Snow, Cricket, Polo, Bobsleigh…. And Glamour
Heading to Switzerland to explore the irresistible winter sport appeal of St Moritz
Article by Mark Nicholls
There are few sports more closely associated to the lifestyle of an English gentleman than cricket and the daredevil thrill of bobsleigh. St Moritz, of course, is famed for its long association with bobsleigh racing. Yet in a less orthodox move, it is now also showcasing a new “winter sport” – top-level cricket being played on the frozen surface of its lake. Add in downhill skiing, ice-hockey, and horseracing too, and you can see why St Moritz – arguably the cradle of winter tourism – has such a lure for well-heeled sport-loving Brits.
That appeal goes further with some of Europe’s finest hotels and a world-class culinary offering, underlined by the fabulous showcase of the St Moritz Gourmet Festival, which has just marked its 25th anniversary with a sumptuous gala dinner at the Suvretta House hotel.
I flew out to Zurich and caught the train to St Moritz through a wonderful snowy landscape, for a few days’ skiing and to enjoy the cuisine on offer and the gourmet festival’s gala finale.
The slopes of Corvatsch and Corviglia are the most popular ski areas and offer a variety of black, red and blue runs that will suit all levels and styles. Corviglia sits above St Moritz and is accessed via the Chantarella funicular, where skiers can explore the highest points at Piz Nair (3,057m), Fuorcla Grischa (2,964m) and Gluna (2,830m) and take the opportunity to ski the 2017 World Championship Downhill course. A shuttle bus ride away is Corvatsch and the Corvatsch Glacier at 3,303m, with the opportunity to ski down the legendary Hahnensee piste, and with some lovely huts to stop off for lunch. I and my fellow skiers paused at the Kuhstall, which as the names implies, is the cowshed and operates as thus during the summer months before being converted into a popular mountain restaurant during the ski season..!
When it comes to fine food, with diversity and innovation are the culinary watchwords in St Moritz which has carved out a reputation for bringing in some of the world’s finest chefs to its hotels and restaurants. We dined at Restaurant IGNIV in the famous Badrutt’s Palace Hotel where chef Andreas Caminada offers an incredible round-table sharing menu. The food is served in precise small portions where taste and presentation are paramount.
With mouth-watering starters such as air bread langoustine, egg royal, pike perch saffron, and char with beetroot and hazelnut to; tenders meats of pork belly quince, deer and spare rib; the most delicious fish soup and desserts to die for such as mango coriander, mountain-shaped meringues and chocolate blood orange. The food was accompanied by wines from the region, each carefully selected for the specific course and dishes. And you can have a few surprise dishes added as you wish. The IGNIV three-course sharing menu is CHF158 (+CHF40 for three surprises or +CHF60 for five surprises). And if that wasn’t enough, we were invited to take away a bag of confectionary from a sweet barrow – the sort of thing I thought only existed in Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Kids in a sweet shop etc…
Throughout mid-January, the St Moritz Gourmet Festival becomes the focus of a series of dining events with many restaurants and hotels promoting the cuisine with dinners, kitchen parties and menu tastings. This climaxed with the spectacular 550 CHF per head Gala Dinner at the Suvretta House on January 20 with a classical five-course menu jointly prepared by the guest Master Chefs Tanja Grandits, Jacob Jan Boerma, Dominique Crenn, Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray Adriansyah, as well as Julien Royer. Up-and-coming chefs were also honoured for their work at the event.
Another dining delight during my stay was at the Kulm Country Club. Newly-renovated in a project overseen by architect and St Moritz resident Norman Foster, it is part of the Kulm Hotel, which is widely regarded as where winter tourism began.
The story goes that in the autumn of 1864, Johannes Badrutt enthused about the winter idyll of St Moritz with four English holidaymakers, which ultimately led to a legendry bet with the four dubious guests. Badrutt suggested they should return in December, and if they did not enjoy their stay, he would reimburse the travel expenses. The Englishmen did return and stayed until Easter. Badrutt won his bet, and effectively launched winter tourism.
Up in the mountains, there are many other places to eat on the slopes. One to try is the new White Marmot restaurant on Corviglia. Of course, no ski trip is complete without apres-ski and we found a spot at The Roo Bar on the Hauser Terrace, opposite Hotel Schweizerhof where I stayed during my visit. Mulled wine, elderberry punch with vodka and homemade hot chocolate were popular choices. My room on the fifth floor of the centrally-located four-star Hotel Schweizerhof offered marvellous views over the mountains and the lake where much of the winter sporting activities take place.
It is here that the annual White Turf horse races take place on the frozen surface and now, for 2018, the rather bizarre offering of ice cricket. Top names from the cricket world are taking part from February 8 – 9 in the Twenty20 format, including Virender Sehwag, Graeme Smith, Michael Hussey, Monty Panesar and Lasith Malinga. For the match Team Royal will feature players from England, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand while Team Badrutt’s Palace Diamonds will field players from India, Sri Lanka, Australia and the West Indies.
But for a sheer winter adrenaline rush, the opportunity to experience the bone-shaking drama and daring of an Olympic Bobsleigh run is difficult to beat. The Olympia Bob Run is the oldest bobsleigh course in the world and the only natural-ice track to host international races. In the course of its 125-year old history, as well as staging events for two Olympic Winter Games in 1928 and 1948, it has hosted 24 World Championships. This, of course, is not the famed Cresta Run which is nearby and where access is limited to a privileged few, but it is a world-class course on which those who dare can enjoy the thrill of a 135kmh run down the one mile route.
It was too good an opportunity to pass.
This is true bobsleigh, where two passengers are sandwiched between a driver and a brake man (or woman) to hurtle down the route for some 75 seconds. As we were pushed off in our sleek red bob, thoughts of the Winter Olympics in South Korea flashed through my mind. The bob slid free of the blocks and picked up speed; fast, bumpy and ever accelerating as we arced through corners. G-forces of up to 4g kicked in and we hunched shoulders to protect our necks as the bob swung from a right to a left, a short straight and then seemingly rode the banking in further rapid switches of direction.
By the end, we were hunkered down, hanging on the grips in the belly of the bob, and only slowly able to raise our heads as we braked to a halt. A certificate, photo and a celebratory glass of Champagne awaited us as we headed back to the clubhouse, full of chatter of bobsleigh exploits…and an unspoken sense of achievement.
Accommodation: Hotel Schweizerhof, Via dal Bagn 54, 7500 St. Moritz, Switzerland / +41 81 837 07 07 / www.schweizerhofstmoritz.ch – a three-minute walk from the Chantarella funicular up to the Corviglia slopes.
Transport: Swiss International Air Lines www.swiss.com flies London City to Zurich.
The Swiss Travel System provides a range of travel passes and tickets. The Swiss Travel Pass is the all-in-one ticket to travel by train, bus and boat on an all-inclusive basis from 3 – 15 days. Prices start from £172 in second class and each ticket offers free admission to more than 500 museums nationwide and half-price on the most scenic Swiss mountain railways. www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk
Switzerland: For more information visit www.myswitzerland.com
Ice cricket: Details of the ice cricket can be found at www.icecricket.ch
Bobsleigh: The bobsleigh experience – which costs CHF 250 per person – at www.olympia-bobrun.ch/adrenalin