With a facade straight out of a Wes Anderson flick, The Grand Hotel Kronenhof is one of the finest five-star hotels in Switzerland. An alpine institution in its own right, this ‘Grande Dame’ of Swiss hospitality is the antithesis of mass-market hotel homogeneity – it’s beyond boutique, with a unique history that dates back to 1848. But has the fin de siècle grandeur of this historic hotel endured through the ages? We sent our girl Beth to check it out.
Pulling up through wrought iron gates into a snow-covered courtyard, I quickly see why this hotel has earned the nickname ‘Grande Dame’. Even in the pretty swiss town of Pontresina, her enduring neo-baroque beauty stands out – an elegant exterior topped with an emerald, crown-topped dome, the gold-gilded letters ‘Kronenhof’ proudly emblazoned below the Swiss flag.
High in the Alps at 1,800m, deep in the stunning surrounds of the Engadin Valley – the scenery here is still blanketed with snow, despite it being late in the season. A stark contrast to the often lengthy bus journeys endured schlepping up to this kind of altitude – the journey to Pontresina is half the fun. While many of the hotel’s discerning guests opt for the nearby private airport, we take the pretty red mountain train from Zurich. It may take around 3 hours and 45 minutes to reach Pontresina, but the UNESCO listed Bernina Express is an experience in itself, winding its way past moody mountain lakes, meandering up into snow-covered scenery, over arched bridges and past mountain peaks. Think Hogwarts Express, Alpine Edition.
The resemblance to the Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t end when you enter the hotel. Swept through a grand entrance, you’ll find the picture of old-world elegance – a grand lobby with hand-painted ceilings, ornate fireplaces, velvet curtains and antique chandeliers, all overlooking a postcard-worthy picture window out over the pine-carpeted mountains and Roseg glaciers, the alps of St Moritz in the distance.
The hotel may have seen nearly two centuries of guests pass through its doors, but even today it recalls an age of bygone glamour. From the palatial dining room, where formal dress is required and course after course arrive with the theatrical lifting of cloches by a team of impeccably smart and ever-smiling waiters.
Even breakfast is a grand affair, served in the dining room with tables overflowing with cheese cold cuts and any pastry imaginable, as well as the free-pouring champagne, which the guests are far too posh to take any advantage of. Within the hotel’s walls, you’ll also find the award-willing Kronenstübli with its cosy wood-panelled walls and exceptional dishes from Duck a la Presse to crepe Suzette.
The hotel’s old-world alpine pedigree speaks for itself, but if we’re measuring by modern-day standards, it has nearly 1000 five star ratings on TripAdvisor. The people-watching is a definite highlight, with a discreet, well-dressed clientele reminiscent of eclectic European high society. While St Moritz is all about the glitz, pretty Pontresina offers access to the same level of service, but a respite from the hedonistic atmosphere.
A large percentage of these guests are returning visitors, some even fourth generation. Old skis of guests presumably left here for future use decades ago still line the walls, marked carefully with the name of the owner on a luggage ticket – many of whom left to fight in the Second World War but never returned. Having survived both World Wars (thanks in part to selling wine from their cellars) you can feel the nostalgia in the Kronenhof’s creaking walls. The wooden bowling alley is one of the oldest in Switzerland, and the walls of the hotel founders original home were recently found hidden away – dating back to the early 1800s.
With 112 rooms, the Kronenhof feels grand yet intimate. Some bedrooms echo the old-world feel, with expansive drawing rooms and views out onto the Roseg glacier beyond, while others are more to modern taste and having been recently renovated by chic French designer Pierre-Yves Rochon.
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But despite its history, the hotel has kept up to date with the modern – particularly with the addition of its enormous and elaborate glass-walled spa with a huge indoor pool which, in a fusion of old meets new, sits attached to the hotel. Cocooned within its glass walls, looking out over the snow-covered scenery, it is simply bliss. The massages pair you with an element – mine is a deep wood and citrus oil for fire – and incidentally, one of the best I’ve ever had. There’s a dedicated sauna for women only, as well as an all-gender Finnish sauna. Once a month, a night spa program sees the spa open till midnight with a bar. Outside, there’s a fabulous chalet-style bar where you can lunch overlooking the skaters on the ice rink, draped in a fur and quaffing Swiss wine in the sun.
Just a few miles down the road from St Moritz, the hotel will happily arrange the quick 10-minute transfer for you to enjoy the world-famous slopes, before scooping you up at the end of the day, or depositing you in their comfy surrounds of the raucous Sunny Bar at its co-owned hotel the Kulm. Handily, there is also has a boot room directly opposite, where I’m fitted with a pair of brand new, self-heating fur-lined beauties instead of your usual beaten up rentals – no lugging your skis around here.
Pontresina itself is a haven from the prying eyes of see-and-be-seen St Moritz, with its chocolate-box chalets, pastel-painted walls and traditional alpine atmosphere. While you have access to the slopes, the village itself boasts a multitude of activities outside of the hotel, like cross country skiing at nearby school Schweizer Langlauf- und Bikezentrum Pontresina.
An old-world beauty that both manages to recall a vaguely remembered idea of luxury from a bygone age, and provide all the facilities you would expect of a five-star hotel – the Kronenhof has four generations to attest to its charms. All, like me – lucky enough to be guests of this enduringly glamorous Grande Dame and the little moments of history that unfold within her walls.
Winter room rates at Grand Hotel Kronenhof start from CHF565 for two people sharing on a half-board basis; book online at www.kronenhof.com
For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com
Swiss International Air Lines – one way fares start from £67, visit www.swiss.com
The Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets offering unlimited travel on consecutive days, for more information visit www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk.