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The Enchanting Engadin & St. Moritz

Engadin ValleyThey call it the "Top of the World" and while attending a major travel writer's conference in St. Moritz, we had the opportunity and interest in exploring the area and judging for ourselves why such a moniker was appropriate. The Engadin Valley and St. Moritz is one of Europe's most well known summer holiday destinations. With over 300 days of sun each year, numerous areas for hiking and numerous scenic cable car rides, there is enough in the valley to enjoy for several days. We had five days in which to explore some of the unique city attractions and visit a few mountain tops. 

The area around St. Moritz is known as Engadin Valley, and if we thought we had seen some spectacular scenery, our visit to the canton of Graubunden showcased even more unbelievable vistas. Thousands of summits and landscapes from peaceful vineyards to high alpine ice fields make this the highest holiday region in Switzerland.

Rafting on the RhineThe glaciers in this area are the source of two of the country's major rivers - the Rhine and the Inn. Their elevation drops drastically, therefore,  our thoughts quickly turned to one of our favorite activities: whitewater rafting. So, on a day trip to the Flims-Laax-Falera area west of Chur, we met up with Philipp Hochstrasser of the Wasserch Raft company. We donned helmets, wetsuits, life jackets and rubber booties, and after a thorough indoctrination into the ways of the river and the instructions to follow from the guide, we jumped into an inflatable raft and were pushed out into our whitewater adventure through what is called, the Little Swiss Grand Canyon. (Be prepared to help the guide transport the heavy inflatable raft to the launch site on the river and from the takeout site).

Scenic rafting tripIn September, most of the waters were Class II or III , so it was a chance to enjoy our paddle down the river through the Rhine Gorge without hitting the cold mountain waters. We gawked at the canyon walls, one of which was called the "Devil's Eye" because of a huge cave about midway up the 800 foot cliff, and at fascinating rock formations, the result of significant landslides. The scenery was at times spellbinding, causing some on our raft to miss important paddling instructions barked out by Philipp. On one section of high turbulence, the whitewater waves tossed one of our boatmates out into the chilly waters beside a dangerous hairpin turn against a wall of boulders. We rescued him posthaste. A great barbeque of chicken, sausage and pork on the banks of the river was a pleasant break from the paddling. For more information on this challenging activity, visit www.wasserchraft.ch.

Think of St. Moritz, and you think of the rich and famous as they flock to the area for skiing and winter sports. In fact, the tourist board has trademarked the city's name to fully protect that image.  Certainly the priciest of the cities we visited, nearly every shop seemed to us overpriced (compared to stores offering similar brands in the U.S.)  For example, a pair of summer shorts, on sale, was priced at 265 Swiss Francs (about 207 U.S. dollars)!  No name brand is worth this price. For information on the fabulous St. Moritz, visit their website at http://www.stmoritz.ch/home-002-00-en.htm.

Splendid Accommodations

Kulm HotelOur accommodations high on a hill overlooking the Lake of St. Moritz were at the classy Kulm Hotel. Typical of all four and five -star accommodations in the tourism areas of Switzerland, the top-notch hotel is open from the beginning of December to mid April and from the end of June to mid September.  Standard, Superior and Deluxe categories offer a variety of room sizes and great views. All 180 rooms and suites have color TV with cable service, satellite radio, mini bar, direct telephone and direct call, voice mail, fax and modem communications. In typical German fashion, we found the concierges were generally very helpful and friendly.  For more information, contact http://www.kulmhotel-stmoritz.ch/mainindex.html.

The Kulm, like many of the hotels in St. Moritz, is ideally located for accessing the activity centered around upscale shopping and the great restaurants. As is usual with locals and visitors alike throughout Switzerland, walking is a favorite pastime or activity, and the promenade around the Lake of St. Moritz lends itself perfectly. The newer Kempinski Grand Hotel (http://www.kempinski-stmoritz.ch/en/en/index.php) located across the lake from the Kulm offers great accommodations and easier access to the walking trails. Built in 1864 and renovated in 2002, the Kempinski Grand is reminiscent of a castle, with the mountains as a backdrop.

Lake SilsThe small town of Sils Maria is one of the most attractive communities near St. Moritz. It is truly the image of the old Switzerland, totally different than the glitz of St. Moritz. Their most famous claim is at some point in time the famous philosopher Alfred Nietsche spent time in Sils writing some of his philosophical ideas. "Now I am weightless, now I am soaring," is reportedly one of his comments, apparently influenced by the beautiful surroundings of the village.  The village has a distinct character that quickly captivates any visitor. Traditional architecture, and roads which are seemingly impassable for vehicles, create a remoteness not usually experienced in the larger cities.

In the summer, horse-drawn carriages take visitors to the beautiful Fex Valley; in the winter, the carriages become horse-drawn sleighs. Otherwise, take a leisurely walk from the town square to the Sils Lake for a truly relaxing getaway. Lake Sils is the only lake that schedules boat tours in the summer. Guests can take the scenic tour on this lake from Sils Maria via Chaste, Plaun da Lej and Isola to Maloja.

Relaxing St. Moritz Spas

Switzerland is the birthplace of Alpine Wellness, emphasizing your personal choice for physical well being. Whether it's pure pampering, healthcare or physical fitness, the philosophy is to provide relaxation and rejuvenation. And who doesn't want that as part of any vacation experience?

It's easy to experience the same pampering that the rich and famous receive in St. Moritz. Both the Hotel Kulm and the Kempinski Hotel offer exceptional spa facilities with steam and dry saunas, lap pools, fitness equipment and beauty and massage treatments.  Note-the spa facilities are sometimes adult/nude only and are open to both men and women during the daytime. Certain areas then become men-only and women-only in the late afternoon. Nobody could explain exactly why.

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The Kulm Hotel's spa is fittingly called the "Panorama Health Club & Spa" as it overlooks the beautiful Lake of St. Moritz. All guests have access to the swimming pool, whirlpool, steam bath, Hammam (dry sauna) and Solarium (tanning bed), and Steam Saunas. The Salt Water Grotto was quite unique, offering saltwater vapor with a humidity of 80-100%.  It was designed for "treatment of the respiratory tract, recommended for bronchial coughs and thermal therapy." The instructions in German are to enjoy for 20 minutes followed by a cold shower, and another 20 minutes.

The Panorama Spa also features Thalasso Therapies, which are a variety of body wraps and hydromassages based on saltwater algae, muds and temperature baths.  A private sauna is also available for exclusive personal use with advance reservations.

Kempinski Hotel SpaThe Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains St. Moritz also offers a spectacular spa experience. Originally built at the fountain of the Mauritius well, a natural spring, the hotel continues its reputation as a "wellness" destination. The huge spa facilities feature a biosauna, Finnish (dry) sauna, a Caldarium and a Laconium steam bath.  A Caldarium, (word was used as far back as the Romans in Pompeii) is a "combination of heat and moisture to stimulate circulation and cleanse the skin and respiratory tract." A Laconium is a milder version of the dry sauna, also intended to stimulate circulation and cleanse pores by promoting perspiration.  The beauty treatments feature products by Maria Galland Paris, and perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that their products shop was closed after my wonderful facial cleansing experience!

After a strenuous workout in a whitewater raft or hiking mountain trails, this is the type of comfort and relaxation you want, St. Moritz style!.

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