated rooms, completed by Champalimaud Design in 2021, feel traditional and understated, with muted color palettes, upholstered headboards, plush carpets and polished antique. Bathrooms are clad in Italian marble and most have separate tubs and showers. Some rooms and most of the suites come with balconies and gorgeous views across Lake St. Moritz or towards Corviglia ski area.
The Palace occupies six acres, so the list of hotel amenities is long: of the six restaurants, the local, cozy Chesa Veglia Italian eatery is beloved and one of the hardest reservations to get during peak seasons. Matsuhisa@Badrutt’s, opened in the 2014/15 season in the former tennis hall of the hotel, has a cool design with colorful leather seating areas and a groovy lounge area. The hotel has three other restaurants on the premises and a night club, King’s Social Club, which—before transitioning to the best dance party in town—offers sophisticated small plates like ceviche and beef tartare to match its wine and cocktail offerings. And on the slopes, Badrutt’s operates El Paradiso.
The huge spa is lovely, as is the large indoor-outdoor pool that faces the lake. Adjacent to the pool and wellness area is the extensive (and complimentary) Kid’s Club. Located at the beginning of town, the Palace is not ski in/ski out, but arranges for easy transfer to the nearby funicular that takes skiers up to Corviglia. The hotel shares a ski locker at the top with the St. Moritz ski school, so Palace guests can comfortably change up there.
Even in the high-end hotel scene of St. Moritz, the Carlton stands a bit apart – literally. The imposing 1912 building, with an instantly recognizable, light-mint-green façade, rises on a hillside just outside the town center. (It’s about a seven-minute walk.) A massive renovation in 2007 turned the venerable property into an all-suites showstopper – rooms here are among the largest, and all have coveted views of Lake St. Moritz and beyond.
Unlike many of its competitors, whose décor stays safely in the classic realm, the Carlton takes a chance on infusing its traditional air with more whimsical, modern touches in the 60 suites and common areas. Swiss interior designer Carlo Rampazzi is a fan of dramatic leather- or fabric-studded headboards, antique furniture covered in contemporary, poppy textiles, and eye-catching, striped hallways in bright colors. Connecting room doors are masked by fabric sliding panels decorated with large prints; closets are covered with different types of wood, creating a modern-day trompe l’oil; and sumptuous Berluti leather embellish some of the contemporary furniture. The color schemes vary from Champagne and golden to pink, mauve or crimson red, but nothing is overdone: interior are contemporary with just the right mix of designer-chic and Alpine comfort. The Carlton has been a favorite of royals and dignitaries during its more than a century-old legacy, and touches of its gilded past are everywhere; in one room, there is a safe belonging to the former owner, German billionaire Mr. Karl-Heinz Kipp, that has not be opened since his death (he refused to share the passcode with anyone, not even his wife).
Another plus of staying at this property is the three-story spa and wellness area, which is one of St. Moritz’s best. There’s a large indoor/outdoor pool, as well as sauna, steam bath, caldarium, a Finnish sauna and several smaller, beautifully designed relaxation rooms, all with views of the valley. More active guests will appreciate the large ski shop on the premises, and the complimentary shuttle service to the Corviglia mountain (the Carlton is not a ski in/ski out property).
There are two restaurants on the premises, including the Michelin-starred Italian Da Vittorio, headed by a team of brothers from Lombardi. It makes for a very special night out or, even better, a leisurely lunch with views of the lake and valley. Restaurant Romanoff is a nod to the hotel's popularity with the Russian royals, and presents a lavish dining experience in an old-school dining room. Another must is an après drink on the terrace or in the sweeping lounge with two molded fireplaces and soaring picture windows – a place where the property’s storied past can still be felt and seen in the details and the old-school service.
Grand Hotel Kronenhof
While many first-time visitors prefer staying in St. Moritz Town, the village of Pontresina offers a draw for return guests, especially in the summertime thanks to its proximity to some excellent hiking. Pontresina is also home to some of the region’s most storied hotels, like the Walther, which has been in the same family since 1907. The best and most updated of the bunch is the elegant Kronenhof, the sister hotel of the Kulm, with a beautiful spa and expansive grounds.
Built in the late 19th century, the U-shaped building has a beautiful, Belle Epoque façade, complete with turrets and a crowned dome in the center. The historic interiors include sitting rooms that boast original frescoes, roaring fireplaces, ceiling moldings and heavy glass chandeliers. The large lobby lounge, especially, is a wonderful spot for an afternoon coffee with massive floor-to-ceiling windows and mountain panoramas.
Unlike some of the other historic hotels in the valley, the Kronenhof, which is owned by the Greek Niarchos family offers a good mix between classic and contemporary, which can be seen in the 112 guest rooms and suites. Design schemes vary but all feature light-wood paneling, pretty fabrics and marble bathrooms. Like most of the hotels in the valley, the Kronenhof tackles renovations and updates during the off-season, so ask to be placed in a recently tweaked room. Some of the best are located near the gorgeous spa, and a few of these come with small patios and direct access to the hotel’s expansive grounds.
In fact, the spa and wellness center here is a draw for many outside guests as well. Housed in a contemporary, glass-clad addition that sits beneath the historic building, it has incredible, uninterrupted views of the valley and mountains. A relatively recent addition, the spa/wellness center was designed with the a well-traveled family in mind: there are light-wood-clad relaxation rooms, a massive pool, a children’s pool complete with a water slide and a host of other water features. It’s a great spot for relaxing after an active skiing and hiking day.
Despite the old world decor, the dress code in the formal dining room and the serious spa, the Kronenhof is decidedly family friendly. There is a great kid’s club, complete with an elaborate crafts corner, a climbing wall and games galore for children of all ages, including teens. A trained kindergarten teacher supervises the little ones, and the basement of the hotel holds another surprise: an old-school bowling alley, which is, admittedly, popular amongst the adult guests as well.
The bowling alley restaurant specializes in Raclette and other Swiss specialties. More upscale is the acclaimed Kronenstübli, whose beautiful dining room, paneled in antique larch wood, would not feel out of place in a much more stylish resort destination, like Megève. The menu is an inspired mix of French and Italian cuisine but the setting is the epitome of cozy Alpine chic.
To stay or not to stay in Pontresina depends on personal preference: guests definitely need a car to get around (to reach the valley’s best restaurants, the different ski areas and other activities), so if the idea of driving here is daunting, visitors should book elsewhere. Pontresina is a charming town (larger than Bever and Zuoz), with some excellent restaurants and a more local, less touristy scene than St. Moritz, which will appeal to many. The Kronenhof concierge team can help arrange a host of activities, from golf and mountain climbing to a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride into the Roseg Valley. But know that you are a bit off-the-beaten path here.
**Indagare Tip: **Even if you are not staying at the Kronenhof, make a lunch reservation at Le Pavillon, the hotel’s unique dining concept, which includes a restaurant serving local specialties and a double-decker wooden terrace lined with loungers for sunbathing (in summer or winter).
Today, standing in front of the 1,300-foot-long Kulm hotel, it’s difficult to believe that this was once a modest guest house – and St. Moritz’s first hotel. Johannes Badrutt, whose son would go on to open the Palace, conceived of Pension Faller in 1856, and some of the original rooms are part of the Kulm to this day.
The hotel was bought by the Greek shipping magnate Starvos Niarchos in 1970, a move many considered the saving grace of St. Moritz's luxury hotel scene (Club Med had also been in the bidding). Together with sister hotel Kronenhof, in Pontresina, the Kulm is St. Moritz's most historic five-star, and also its most relaxed. In walking distance to the center of town, the property has a buzzing lobby area but unlike the Palace’s soaring lounge, the Kulm is not about people-gawking. Rather, the warm, living room–esque space, with cozy fireplaces and small sitting nooks, is the epitome of congeniality, and guests come here to really catch up with one another over tea.
With 173 rooms and suites, the Kulm is a large hotel and due to the long-stretched layout, it’s important to specify if you want to be close to the dining rooms, the elevators or the terrific spa. Interiors are traditional, with heavy fabrics and drapes, elaborate headboards, textured quilts and lots of wood paneling throughout. Some are definitely in need of an update – there are annual renovations during the off season, so ask for a recently redone room at the time of making a reservation.
In 2013, twenty-eight brand-new rooms, with a more modern, Alpine-chic decor and subdued color scheme, opened to great acclaim. They are located in the so-called "new Kulm," the building that's farthest away from the common spaces and therefore comes with its own check-in and concierge desk. Guests who appreciate privacy and the feeling of a smaller, boutique property will like these rooms. Those who want easy access to the restaurants and main lobby should go with the traditional rooms and suites, some of which come with balconies or terraces. The best have views of the lake.
A definite highlight at the Kulm is the spa that was completely overhauled in 2013 and that includes twelve treatment rooms and a glorious indoor/outdoor pool that faces St. Moritz Lake (there's even underwater music). A separate kiddie pool is a hit with little ones, who also have access to an excellent Kid's Club – the Kulm is one of the town's most child friendly hotels.
Due to its size and family friendly vibe, the Kulm has a relaxed atmosphere everywhere except for its Grand Restaurant, where jacket and tie are required at dinnertime, a slightly stiff touch that some might find off-putting. (There are several other restaurants on property, and the many options in St. Moritz are just a short walk or drive away.) One spot not to be missed for a night cap or afternoon coffee is the oh-so-British Sunny Bar, a favorite of the daredevil athletes who compete on the nearby Cresta Run (St. Moritz's own version of an ice skeleton toboggan track). Having a drink at the Sunny reminds that the Kulm — and St. Moritz itself —has a long history of British tourism. In 1864 Johannes Badrutt made a bet with his England-based summer guests that they would be able to sit outside in their shirtsleeves in December, inspiring the first winter travelers to the Engadin. They have come back ever since, and many UK families still make the Kulm their base when visiting the Engadin.