The Engadine region holds a very special place in the history of skiing and winter tourism, with much being written about St. Moritz and how the British fell in love with the area. One hotel that stands out in this history is the Grand Hotel Kronenhof Pontresina. Way back in 1848 Andreas Gredig bought the Gasthaus Rössli inn and gave it to his son Lorenz to run. Over the years and through the various generations the ‘guest house-turned hotel’ expanded and developed until 1898 when the building was finally developed into the horseshoe-shaped, three-wing structure with grand forecourt that one can visit today. The fact that this was a guest house as far back as 1848 means that this is possibly one of the first Alpine accommodations servicing the tourist industry, and the sense of history is certainly palpable when exploring the hotel. Despite some extensive renovations in the 2000’s this landmark neo-baroque hotel has kept hold of its classic good looks and still lives up to the grandeur of its heyday; walking from the bar to the lounge and through to the dining room is like walking back in time with each step. The Hotel managed to survive some big events over the years, two world wars stopped people visiting from outside of Switzerland but on these occasions wine saved the day, a wine shop set up in the cellar for Veltliner wines served as an invaluable store that provided a source of income for the family along with stabling for the horses that transported the wines over the Bernina Pass. Luckily the Winter Olympics was twice hosted by St. Moritz in 1928 and 1948 which brought the international tourists back to the area each time.
The Grand Hotel Kronenhof is situated in the historic mountain village of Pontresina up at 1805 metres above sea level and only 6km from St. Moritz. The village was important as it was the final main stop on the journey over the Bernina Pass past the towering Piz Bernina of 4049 metres towards the Italian speaking Val Poschiavo, which ends in the Italian town of Tirano in Valtellina. Pontresina and the Grand Hotel Kronenhof have a very different atmosphere to that of St. Moritz; the village has a slower pace of life offering peace and quiet; it feels closer to nature than many resorts as the hotel is situated right on the edge of Pine and Larch woodland and the very high and wild Alpine peaks are ever present in the background. The nearest skiing is just 10km on the local bus or car to the two ski areas of Diavolezza and Lagalb, with outstanding high mountains views, beautiful long winding pistes and very few people on the mountain, this is quite a unique location and certainly one of our favourite haunts to ski. The British have been coming to ski in the area for some time, in fact the hotel has a collection of old wooden skis along with name tags left by regular tourists from Britain; recently the Hotel offered present day descendants the opportunity to visit and pick up their old relative’s skis, a truly beautiful piece of Alpine history.
Now when it comes to fine dining The Grand Hotel Kronenhof delivers in style. We climbed the steps and received a very warm welcome as we entered the ‘Grand Restaurant’, once again it is like walking into a time gone by of romance and grand luxury. Firstly we were struck by the stunning 1901 ceiling frescos by artist Otto Haberer. The Bernese artist has depicted the various characters of the seasons as beautiful female goddesses; with the colours of spring, summer, autumn and winter, these lovely ladies adorning the 1872 vaulted ceiling look on as the folk down below were enjoy their evening of culinary delights in the neo-baroque surroundings. There was a ceremony about the whole experience; the pianist on his grand piano, the white table service like that of the grand ships of the early 1900s, the attention to detail was sublime and the calm flare or our French waiter Massimiliano was certainly welcoming. The Italian chef had prepared a delightful dinner experience, starting with such delights as Risotto with red radicchio and beef consomme with cappelletti and parma ham. The chicken with duck liver and truffle served with morel sauce had a more simple, rustic French feel, truly delicious, whilst Cheeky’s roasted turbot with Champagne caviar sauce was flaky and meaty at the same time with subtle but unique flavours. The very inventive banana gratin with crunchy monkey ice cream was filling but spectacular whilst the Bolivia 68% herb garden was delicate yet delicious, suffice to say we left very happy with satiated bellies and souls to boot. Dining in the Grand Restaurant is certainly one experience that should not be missed, dress up and let yourself be transported to a bygone era.
The 2,000 square metre spa centres around a very distinct 20 metre infinity pool with expansive windows and views of the Engadine mountains and local forest, this view is sublime. The adjacent spa pool with its various massaging water jets provides much muscle relief. I particularly loved the adult’s spa area, from the relaxing floatation room with its underwater music, stay in here for a while and lose yourself; the saltwater grotto and various saunas and steam rooms, there is even a ‘Ladies only’ spa area. Make sure you attend one of the Sauna sessions with the sauna specialist; utilising various herbs and aromas she will push the heat and humidity up with essence infused snowballs, spreading the aromas around the sauna with the flick of a towel. The session culminates with a barefoot walk through the snow, to really wake up the soul.
For me history and heritage are very important, it tells us where we have been and why we are who we are today; we can easily take it for granted but certainly not at the Grand Hotel Kronenhof Pontresina which has heritage in spades. This hotel is one of the reasons why we ski, why we like to holiday in the harshest season of the year. Whilst global climate is changing and glaciers are receding world over it is amazing to see that experiments are taking place amongst the surrounding glaciers of Pontresina that are resulting in the growth of ice! Once again a first, there must be something special about this place. Despite Grand Hotel Kronenhof Pontresina being situated away from the normal beaten track it has access to one of my personal favourite and very quiet areas to ski – Diovalezza. The atmosphere is very different from most ski resorts and the antithesis of local St. Moritz, and for this it holds a special place in my heart, certainly a place I would return to again and again. I wonder if I could convince them to relive the days of old and let me stay for the whole winter with my wooden skis, to prove that winter in the mountains is far better than a winter spent in England.
Grand Hotel Kronenhof Pontresina
Via Maistra 130,