We’re at an altitude of 2,650 metres. It’s minus 14 degrees, but feels even colder, and it’s eerily quiet, apart from the steady crunch of our snowshoes. Above us: an expanse of inky-blue night sky, studded with stars and one twinkling orange dot, which turns out to be Mars. Below: the pristine white slopes of Muottas Muragl, glowing under the beaming full moon and beyond, the Upper Engadine, with its daisy chain of illuminated villages flowing like molten metal around frozen lakes.
The numb fingers we all felt on our walk up to this vantage point are warm now and murmured worries about frostbite long gone. We’re exhilarated not just by the spectacular view but also by hot tea and chocolate power balls, toted up the mountain by amiable ‘outdoor butler’ Alex (the majority of the journey is thankfully via a funicular railway, the Engadine’s first, installed in 1905). Snowshoeing is one of many activities organised by the Carlton Hotel St. Moritz, as part of the hotel’s Moving Mountains concept inspired by the might of the Swiss Alps. Its influence can be seen across the hotel’s all-encompassing excursion, wellbeing, food and drink offering, encouraging guests to ‘move, play, nourish, rest and give’. I’m on board with all of these.
So our snowshoeing ticks the move and nourish boxes but, if that’s not up your street, the hotel’s Full Moon Special has other options: in February it’s horse riding and for March it’s ski and snowboard. All three excursions are designed to make the most of crystal clear air and the mystical light of the full moon, which many believe influences health and sleep. You could also join a torchlit hike, carve an ice sculpture, bathe in the forest or even rent a mountain. Yes, if you fancy 4.2km of empty piste all to yourself for three hours, it can be arranged. After all, this is St. Moritz.
After the hike, it’s time for R&R back at the Carlton. Its 60 suites are all south-facing, so overlook the lake and the Alps, and 45 of them have a balcony or terrace. The enormous penthouse on the top floor is so inviting I doubt I would ever leave it to ski. Although the Carlton feels fresh in terms of layout – its accommodation offering was halved so the rooms themselves could double in size less than 20 years ago – she’s something of a grande dame in St. Moritz, having opened in 1913. (We do spend a few minutes marvelling that such huge buildings were constructed in what must have felt like the middle of nowhere, with a fraction of the infrastructure we have today.)
My fourth-floor suite is large and enveloping, with a huge bed, three massive windows that frame a view that’s far better than any painting, thoughtful lighting and an indulgent bathroom. There are only Swiss brands in the minibar; the rosemary cashews and organic gummy bears test my resolve to save myself for the fondue-la.
Ah, the fondue-la. This is the nickname we bestow on the four fondue gondolas outside the hotel, retired from slope service and repurposed as mini dining pods. Despite the well-below-freezing temperatures, they’re warm enough that I’m in jeans and a jumper, layered up in fluffy blankets delivered by our delightful waiter Kevin. We connect our phones to the speaker and devour a sizeable vat of incredible truffle cheese fondue, complete with chunks of bread, potatoes, pearl onions, cornichons and cured meats. Nonetheless, I find space for the Swiss chocolate left on my bedside table (the next night it’s a lovely little booklet containing a Swiss traditional tale), sleeping well ahead of ski lessons on the slopes.
Breakfast the next morning in the newly renovated Grand Restaurant has a number of highlights. Firstly – and most obviously – the food. A side room has tables neatly and lavishly arrayed with everything you might want to eat or drink (and I mean everything – I stop at seven different toppings to my yogurt but I could have carried on) while an a la carte menu fills in the gaps: eggs every which way, pancakes, French toast and uber-healthy options like quinoa-cashew porridge (actually very nice).
The new décor is stylishly understated and doesn’t detract from the food or the views. From windows even more gigantic than those in my suite, we can see the lake being readied for the annual snow polo extravaganza, and we’re told the St. Moritz Gourmet Festival takes place soon after; it attracts chefs from all over the world and, for the latest edition, the Carlton welcomed Simon Rogan.
So, despite the fact that St. Moritz is one of the most famous ski resorts in the world, it’s not surprising to hear that 40 per cent of its visitors don’t even ski. Some of the hotel guests we spot at breakfast, one with diamond chandelier earrings and another with a bare midriff, do not appear ready for the slopes. We, however, get kitted out courtesy of the hotel’s rental ski shop and head out on a gorgeously sunny, crisp morning for a lesson with Francesco, taken from Chantarella station to the slopes by a charming horse and carriage. A pocket packed with gummy bears from my minibar fuels me until our lunch at Salastrains, where we’re rewarded for our hours of fun (and exertion) with a glass of wine and steaming venison pappardelle, served to the sound of live guitar and merry chat.
But now there’s only one thing my ski-boot-clad feet want: within four minutes of abandoning said boots, I’m in my robe on my way down to the Carlton’s three-floor haven it calls Water World. Pappardelle aside, there’s nothing better than a post-ski soak, steam rising around me, snow an arm’s reach away, sun streaming through pine trees and icy peaks thrown into sharp relief by a cloudless blue sky.
After long enough in the spa to have completely defrosted, and before we gorge in the Grand for supper, we hop on the train to Preda to toboggan down its famous 6km run to the postcard-perfect village of Bregun – an activity offered complimentary to hotel guests on a Saturday (or otherwise CHF200 per person). Outdoor butler Alex leads our twilight outing and we all love it. I’m in the easy-does-it 17mph camp, using my feet as brakes and appreciating the magnificent view, while the braver among us hurtle past with the speedometer at 30mph.
The post-toboggan drinks that await at the Carlton do deserve the hype, branded as #Instagrammable by a savvy bar team that knows this segment of its clientele very well. The Alpine Flowers is the prettiest pink cocktail I’ve ever seen, complete with matching mosaic coaster, and the Piz Nair Mule is housed in a glass box that releases scented dry ice when opened.
It’s saying something that the Bel Etage bar’s trolley laden with tapenade, olives and canapes actually manages to stop us in our Instagramming-tracks. We sip fireside but it boasts a sun terrace too; have lunch outside, ensconced in blankets, and combine al fresco feasting with people-watching (turns out thigh-high suede boots and bare legs are the outfit for -12!).
Supper comes courtesy of the Grand, and executive chef Salvatore Frequente, who has returned to the hotel after a few years elsewhere (he previously worked here from 2009 to 2019). The menu is inspired by the Engadine forests and great outdoors, featuring local vegetables, fruits, wild herbs, and mushrooms preserved from Frequente’s summer foraging excursions and now being incorporated into the winter menu.
Although we do enjoy carnivorous and fish-based delights during other meals, tonight’s Moving Mountains vegan tasting menu is delicious. The artichoke soup and apple strudel are particularly memorable, as is the prettily presented, if extremely dainty, broccoli on a bespoke plate painted with a tree motif. And so to bed, for the last night of our stay.
As we wait in the lobby the next morning, reluctant to leave for our train back to Zurich, the wonderful Constanze from the Tschuggen Collection – of which the Carlton is part – comes to bid us farewell, sporting an on-trend cream fur bucket hat (proving to me that the most proficient skiers are also the most stylish). She tells us that the owner, who bought the hotel in the ’80s, likes to think of it as the “pearl of St. Moritz – beautiful and unique but not flashy like a diamond”. The town itself definitely is flashy, and so are many of its dazzlingly-attired visitors, but the Carlton, championing ‘healthy stays full of joy’, does feel special in a rather more understated way.