Certain things never change (or at least, not much) and there is a great deal of comfort to be drawn from this.
I was reminded of it on my way to St. Moritz where B Beyond spent a fair portion of the ski and social season 2013. The unfailing politeness and reliability of the Swiss, the sense of safety and solidity, the purity of the air, the breathtaking landscapes, the comforting feeling that whatever your language, you would be understood and accommodated…all of these things combine to create a perception of being enveloped in a cocoon.
As the scenic Glacier Express train journey came to an end and I got off at the St. Moritz station, memories of seasons past flooded back in, along with some apprehension that I wouldn’t be able to re-capture the magic.
I needn’t have worried. The village atmosphere, subtly tinged with excitement, and the familiar sights are perennial in what is by all accounts the most ultra high end ski resort in the world. The polo on ice was in full swing, the Gourmet Festival was about to begin and a panel outside of Badrutt’s Palace announced the bobsleigh schedule and a forthcoming concert.
Even if you didn’t ski, you’d find plenty to do in St. Moritz but then, regular visitors to the glamorous winter resort are well aware of this. Then there is the daredevilish Cresta Run of which more later.
To experience it all, you need to spend some considerable time in St. Moritz or, as one of the regulars do, the full two months.
The Gourmet Festival
The Gourmet Festival is a firm fixture on the St. Moritz calendar and many regular visitors time their arrival to coincide with it.
Each hotel hosts a different chef every night, with the grand finale dinner taking place at Badrutt’s Palace. Those fortunate enough to have secured an advance ticket enjoy lively and gastronomically superlative experiences over several days.
Those who haven’t bought a ticket can walk down the main street and partake of the festive spirit by sampling food at different hotel stands on an early evening. 2013 was the 20th year celebration of the Festival and saw a stellar gathering of celebrity chefs from different European countries. The program ranged from fun to serious culinary events over a period of 5 days.
This is an event for the very serious foodies and indeed, regulars fly from all over the world for this intensely epicurean experience.
The guest chefs this year were Massimo Bottura, Cornelia Poletto, Dieter Koschina, Klaus Erfort, Alvin Leung, Gert De Mangeleer, Markus Glocker, Alain Solivérès and Jean-Georges Klein.
The daily Chcocolate Cult at Badrutt’s lobby, courtesy of Confiserie Sprüngli was a constant and seldom resisted temptation.
Particularly popular were the ‘Gourmet Safaris’, accompanied by a ‘ranger’ who took guests to each of the festival partner hotels where every master chef prepared one course of ‘Chef’s Table’ menu in the hotels’ respective kitchens. The safari evening ended with a desert buffet at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, attended by all participants.
The culmination dinner of the anniversary festival, ‘The Great Valser Gourmet Final’, took place at the Carlton Hotel.
There, the guest chefs, assisted by the resident chefs of the festival partner hotels, created a multi-course menu for a privileged gathering of some 300 guests. The sheer logistics of cooking outstanding courses for a multitude of diners would have been enough to put the fear of God in most – having to do so under the scrutiny of the diners who observed it all on giant TV screens must have been even more unnerving.
Polo on ice
St. Moritz was the place to be in January 2013. The Veuve Cliquot tent naturally drew in an abundance of locals. The hotels were fully booked and the constant stream of G6 and G4s flying overhead in order to catch a glimpse of this team or that, along with a plethora of well-groomed gentlemen and spectacularly fur-clad ladies all brought unique glamour – and suspense – to the sporting and social event.
A paraglider with a prime view of every next chukka was there for the benefit of the super-keen game watchers. Not only were all of the grand stands filled, the standing areas were packed.
The ubiquitous and distinctive Cartier red shirt was sported by many sponsors and observers shouting ‘Allez les rouges!’ Jonathan Munro Ford’s Cartier team, featuring three British professionals, won the St. Moritz Polo World Cup on Snow 2013, after beating BMW in the final, 5-4.
No place in the world can match St. Moritz for three things: polo on ice, the multitude of creative fur coats and the number of cigars which can be seen at any one time.
White Turf Horse Races
The White Turf Horse Races are in some way an extension of the polo on ice event, as is Hockey on Ice which we sadly missed.
The iced lake behind Badrutt’s Palace provides the playground for these jolly sporting and highly social events in which most local hotels, restaurants and high end brands participate with either tents, hospitality, entertainment or all three.
There is a walkway between stands and tents, where attending groups of people exchange banter, sip Champagne, meet and watch the spirited displays by eagle, owl and hawk trainers.
In between partaking of the hospitality at the Badrutt’s tent, chatting with old and new friends and watching the races, B Beyond managed to catch a glimpse of English jockey Freddie Mitchell riding Ancient Greece and winning a race on the first day.
The Cresta Run
Most of our readers would be familiar with the Cresta Run. For those who are not, The Cresta is quite possibly the single most eccentric, adventurous, testosterone-driven and fun-filled sport of all times.
Male only competitors take to a three quarter long mile ice run down a steep winding gully riding sleighs flat on their on their stomach and wearing distinctive boots with spikes that control their speed. The ice run tests corners past the tiny hamlet of Cresta, to the village of Celerina. The total drop is 514 ft and the gradient varies from 1 in 2.8 to 1 in 8.7.
The Cresta usually opens two or three days before Christmas and continues for nine weeks until the end of February. B Beyond was there to watch one of the most prominent Cresta competitors, Lord Wrottesley, win a number of cups over a period of a few days.
The cups are awarded in a lunchtime quaint ceremony at the Cresta Bar of the Kulm hotel (which doubles up as a Japanese restaurant in the evening). Lunchtime at the bar/restaurant is a lively affair, with Cresta runners performing their rituals, dining, drinking and smoking cigars. It is, in our opinion, the best-kept secret in St. Moritz in terms of atmosphere.