What’s it like?
A historic Belle Epoque hotel dating from 1848 which has been completely renovated and is now one of the finest five-star hotels in Switzerland. Co-owned with the Kulm Hotel in St Moritz, the Kronenhof has a beautiful Neo Baroque exterior, and inside has been updated so it retains the old-world charm. As you approach via the wrought iron gates down the circular driveway, you can picture the carriages and elegant guests pulling up in times past.
The hotel started its life as a rooming house more than a century ago (the building to the left as you enter the gates), and legend has it an old lady sat at a top window, assessing the wealth of new guests by their luggage, then signalling down a suitable price for them to be charged. That room still exists and can be hired as function space.
The Kronenhof has long since left its humble beginnings behind and now lives up to its ‘Grand’ title –intricately gilded ceilings, elaborate crystal chandeliers, inlaid flooring, velvet sofas and heavily swagged curtains. The central staircase is an imposing stone and wrought iron affair. But the hotel also has a surprise up its sleeve – a modern extension has been added to the rear of this palace-sized original building, to provide modern airy rooms that overlook the mountains, and a world-class wellness centre. There is an air of formality, of standards being met, but not stuffiness – the hotel welcomes young children, for instance, with a kid’s club, children’s pool and even a lovely children’s dining room offering supervised early suppers for young ones, and guests can bring well-behaved dogs.
Where is it?
In Pontresina, a wind-sheltered side valley at 1,805 metres above sea level about 10-minutes’ drive from St Moritz, but very different from its glitzy neighbour. This is a picture-postcard perfect Engadine village with narrow streets lined with beautifully restored or maintained buildings sitting side by side by more modern ones built in stone. After only a couple of minutes walking up the main street, you can tell from both the shopfronts and the outdoor attire of the visitors that it’s a real centre for outward bound activities, and strong in the summer on walking and mountain biking.
The 112 rooms and suites are very varied, from new rooms in a wing added in 2007 to renovated historic ones in the main building. There are 14 single rooms (24-32m2), 54 double rooms (28-39m2), 35 Junior Suites (35-58m2) and nine Suites (48-75m2). The feel of the new rooms is simple luxury, with light wood floors, neutral walls and furnishings, but there are plenty of interesting design details, such as a headboard made from inlaid wood and leather. Our room had a sofa, easy chair and coffee table, several cupboards, plenty of wardrobe space, and a spacious marble tiled bathroom. Floor to ceiling windows open out onto a slate-tiled terrace overlooking forested mountain foothills. That said, the range of rooms is wide both in terms of sizes, views and decorations, and there are more traditionally furnished rooms and also some suites designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon. Wifi is free throughout and although only suites have coffee making machines, we asked for a kettle for our room (and an iron) and these were delivered.
Food and drink
The Grand restaurant is a fabulously ornate room, with original ceiling frescos depicting the four seasons, intricately carved metal chandeliers and frescoed pillars, and staff with gold epaulettes. A grand piano takes centre stage to provide a musical backdrop for dinner (someone plays it).
The breakfast buffet is held here, offering a full continental buffet and a menu of hot choices. At dinner, there is a set menu which changes nightly – guests choose from two options for each of the four courses, a great antidote to the feeling of being overwhelmed by choice, and ensuring the service from the kitchen is never slow, even when this large room is at capacity. Our choices included a delicate roasted scallop and Fregola Sarda salad; a sublime celery soup with apple pearls and a refreshingly unusual main of steamed pike dumplings in a crayfish sauce with fennel braised with basil. Desserts of lemon tartlet and pistachio ice cream did not disappoint. In summer Le Pavilion in the grounds is used for lunches (in winter the lawn in front is an ice rink).
The hotel’s gourmet restaurant is the Kronenstubli, a wood panelled, low-ceilinged intimate restaurant in the oldest part of the hotel, whose main entrance is external to the hotel, but on rainy days, it can be reached by a candlelit ‘secret’ corridor that goes through the staff quarters.
The three-course set menu changes each evening. Our choices of King Crab followed by Black Angus fillet and a pineapple and coconut mousse were supplemented by not one but two delicate amuse bouches, a selection of delicious beautiful breads and delicate petit fours, with every item offered beautifully presented and classic and more innovative flavours expertly balanced. A vegetarian alternative to the main course was graciously arranged for my wife, despite our forgetting to let them know in advance. Although table cloths are starched, cutlery is elegant silver, and the staff are immaculate, there is also a relaxed and genuinely friendly vibe, with lots of endearing touches, such as a basket of homemade chocolate treats which are given as a parting gift for each guest.
The hotel was opened at a time when men would retire to one room and women another after dinner, and now these numerous salons are available for guests to relax or read in, but which can be used for business. One room has a ping pong table and another a pool table, and there is even the old bowling alley room, easily the oldest I’ve come across, and which can be set up for events. Underneath the Grand Restaurant there is the old wine cellar with old skis against the walls belonging to British guests who left them at the end of each season intending to return, but for various reasons, did not.
The Kronenhof spa has been incorporated into the original building, with the outer wall of the original hotel retained as a feature as you walk down the new stairway, and the stone matched and used throughout the new structure.
The swimming pool is housed in a pod-like, space age glass structure, held up by stone ‘legs’ in a red stone. You get a dose of eco-therapy by simply lying on a lounger, soaking in the views of the larch and Swiss pine forests and the Roseg Glacier in the distance. Highlights of the extensive spa of more than 2000 m2 include a Relaxation bath, where you ‘hook’ your feet and shoulders are supported to allow you to float effortlessly and meditate on a multi-coloured projection of waves on the ceiling. There is also a spacious hydrotherapy pool, a Salt Water Grotto and a Steam Bath as well as the usual men’s women’s and mixed saunas. Hot Moroccan mint tea is available on tap, and staff offer trays freshly pressed juices at regular intervals.
The gym is well stocked with Technogym equipment, and there is also a separate studio where yoga and Pilates classes are held. The Pilates class we attended was excellent, with a standard of teaching that would not disappoint Pilates regulars. Exercise aside, classical music fans can enjoy ‘Camerata’ from June to September, free concerts held on small stage constructed in a clearing in the forest. On rainy days, it’s moved to the Congress Hall on the main street, which is where we enjoyed an excellent programme that included pieces by Kalman, Heuberger, Donizetti and Boulanger.
Pontresina is known for its hiking, and a variety of trails can be reached by both the Muottas Muragl funicular railway and the Alp Languard chair lift. The start of chair lift is located just off the main street, and the 15-minute ride above the tops of the Swiss stone pines provides the ideal vantage point to spot carvings of animals from old tree trunks scattered throughout the forest (and to wonder how the sculptors reached such remote spots with their equipment). At the top, we followed the easier of two routes on offer, a relatively flat two hour walk with stunning views and a charming, small wooden café mid-way, offering hot coffee and hot chocolates and a selection of hot snacks, complete with rustic WC down a track into the woods. The trail ends at Muottas Muragl where the funicular offers more stunning views during the descent to the bottom, where the local bus service will take you back to Pontresina. The Kronenhof concierge staff regularly walk all of the routes, so they can help you plan the best itinerary to suit both fitness levels and the weather of the day. For the more adventurous, you can book guided glacier treks and climbing.
Staying in this hotel is like being invited to an exclusive house party in a grand house. It’s lovely to relax in the public rooms, surrounded by carefully curated antiques. The air of genteel elegance is catching. You might even find yourself sitting up straighter and reading about world affairs in the newspapers on the table in several languages. The spa is lovely after a long day walking in the mountains, and the hotel also offers you an excuse to dress up for dinner, and the chance to experience some of the best fine dining of the region without leaving the hotel.
Best for: Old world elegance with a new spa and an informal luxurious feel to the whole hotel.
Don’t miss: Eating in the hotel – in either of the restaurants, for local specialities and superb service.
Contact: Grand Hotel Kronenhof, CH-7504 Pontresina, Switzerland, +41 (0) 81/830 30 30