From the thrills of the nightlife, or the Cresta Run – if extreme tobogganing is your thing – to the simple pleasure of skiing in its breathtaking mountain landscape, there’s obviously no shortage of good reasons to visit St Moritz in winter. For me, it’s about the White Turf race meetings that take place on the frozen lake in February; champagne flows, and on a typical Alpine day of blue skies and brilliant sunshine, it’s one of the most spectacular horse racing events anywhere in the world.
Some spectators choose to stay in St Moritz itself, but discerning locals have long since directed me to the five-star Waldhaus Sils hotel, which overlooks the pretty village of Sils-Maria, a 20-minute drive away in the Upper Engadine valley – and over the years its many charms have made it a reason to visit in its own right.
The hotel, which opened in 1908, is perched on a hillside like a romantic baroque castle. It offers tremendous levels of comfort and service, enhanced by a renowned forest- and garden-fed restaurant, a wine cellar boasting 35,000 bottles (of which around 30-40 per cent are Swiss) and a pristine modern spa.
But what is truly special, for me, about the Waldhaus is that it has remained in the same family, currently represented by the brothers Claudio and Patrick Dietrich, for five generations. There are no external managers or partners – you can’t say that about many grand hotels these days – and no modern extensions. It has retained its elegant original dimensions and a gracious old-world atmosphere that is hugely seductive.
The great and the good in the arts world, from Marc Chagall and Hermann Hesse to David Bowie and Thomas Mann, all frequented the Waldhaus – and the genial Felix Dietrich (father of Claudio and Patrick), who ran the establishment for 30 years, believes that it was the hotel’s “welcoming simplicity” and personal style that attracted them. It certainly keeps me going back.
And while the outdoor hot tub with its glorious mountain backdrop is an understandable draw, for me the most inviting part of the establishment is the lounge just off the foyer, adjoining the library and oak-panelled bar. I relish sitting there, in extreme comfort, enjoying kaffee and kuchen in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s a sanctuary, whether you have just returned from the ski slopes – or the races in my case – or you want to sit in peace enjoying a drink and a book, glancing up occasionally at the snow falling silently on the mountains outside.