st moritz snow polo

St Moritz: A crowd-pleasing winter wonderland – no skis required

03 Feb 2023|By Zoe Gunn

Not a skier? Not a problem – there’s more to this glitzy Alpine resort than just slopes and salopettes

If you’ve ever planned a group ski trip you’ll know that there’s always one. You’ve got a gorgeous chalet, your flights are booked and you’re down to the finer details. You’ve just sent a link for ski passes to the ‘Val Thorens 2k23’ WhatsApp group when someone pokes their head above the parapet and says, ‘Actually, if no one minds, I don’t think I’m going to ski this time.’

Maybe they didn’t enjoy last year’s debut skiing holiday quite as much as they originally professed. Maybe they have another sporting endeavour back at home and don’t want to risk injury. Maybe they’re just self-aware enough to know they’ll likely hit the apres so hard that shelling out for ski hire and passes for a week would be a complete waste of money. Whatever the reason, they don’t want to miss out on the fun of a group trip but have absolutely no intention of stuffing their feet into uncomfortably-tight ski boots.

Which, on the face of it, is fine. Skiing isn’t for everyone and they’ve assured you that they’re perfectly fine to entertain themselves while everyone else heads to the slopes. They’ll read! They’ll walk! And, if worst comes to worst, the chalet has Netflix, right?

Except it never quite works out like that, does it? A couple of days rattling around an empty resort and suddenly they’re telling you about this adorable little restaurant they’ve found and wouldn’t it be fun if we all stayed here and went for lunch there tomorrow? And, was it just you, or did they completely zone out when you were recounting your tale of triumph over a particularly gnarly black run last night?

The answer to this particular conundrum, of course, is to find a resort with more going on than just snow and slopes. Step forward St Moritz.

st moritz switzerland

First promoted as a winter resort by Swiss hotelier Caspar Badrutt in 1864, St Moritz was not only the first real ski resort in Switzerland, but the first real ski resort in the Alps. It also gave birth to Switzerland’s first tourist office, its first electric light, its first ski school and Europe’s first curling tournament. Not bad for a village that measures just 11 square miles and, even today, is three trains and four hours from the nearest airport.

This remoteness, however, also plays a key part in St Moritz’s modern reputation as one of the glitziest and most vibrant winter resorts in Europe. When the best way in is by private jet, a certain level of wealth is assumed and a certain level of luxury and entertainment expected. Accordingly, while St Moritz is home to 190 acres of wide powdery pistes catering to everyone from ski schoolers to pros, you could easily spend a week here without stepping foot on a chairlift and not feel like you’d missed out.

st moritz snow horse racing

Over the past 150 years, the town has played host to two Winter Olympic Games, multiple Alpine World Ski Championships and numerous Bobsleigh World Championships. The weekend that I was in town, Matt Weston took home gold in the skeleton – the first British man to do so in 15 years. Then there’s the famous Cresta Run – the world’s only handmade natural ice toboggan track. It’s a notoriously thrilling ride but even beginners can give it a go with the help of the St Moritz Tobogganing Club (and an entrance fee of around £450).

If all that still seems a little too much like extreme sports, make your way to Lake Saint Moritz which, during the winter season, freezes over and becomes the social epicentre of the resort. There are two main events to see and be seen at. The first is White Turf – three weekends of horse racing, skikjöring (where the jockey is pulled behind the horse on skis) and trotting (horse racing with carts).

Then there’s the Snow Polo World Cup – a spectacle so outlandish many of my equinely-inclined friends refused to believe it was real. Across three days, six teams of world-class polo players battle it out on a pitch made entirely from ice and snow. The ponies are equipped with special shoes, the ball is a little different and the whole thing is set against a dramatic Alpine backdrop but, other than that, the game is indistinguishable from its summer counterpart.

And, as with most events of this nature (there are easy comparisons to be drawn with Royal Ascot and Henley Regatta), once you’ve got over the fact that there are eight horses thundering around a frozen lake on which the ice is only 30cm thick, the whole thing becomes a backdrop to the far more serious business of having a good time.

For this, I am granted entry to the VIP enclosure, where the Perrier-Jouët champagne and Royal Salute whisky flows freely, and catering – an all-you-can-eat buffet of oysters, caviar, sushi and patisserie – comes from the nearby five-star Badrutt’s Palace hotel. Across the weekend, the Snow Polo World Cup will welcome around 20,000 spectators, only 1,500 of which will find themselves privy to the VIP treatment. Tickets may cost upwards of £500 per day but they sell out fast.

grand hotel des bains kempinski

Once you’re in need of somewhere to warm up – even the Royal Salute can only keep -10°C temperatures at bay for so long – St Moritz isn’t short on chic places to cosy up for the night. The aforementioned Badrutt’s Palace and Kulm hotels, as well as Suvretta House and the Carlton Hotel, all boast five stars but it is the majestic Grand Hotel des Bains Kempinski that gets my vote.

The oldest and largest of St Moritz’s luxury hotels, well-heeled travellers have been checking in here since 1864 – many of whom came to ‘take the waters’ from the original source over which the hotel is built. These waters still play a central role in the Kempinski’s wellness offering, with guests able to drink directly from the iron-rich spring before taking a dip in the indoor pool, hitting the gym, unwinding in one of seven saunas or availing themselves of the extensive spa menu. If you’re feeling brave, book a session in the Life Cube cryotherapy chamber (a brisk three minutes spent at -116°C which promises to improve sleep, increase energy levels and boost the body’s recovery processes). Alternatively, let someone else do the hard work courtesy of the hotel’s Alpine signature massage.

grand hotel des bains kempinski pool

Outside the serene confines of the spa, the hotel is undergoing a major £40 million multi-stage refurbishment, with the bars, restaurants and some suites now complete. The style is opulent and modern but still with a requisite Alpine snugness. Think velvet sofas, blonde woods and dark leathers offset by soaring ceiling heights and period architectural features.

For a taste of the new and improved Kempinski, book one of its one- to five-bedroom Residences. These top-category rooms are more akin to chalets than standard hotel rooms, ranging from a little over 1,000 square feet to a vast 5,880 square feet, and each equipped with large dining areas, sitting rooms, glorious en suite bathrooms and panoramic views of the Engadin valley.

Each also comes with its own kitchen but that seems rather beside the point when the hotel has three impressive restaurants on site. After drinks at the lobby bar (excellent spicy margaritas), make Grand Restaurant Les Saisons your port of call for a more casual dining affair. Taking inspiration from the Dubai brunch scene, a la carte menus are paired with live cooking stations with guests invited to mix-and-match dishes from across Europe.

kempinski st moritz residences

For something a little livelier, step into the world of the wonderfully eccentric Adriano Feraco at Restaurant Da Adriano. Here, Feraco and his team have created a little taste of Italy in the Swiss Alps, with decor reminiscent of Napoli and a menu that cherry-picks the best North Italian cuisine. Think saffron shrimp risotto, veal cheek and polenta, and squid ink pasta – all available with an optional helping of caviar and truffle, natch.

Celebrating a special occasion? You’ll want to book a table at Cà d’Oro. Until recently the restaurant boasted two Michelin stars. Then head chef Reto Brändli upped sticks to sister site Hotel Adlon in Berlin and took them with him. Now under the guidance of Leo Ott, the team is clearly putting in the hard graft to win them back.

Both a la carte and tasting menus are on offer, each coming with about as many culinary bells and whistles as can be squeezed into a single meal. Across four courses, I’m served foie gras, lobster, caviar and Wagyu beef, plus a whole host of delicate, dainty canapés so intricate I would need a degree in gastronomy to tell you what was in them.

But this is not fine dining in the prissy, molecular sense. Ott is a chef very much in the Marco-Pierre White mould: appearing from the kitchen covered in tattoos and confessing to a love of skiing ‘a bit too fast’. His flavours are similarly bold, with only the herb tweezers neatly hooked to the top of his apron giving away the refinement that comes with them.

I could go on. In truth, I’ve only really scratched the surface of what St Moritz has to offer those not keen on hurling themselves down a mountain on a pair of planks. There’s also an annual Gourmet Festival, Cricket on Ice, the traditional Chalandamarz spring festival, the SunIce music festival, the list goes on and on.

In fact, spend a whole week skiing in St Moritz and you could be the one missing out.

A one-bedroom residence at Grand Hotels des Bains Kempinski starts from CHF1,200 (approx. £1,075) in the summer season and CHF2,200 (approx. £1,970) in the winter season, including breakfast and tax. Visit kempinski.com. For more information on Switzerland, visit myswitzerland.com.

Read more: The most luxurious ski chalets in the Alps