Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called the 65-mile-long Engadin Valley “the cradle of all silver tones,” and even in high summer the peaks of the Swiss Alps gleam like coins above bright glaciers and crystalline lakes. Here are a dozen tiny towns, including Saint Moritz, of charming old houses with foot-wide walls, colorful frescoes and carved doors, all refreshed by fir-scented air. In the valley capital of Samedan sits the region’s oldest hotel, Hotel Bernina 1865 Engadina Metaresort. After a $26 million infusion from new owners and Italian hotelier Ora, the 55-room landmarked building is meetings-ready.
Manager Gerard Kaspar greeted us in a warm lobby full of handmade laces, antique desks, and a wheelbarrow full of bright red geraniums.
“We took over this summer and the hotel is fantastic. Just 5 miles from glamorous Saint Moritz, here you get the quiet you need, the beauty, and the real Swiss feel.”
In 48 spacious double rooms, the vibe starts with fairytale views. They’ve added downy bedding, flawless WiFi and playful Swiss art. Oversized marble bathrooms have Jacuzzis with therapeutic lights—disco tub! And the top floor is now comprised of seven 1,700-sf apartments featuring original wood and totally mod kitchens.
For small meetings, we liked the 600-sf room outfitted with regional antiques like the vase filled with hand-carved walking sticks. But check out the 2,460-sf Sala Grande’s crystal chandeliers, arched windows and loads of natural light.
“People are drawn to the room because of the views and old European style,” says Gerhard. “Things happen here!”
Things like inspiration—the 270-degree view is jaw-dropping—and of course, the food. Breakfasts have real elegance with local cheeses and yogurts worth writing home about.
Locals love 110-pax Pizzeria Bernina, so reserve ahead for wood-oven fare. From the 3-page pizza menu, our fave was the arugula/local mushroom thin crust. As at most Engadin eateries, save room for truly fresh ice cream.
For free time, remember the walking sticks. A tourist HQ across from the hotel provides fantastically clear maps for once-in-a-lifetime hikes. A nearby ski lift leads to great off-season treks. You can ramble around the chain of Engadin lakes, windsurf them in summer, or snow-kite (invented here) in winter. For the best panorama, with close ups of the glacier at its source, take the gondola up the 10,387-ft Corvatsch. From here you can, yes, hike another 160 yards to the very top. Or just enjoy soup, cheese and apfelstrudel with wine in the station restaurant while gasping at the mountains.
Long before skiing was a sport, posh types came to this region to take the waters. Gerhard is planning a “Wellness Spa” on the hotel’s ground floor, with Turkish bath, Finnish sauna, and five treatment rooms. Just up the main road in Samedan, Allegra Mineralbad has garnered headlines for its “vertical” take on Roman bathing rituals. Their private calcium-rich well fills five baths and steams on three floors for a progressive bath of varying temperatures in richly tiled rooms. Once we reached the warm rooftop pool beneath the landmarked church and with a mountain view, we wanted to start all over again.
Getting there is half the fun. From Zurich, it’s two trains—and you can set your watch by them—through tunnels, bridges and gorges along the glacier to Saint Moritz. Unesco recently marked parts of the 3 1/2-hour ride as a World Heritage Site, honoring the rail’s amazing mountainview design. In high summer, ensure your share of Alpine breezes in an open-air Aussichtwagons.