“St. Moritz was Switzerland’s glitziest resort before ‘glitzy’ was even a word,” said Luke Barr in Travel + Leisure. In recent years, a global onslaught of the nouveau riche has threatened to transform it into the Monte Carlo of the mountains. Badrutt’s Palace, the swankiest resort hotel in this very swanky town, is the “white-hot center of high-society socializing.” Its lobby is the place to see and be seen. The black-and-white marble corridor extends from the grand dining room to Mario’s Bar, with numerous armchairs along the way, where you can stop to contemplate views of Lake St. Moritz and the majestic Alps.
I grew up skiing in this neck of the mountains, where jet-setting European aristocrats once wintered. Yet their old-school ways seem to be slowly giving way to a “bewildering” number of new villas and condos, and fur-clad Russians now crowd the gaudy, boutique-lined streets. Yet the wide Engadine Valley outside of town is still “dotted with beautiful small towns.” The village of Pontresina is still filled with thick-walled medieval buildings, and the valley floor is ideal for cross-country skiing. This sport has always struck me as merely tedious. But here they use shorter skis and skate along “wide paths and slopes rather than a track.” It was almost like Rollerblading or ice-skating “under a grand Alpine panorama.
Some locals say that the super-rich Russians—loud, garish, party-loving—are turning St. Moritz into a hip, sexy ski town again. Others mourn the passing of “a fantastical place of refined taste and winking sinfulness.” Yet some of the best places in the region right now are also the most informal. La Baracca, a popular restaurant on the outskirts of town, is refreshingly unpretentious. Everyone crowds into this “nondescript shack”—ski bums, aristocrats, tourists, and yes, even Russians. One night, we all sat at a big table passing around pasta and wine. A man played a hand organ, and three female bartenders kept the mojitos coming. This is the kind of restaurant “where strangers talk to each other,” and it’s the future of St. Moritz.