St. Moritz (Swiss Alps), Switzerland, is one of my most favorite vacation / escape destinations for
- its geographical expanse – for example, Zermatt (see also this post) lies in a substantially narrower valley
- its serenity – absolute quietness on the mountain peaks
- its natural beauty – the landscapes are amazing
- its altitude – it’s at 1882 m so the air contains less oxygen and the lower the concentration of oxygen, the happier you are
- its quality of experiences:
a) there is no better way to sense an achievement and to get the right perspective on life than from looking down a 3km high mountain one’s just climbed upon and
b) there is no more fun than skiing downhill from Piz Nair (3056 m) or Piz Corvatsch (3451 m) for an hour down to the hotel in St. Moritz or alternatively doing the same with a mountain bike
c) St. Moritz’s quality standards (restaurants, cable cars, trails, GPS mapping, ski / bike rentals etc) are one of the highest in the world
- and St. Moritz is where the winter sports were born some 150+ years ago
This article originated in over and over again outlining my overseas friends/clients how to get in and how to make most of their stay there.
Ingredients of a Perfect Vacation
I firmly believe that the quality of one’s vacations depends directly on the richness of the experiences during the vacation – purely lying on a beach bathing in sun will certainly be less memorable than diving into an ocean while searching for a treasure hunt.
The best experiences are then, in my view:
- trips especially those where your heart rate jumps above 140 bps
- trips with the latest gadgets with magic powers
- finally, the fun is usually multiplied by the number of people around you sharing your values and your sense of humor
How to Get In
The best way is to arrive by plane to the Zurich International Airport (the Swiss airlines carry your ski equipment for free in most classes) then take a train to St. Moritz (~3:40 hours) via Zurich Hauptbahnhof (HB) and Chur.
- For the segment Chur → St. Moritz, upgrade your ticket to the panorama the Glacier Express – the easiest way is at the railway station’s ticket counter
- Buy the train ticket via the SBB iPhone / Android app (at least for the return journey). Travel cheaply with SuperSaver tickets.
- The high altitude of St. Moritz requires a day or two for acclimatization. On the first day, you may feel mild headache, extreme tiredness and maybe a feeling to vomit. To reduce these effects, drink as much water as possible, and no alcohol.
Where To Stay
I highly recommend staying in Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains, one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in.
The hotel is actually not located directly in St. Moritz, but in St Moritz Bad (10 mins from St. Moritz train station by a bus) which makes it a more suitable starting point for all summer and winter sports (it’s opposite the cable car to Signal and then to Corviglia and Piz Nair):
- In the winter, you can ski directly downhill from Piz Nair to the hotel! You can also ski directly from Corvatsch to back of the hotel which is even nicer.
- In the summer, all hiking or mountain biking routes around St. Moritz start from close to the hotel, and there is a bus stop which takes you around.
The hotel’s extremely spacious, the food is excellent, its spa with an indoor swimming pool has no competition.
When booking your stay, you should optimize the dates of your vacation for the days off seasonal peaks and then the prices are not that bad at all. Start with the “Special offers“, some of which include a sweet complimentary upgrade upon availability – another reason for optimizing the dates. In January, the temperatures can fall some years below 15 Centigrades and in March, the skiing after midday is not so ideal since the snow becomes splashy (too much sun).
The hotel price includes a complimentary pick-up from the train station, and in the summer, as of 3 nights, an unlimited Engadin pass for all cablecars, busses, trains and in the winter a complimentary or a heavily discounted ski pass for the entire Engadin.
True, one can stay elsewhere in St. Moritz for half the price, however, that stay would not be that grand and that memorable – in your vacation, you stay in the hotel for 12+ hours a day and so it does make a big difference if the hotel is spacious or too small. Furthermore, while the hotel is old, its interior is modern unlike in some other 5* hotels. Finally, though a 5* hotel, you are not required to wear a suit all the time which is most convenient.
What to Pack for Both a Summer and a Winter Stay
|Recommended Item||Recommended Brands|
|Action / 360 Degrees Camera||Go Pro / GoPro Fusion with accessories 3-Way, Seeker, Strap and plenty of spare batteries and microSD cards|
|GPS Mapping||Garmin Montana 680t or you can use OutDoorActive app for iPhone / Android / web to get the GPS data with maps / GPX tracks from any of the following OutDoorActive, Topo Schweiz V4 Pro, Swiss TransAlpin V4 Pro, SchweizMobil, Outdoor Active, Open Alps Map, OpenMaps|
|Extra USB Battery Pack|
|Small Drone for Photography|
|Water bottle||Kor Insulated or Nalgene|
|Whistle||Ultimate Survival Technologies Marine JetScream Floating Whistle|
|Head Flashlight||Petzl Tikka|
|Sun Glasses||Any from Oakley|
What to Pack for a Summer Stay
|Recommended Item||Recommended Brands|
|Walking Poles||LEKI Micro Vario Carbon Trekking|
|Waterproof and Windproof Trousers and Jacket||HAGLÖFS or The North Face|
|Waterproof Trekking Shoes||Any Hiking Shoes from Salomon – men / women|
|Cap||Tilley’s Hiker’s Hat|
Your clothes have to be as colorful as possible in the rarest case if you fall or have another accident.
What to Pack for a Winter Stay
|Recommended Item||Recommended Brands|
|Goggles||Any from Oakley|
|Skiing Backpack||Any Ortovox FREE RIDER|
|Helmet||Giro AVANCE MIPS|
|Waterproof and Windproof Trousers and Jacket||Spyder|
Again, your clothes have to be as colorful as possible – do not buy complete white skiing trousers and jacket since then in low visibility you are indistinguishable from snow!!!
What To Do in the Summer
When staying with Kempinski, the best is to ask the activity concierge for his recommendations. For me he helped organized paragliding, biking and hiking. His menu of activities also includes horse riding, archery, fishing, canoeing, sailing and actually anything imaginable.
Some of his tips include hiking above the clouds, or before the dawn so that when the sun rises, you have unforgettable views of the scenery.
His hiking recommendations for me are best described by the GPX maps of the actual hikes taken below:
For biking, one can rent the bike close to the Kempinski Hotel at Suvretta Sports, at best reserve before. Check out TrailForks for biking ideas. You can rent an e-bike for trails on roads or wide paths. For actual mountain riding, rent as light bike as possible – you would fall down from a heavy e-bike on a ride from Piz Nair down to St. Moritz! There are also iPhone / Android apps with plenty of hiking / biking trails (search for Samedan).
Be aware of the general dangers of hiking in the Alps:
- Do not walk across snow patches – if there is a snow patch you cannot circumvent, return back. Otherwise you risk slipping and falling off a cliff.
- Do not leave marked trails – otherwise you risk being hit by an unexpected falling stone.
- Do not appear to endanger calves – a cow attacks anybody whom she deems to threaten their kids.
What To Do in the Winter
Signing up for a quick ski-refresher may be beneficial since the instructors can provide secret tips and advice on best slopes.
Travelling with skis can be bothersome, so I recommend renting both skis and poles at Ski Service Corvatch. However, I do recommend buying your own ski boots since they can be custom-fit to your feet.
For beginners, start at Corviglia – directly in St Moritz. Then, go to Corvatsch – wider and maybe nicer and longer. Finally, go to Diavolezza – these are the hardest and the most beautiful slopes. Davos, and Savognin are close to St. Moritz and are both excellent. The specials are glacier skiing from Diavolezza or night skiing at Corvatsch every Friday and full moon skiing from Diavolezza. You have to try it.
A sample video of skiing at Corvatsch with a return downhill journey back to Kempinski:
A sample video from skiing at Corviglia from and back to Kempinski:
Apart from skiing, or cross-country skiing, one can also snowshoe or drive a sledge.
The Weather in St. Moritz or in Switzerland in general is very hard to forecast due to the high mountains and lakes. You should always have a Plan B and if the visibility turns out to be a few meters, head back to the hotel.
I do not recommend wearing T-Shirts and shorts unless your skin is accustomed to the Alpine sun exposure. In the summer, I had a T-Shirt and shorts on my first day of hiking and I got so incredibly burnt that I had to be fully covered afterwards.