ST. MORITZ, SWITZERLAND - The driver with the heavy Italian accent who picks me up at the train station in The Carlton Hotel's shiny new Bentley, tells me he’s been working at the hotel just three months — “because we are only open three months of the year.”
“Yes, that’s right, just three months,” Dominic Bachofen, the Carlton’s congenial General Manager confirms later when we meet for drinks in the hotel’s palatial lobby lounge opposite its renowned Restaurant Romanoff.
“We open mid-December and close no later than the end of March. We tried to open in the summer but winter and skiing are the reasons why people come to St. Moritz, so why stay open after the snow melts?” he shrugs.
In the short time The Carlton is open, however, the (private) jet-set crowd beat a path to its doors so they can be treated to haute cuisine meals in the hotel’s 1 Michelin star Da Vittorio Italian restaurant and the elegant Restaurant Romanoff, be pampered in the best spa in St. Moritz, and be waited on by an army (135-140) of staff, who all must have graduated top of their class at one of Switzerland’s famed hotel management schools.
Above: Guests get a great view of the ake in St. Moritz from the Carlton's rooms.
Open since 1913, The Carlton is actually the youngest of St. Moritz’s 5-star luxury gems, which includes three other Swiss Deluxe Hotel members — Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, Kulm Hotel St. Moritz and Suvretta House, each a masterpiece in their own right.
Over the years, updates have kept The Carlton in tune with today’s modern travellers but the one thing that never changes is the view of iconic Lake St. Moritz and the town’s glorious Alpine mountain backdrop guests get from each of the hotel’s 63 well-appointed suites.
“You have to love sports to live in St. Moritz,” says Bachofen.
And St. Moritz, where winter tourism was first introduced to the world in 1864, has plenty of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy, with skiing, naturally, topping the list.
Being the former host of two Winter Olympics — 1928 and 1948 — St. Moritz’s ski slopes are regarded among the best in the world. The resort actually incorporates five ski areas — Lagalb, Diavolezza, Corvatsch, Furtschellas and Corviglia — and their combined 550kms of terrain is serviced by 56 lifts.
The highlight of the winter season in St. Moritz is the annual polo matches, which are held on the frozen lake in January and February — an event guests at the elevated Carlton get a front row seat to see without ever having to leave the comfort of this classic property.
Above: Public spaces and rooms are lavish.
When guests do return to The Carlton after a day in the chilly outdoors, the spa — a recent addition — awaits. The 3,600 -square-foot Carlton Spa is a one-of-a-kind facility that cost 70 million Swiss francs ($100 million Cdn) to build.
“Because of the town’s height restrictions we had to dig under The Carlton to add the spa, hence the cost,” Bachofen tells me.
The luxurious facility with the all-star cast of therapists and products, is actually spread over three floors. It features an indoor and outdoor pool, six private treatment rooms with sauna and steam facilities, a relaxation area that offers spectacular views of the Alpine panorama and treatments specifically designed for winter activities.
Of course, the main sport in St. Moritz among the very wealthy is shopping and there’s a plethora of high-end designer shops assembled in the charming downtown area.
German billionaire Kipp Bechtoutsheiner, the Sam Walton of Germany who bought The Carlton in 1999, spared no expense reducing it from 120 rooms to the 63 lavish suites it is today.
Each of the suites offers their own unique touches and charm, and no one is the same. For instance, the walls of the Chagall and Kandinsky, named in honour of the great French painter Marc Chagall and his Russian counterpart Wassily Kandinsky, are covered with their works and an in-room easel invites guests to try their hand at art. Other suites are accented with vibrant fabrics and wall coverings and the amenities in each are well beyond 5-star quality.
“Every suite is different — every suite tells its own story,” the charming GM says.
The grandest of all, though, is the Penthouse Suite, which, at over 4,000 square feet, is actually fit for a king and his court. However, these days it’s most likely occupied by the mega-rich from Asia or the Middle East.
Above: St. Moritz is where winter tourism all began.
In fact, a Dubai businessman recently rented the suite for three weeks at a cost of $45,000 (Cdn) a night.
“Oh, and he also booked our entire seventh floor for his entourage,” smiles Bachofen.
Regular room rates start around 1,600 Swiss francs ($2,150 Cdn) a night at The Carlton, but there’s a minimum four-night stay. And rooms are always in great demand. No wonder it’s only open three months a year.
Swiss Deluxe Hotels is a group representing 41 of Switzerland’s best hotels, which offer unique experiences in some of the most visited places in Switzerland. For information, go to www.swissdeluxehotels.com/en
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About the Author
Marc Atchison is a veteran journalist and a seasoned traveller with more than 20 years of travel writing experience. As the former Travel Editor of the Toronto Star, Canada's largest newspaper, and now Editor-in-Chief and Senior Writer for TraveLife magazine (Canada) and travelife.ca, Marc has been to over 100 countries in the world. Japan is one of his favorite destinations and he's been there on numerous occasions.