Tried & Tested

Hotel review: Kulm Hotel, St Moritz

8 Aug 2018 by Tom Otley
Kulm Hotel Summer Exterior

Background

This sister hotel to the Kronenhof is one of the oldest hotels in St Moritz, pre-dating even Badrutts (it was Johannes Badrutt’s original property). No fan of St Moritz can resist telling the story of how the resort, until then only known for summer tourism, also invented winter tourism for the whole of the Alps, but since I am a fan of the Alps in general, and St Moritz in particular, here goes.

In the autumn of 1864, Johannes Badrutt sat by the fire in the Kulm Hotel in St Moritz with four English holiday guests enthusing about St Moritz in winter; a snow-blanketed landscape basking in sunshine with mild temperatures during the day, ‘A paradise on earth’ he called it.  The Englishmen, used to dark, cold winters, did not believe him. This conversation led to the legendary bet: Badrutt suggested that the four should return in December, and if they did not enjoy their stay, he would reimburse the travel expenses. The Englishmen returned – and stayed until Easter, Badrutt won his bet, and winter tourism was launched.

The irony is that all Alpine resorts are more expensive and popular in winter, yet their charms in summer remain and have been augmented over the years, with the Kulm at the centre of it. Climate change may mean that summer becomes more important, once again. Who can tell?

What’s it like?

Very different from all the other five-star hotels in the area. The tone is set from the moment you step inside the imposing entrance lobby, with stunning carved wooden scenes of St Moritz decorating a whole wall, carved wooden pillars, and a stone staircase with iron bulstrade leading to wooden-framed glass doors into the main lounge area. There you are greeted by a riot of contrasting patterns on the walls, floors, furnishings and even the many pillars, in various tones of terracotta, yellow and red, spotlighted by stained glass skylighted ceiling.

It’s a bold combination that works, lending an air of warmth and intimacy to the room.  Like the rest of the hotel, this room is filled with beautiful period pieces of furniture that you can’t help lingering over on your way to your room. For a historic hotel it treads a fine line between celebrating this heritage and at the same time appealing to new generations of the well-to-do.

Where is it?

Towards the top end of St Moritz opposite the leading church tower and the now closed cinema. It has an elevated position over the town which allows for stunning views of the lake and also Badrutts Hotel.

Kulm Hotel Lobby View

Rooms

Our traditional room, reached by the main stone and ironwork staircase off the main reception, was conservatively decorated, by which I mean, in conservative taste, not sparsely. It had red and gold upholstery and yellow stippled wall paper. The doors and door frames in natural pine feature carved patterns.

I looked at some other rooms, and there’s a fair spread of decors since some have been recently refurbished and others are fairly new as a new wing was added on one side (which also includes residences). Many rooms overlooking the lake also have a stone balcony with ironwork balustrade, a lovely spot to watch the sun set before dinner. There are also 26 rooms with a more modern feel, redesigned in 2015 by interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon, also with extensive use of stone pine.

Food and drink

Like many of the hotels, the hotel has several restaurants although a smaller number are open during the short summer season. One outstanding option during the summer season is the new Kulm Country Club which occupies the hotel’s old Ice Pavilion overlooking a large expanse of green that transforms into one of the world’s most famous ice rinks in winter.

This original building was restored and extended by Norman Foster, a long-time resident of St Moritz, and reopened for the 2017 World Ski Championships. The décor acknowledges the hotel’s world class winter sports pedigree – both the legendary Cresta Run and famous Olympia Bob Run are on the hotel grounds. Original snow equipment is used as a theme throughout, with ancient skis stacked in corners, early bob sleigh and luge sleds with upholstered seats hanging from the ceilings, and walls of black and white prints displaying all the ways people found to have fun in the snow 100 years ago, from horse-drawn skiing to dingy sailing on ice.

The ground floor, largely devoted to a stylish bar, features the original skate-hire kiosk, decorated with a wall of vintage skates. The first floor restaurant is split into several rooms, including a sun terrace. The building has been built entirely from local wood, as are many of the furnishings, such as beautifully smooth wooden curved chairs in the restaurant, lending a warmth and informality to what is actually a fine dining restaurant.

The menu has an international flavour, including Caesar salad, entrecote steak and fries, a selection of fresh pasta dishes, with all dishes faultlessly presented. Even a dish as deceptively simple as The Country Club Cup – vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, strawberries, whipped cream, toasted almond slivers and Baileys – was delicious.

Breakfast is in the Grand restaurant, an imposing room with double height windows, red and gold swapped curtains, towering chandeliers and black and gold marble pillars. A flurry of well dressed staff are on hand to help explain the extensive buffet, or bring you your choice of hot food from the kitchen. Highlights of the buffet included more-ish potato rosti, deliciously crunchy and perfect when paired with roasted baby plum tomatoes and fried local ham. And when you have started your breakfast with six different fresh fruits, and a freshly pressed vegetable juice, you can indulge without guilt.

In the evening, The Grand restaurant offers a six course set menu, with a full vegetarian set menu as an alternative. Starting with a salad course chosen from an extensive buffet, and followed by a soup course, highlights included a delicate burrata with heritage tomatoes, and a light as a feather Zablioni with fresh fruits for dessert.

The Kulm is also famous for its bars – the Sunny Bar, the oldest sports bar in the Alps, which offers live music and also a menu of Peruvian food in the evenings, and the Miles Davis cigar lounge,  where I kept meaning to smoke a cigar but never did. Next time.

Kulm Country Club by_Daniel_Martinek__3_

Business

The hotel has a suprinsgly large amount of function space, not just utilising its various bars and the Grand restaurant (Corviglia), the Ballroom and the Medici Hall, but also large modern rooms beneath the new apartments / residences, and with their own entrance from the street meaning delegates don’t have to walk through the main lobby.

Leisure

The spa occupies a 2000 sqm extension at the back of the building, overlooking the lake, mountains and forests. Grey slate walls are lit with vertical bright blue columns of light, and the structure is supported by grey slate columns. The pool is large enough for serious lane swimming – with underwater music to stop you getting bored – but there is a heated outdoor section dedicated to hydrotherapy.

The spa ‘journey’ includes a salt room and several saunas, as well as a state-of-the-art infrared room to soothe inflamed joints and muscles – perfect if your knees are feeling the effects of the mountain slopes. There are plenty of loungers both inside and out, plus a relaxation room with heated water beds, from which to contemplate the almost too-good-to-be-true views that at times look like they have been painted on for your benefit.

The light and airy gym is well-stocked with Technogym equipment, but also has a boxing section with punchbag and a studio for yoga and pilates, with a selection of classes held throughout the week.

A hotel is also a good base to explore the Corviglia mountains using the all-transport pass given to you on arrival. The Salsatrains funicular railway is a short stroll away, from which you can take a further funicular to Corviglia and then a cable car to reach the Piz Nair summit. There are numerous trails for hiking and this side of the valley is particularly popular with mountain bikers whizzing downhill at phenomenal speed, having transported their wheels up the slope via the funicular.

Alternatively, take a more leisurely approach, and opt for lunch at the famous CheCha restaurant instead, recommended to us by the concierge, an after-piste destination in the Alps, but also an excellent spot for a stylish lunch in the summer, on the basis of our experience. Kulm also has the only hotel golf course in St Moritz, nine holes a short stroll from the hotel, and the highest in the Alps.

The verdict

If you want to soak up the history of St Moritz, then a stay at the Kulm puts you right in the heart of it. It’s totally different from the competition, and the service has a family feel to it while at the same time achieving the highest standards.

Kulm Hotel, St Moritz
Loading comments...
Be up-to-date
Magazine Subscription
To see our latest subscription offers for Business Traveller editions worldwide, click on the Subscribe & Save link below
Polls