Switzerland – Fact Check

The gamble that made St Moritz famous

Switzerland started celebrating 150 years of winter tourism in 2014, with St. Moritz considered its birthplace. In 1864, hotelier Johannes Badrutt invited a few English summer guests to return for winter, saying he would pay their travel expenses if they did not enjoy it.

Photo by Christof Sonderegger / Alamy

Switzerland – Fact Check

The gamble that made St Moritz famous

The lake resort of St Moritz is the ultimate in chic. For this it can thank Johannes Badrutt, a hotelier, who struck a wager with four Englishmen staying with him during a summer spent climbing in the Bernina range.

Minty Clinch
Minty Clinch Travel Writer

As their thoughts turned towards home in September 1864, the enterprising Badrutt had an idea. “Come back at Christmas," he said. “If you don’t find the mountains equally agreeable in winter, I’ll pay your fares and put you up for nothing.” He won his gamble: St. Moritz claims 300 days of sunshine a year, many of them blue sky perfection with the frozen lake sparkling in the clear air. Not surprisingly, the four Englishmen were hooked.

No one has ever been able to name that quartet of aristocrats, but there is no disputing the Badrutt legacy in St. Moritz 150 years later. The two-story wooden pension Badrutt rented in 1856 and bought in 1868 is now a corner of the Kulm Hotel, a behemoth with 173 rooms and the spa and gastronomy required for five-star status in 21st century Switzerland.

“This is the original front door,” says deputy manager Jean-Jacques Baur, as we tread the creaking 19th century floorboards. “As you can see, it’s designed to admit a horse-drawn sleigh.” Somber portraits of Johannes and his equally formidable wife, Maria, emphasize the determination they passed on to the dynasty that followed. The family no longer own the Kulm but they still control the sumptuous Badrutt’s Palace, built on a neighboring bluff above the lake by their son Casper in the 1890s.

St. Moritz sits at 1,856 meters above sea level in the Engadin Valley, just north of Graubunden's...

St. Moritz sits at 1,856 meters above sea level in the Engadin Valley, just north of Graubunden's highest peak, Piz Bernina. At just over 4,000 meters high, it is the fifth highest peak in the Alps and marks the furthest extent of the drainage basin for the River Danube. Photo by Christof Sonderegger / Alamy

Christof Sonderegger

Christof Sonderegger

Agency
Alamy

St. Moritz sits at 1,856 meters above sea level in the Engadin Valley, just north of Graubunden's highest peak, Piz Bernina. At just over 4,000 meters high, it is the fifth highest peak in the Alps and marks the furthest extent of the drainage basin for the River Danube.