The Ice Palace by Irina von Gagern | 24th November, 2017 | Personalities
Suvretta House in St. Moritz is the embodiment of discreet charm. A traditional establishment, its tranquil luxury has been enjoyed by generations of families for over 100 years. Fancy spending Christmas here? You’ll need to be patient, as the waiting list is long. This is due largely to the signature style of the founder, whose family still runs the hotel.
“You’re going to Suvretta House?” The eyes of the elderly lady sitting opposite me light up instantly and she starts reminiscing about her first skiing lessons with the hotel’s own instructor, hot cocoa in front of the open fireplace in the lobby and romping through the corridors with many friends from all over the world. The baroness from southern Germany is 70 and still comes to the legendary grand hotel in the Swiss mountains every year at the same time – now with her children and grandchildren. Today, it’s her grandchildren who romp through the hotel, often with the grandchildren of her friends from all those many years ago. Suvretta House sits like a gigantic fairy-tale castle on a high plateau, close enough to brush the clouds and only a few kilometers outside St. Moritz. The hotel set a new benchmark when hotelier Anton Bon opened it in 1912: with 250 bedrooms and 110 “private” bathrooms it offered unheard-of luxury. When Bon first announced his plans for a new hotel on a green slope, he was greeted with general disapproval and incredulity. In those days, people wanted to build hotels at the heart of the village: The luxury hotels Kulm and Palace, both of which are still thriving, are located in the center of St. Moritz. But Bon was a visionary, and he believed that the future of tourism lay in being close to nature. He wanted his guests to have the opportunity to spend their holidays surrounded by flowering Alpine meadows or slopes thickly covered with snow – but without having to forgo their customary luxurious lifestyle. “Today, it is the location with the spectacular view that makes Suvretta House so very special,” says Martin Candrian, the great-grandson of Anton Bon. He’s quite right. Sunk in the embrace of one of the large armchairs, you can enjoy afternoon tea with English scones and sandwiches, and let your gaze wander over the snow-capped tops of the fir trees. The sunset bathes the scene in a lush, rosy light. There isn’t another house to be seen. No crowds, no noise, no bustle – just pure serenity and relaxation. This may be just why Thomas Mann loved Suvretta House so much. And King Farouk of Egypt. And the Shah of Persia with his family, the Crown Prince of Japan (the present Emperor) and Evita Perón.
“It is the location with the spectacular view
that makes Suvretta House so special.”
Martin Candrian, Great-Grandson of the Founder
The list of famous people who chose to return year in, year out, to spend their vacations at Suvretta House is long. In the 1920s, the hotel would proudly publish their guest lists in the Engadin Express & Alpine Post; Prince Nicholas of Romania is named, as are the Reemtsma, Gerling and Stinnes families, all representatives of business aristocracy. In contrast, Suvretta House now carefully protects the names of its visitors: “Our guests value our discretion,” says hotel director Peter Egli. “People come to us to enjoy privacy, and not necessarily to be seen.” Suvretta House is the embodiment of the wonderful English concept of understatement. The service is impeccable and supremely discreet, the guests – many of whom have known each other for decades – are elegant and relaxed. Anyone hoping to spend Christmas here will need to book well in advance, as the waiting list is very long. When you finally make it to the top of the list you are required to book for a minimum stay of at least two weeks and reach deep into your pocket. A standard room is available for 950 euros per night, prices for suites start from 4,500 euros, including half-board. Not that this is in any way a deterrent for regulars at Suvretta House. And where there are loyal guests, there is also loyal staff. Maître d’Hôtel Marco Pavesi has been working at Suvretta House for 27 years, and now heads a team of 70 waiters. In the Grand Restaurant, which features the original lavishly carved ceiling dating back to 1912, the strict dress code stipulates a tie and suit. “We are one of the few hotels in St. Moritz who still have this dress code for the evening,” says Pavesi with obvious pride. Even boys have to wear a jacket and tie.
“People come to us to enjoy
privacy, and not necessarily to be seen.”
Peter Egli, Hotel Director
Many guests come from warmer climates, and when they return home, they leave their fur coats or evening dress at the hotel in the very competent hands of Esther Egli, the hotel director’s wife. On the very top floor there is a large walk-in wardrobe where these valuable items are carefully stored in garment bags. She is the only person who has a key, and she personally supervises the guests’ belongings. Some visitors leave their ski equipment here, too, and return the following year to find their ski boots waiting for them in their own cupboard in the basement, and their evening gowns, tuxedos and furs hanging, ready to wear, in their room. When Anton Bon opened the hotel on December 16, 1912, skiing had not yet become the popular sport it is now. Only a few daring souls would venture onto wooden boards and hurtle down to the valley – after first having spent hours getting up the mountain. Ice skating and curling were the popular choices then, and Bon built an ice rink and a curling sheet for his guests. To the mellifluous sound of waltzes played by the Caligari Orchestra, elegant couples would gracefully skate in the brilliant sunshine. In fact, they still do, albeit without the orchestra, which has long since gone; instead, mulled wine and hot punch are served by the side of the rink. To keep the ice in immaculate condition, Suvretta House employs a dedicated ice master: day and night, Alessandro Domenighini ensures that the ice is thick and smooth enough for perfect skating. In 1935, Suvretta House built one of the very first ski lifts in Switzerland, and the hotel remains the only one in St. Moritz with direct access to the ski area: one of the Corviglia runs ends right outside the hotel’s doorstep. The hotel’s own ski school with 120 instructors is open to both guests and visitors.
Suvretta House also has two off-site restaurants. High up, at over 2,200 meters and next to the ski lift mountain station, the Trutz mountain restaurant is popular with skiers and hikers. Actor Rupert Everett is an ardent fan of owner Sylvia Jeuch’s homemade cake. Down in the valley there is Chasellas, a simple inn that serves traditional fare during the daytime but which, in the evening, turns into a gourmet temple. Here, the CEOs of German DAX enterprises rub shoulders with Swiss publishers, French skiing aces and English aristocrats, all savoring the delectable creations of starred chef Steven Müller. Regardless of their nationality, all the guests of Suvretta House share one characteristic: the serenity of people who no longer need to mention the word “money.” Anyone who wants to pop Champagne corks is better off in nearby St. Moritz, as there is neither an audience nor a scrap of understanding for such antics up here. All that counts at Suvretta House is relaxation and enjoyment of the good things in life, which is exactly as Anton Bon envisaged it over 100 years ago.