St. Moritz and the Glacier Express – Engadine, Switzerland
The Queen of Resorts and the Alps’ Most Famous Rail Excursion
St. Moritz is not only for those who appreciate the “ritz” in this world-class ski resort’s name. Despite the cosmopolitan mix of socialites, bluebloods, and tanned movie stars that helped create this celebrated (and, yes, pricey) resort’s image of glamour and fashionability,
St. Moritz is not as ultra-exclusive or snooty as its popular image leads one to expect. St. Moritz can be a generally sporty place with superb downhill skiing on all levels and ideal cross-country skiing. At an altitude of 6,000 feet, annual snowfalls are dependable. Intermediate skiers will enjoy hopping the cable car to Piz Corvatsch, almost 11,000 feet above sea level.
There is lots of nonskiing activity, including the famous British-made Cresta Run, the world’s first sleigh and toboggan run, where women are not allowed, so risky is the headfirst, white-knuckle ride. Consider a summertime holiday here, or at lovely Pontresina, just 4 miles east of St. Moritz: it is one of the Engadine’s – and Europe’s – best hiking bases and mountaineering centers.
In St. Moritz, the enduring place to be seen is the very Hollywood faux-Gothic Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. But today’s more discreet set gravitates to the glitz-free Suvretta House, with Christmas-card views of the mountains. A triumph of subdued luxury, from here it’s an easy walk to Jöhri’s Talvo. Classy but creative, this is one of the country’s very best eating experiences, delightfully set in a charming 17th-century Engadine farmhouse (talvo means “hayloft” in Romansh, the archaic tongue of the Engadine Valley).
At the end of your stay, ride the rails to Zermatt in the east. The Glacier Express is advertised as the slowest express train in the world (averaging 25 miles an hour), but the little-red-engine-that-could passes through the heart of the Swiss Alps and offers an up-close look at riveting scenery on its rollercoaster journey (gradients can approach 110 percent). Proudly painted the colors of the Swiss flag, it passes over 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels, and crosses the Oberalp Pass at 6,706 feet –the 7 1/2-hour, 169-mile trip’s highest point. Serious rail buffs can consider Switzerland’s other great rail excursion, the Bernina Express. A four-hour rail trip from Zurich to Lugano (also doable by car), it is the only train route in Switzerland that crosses the Alps without the benefit of tunnels en route.