For those of a certain age, St Moritz is synonymous with the über-cool jet-setters of the Swinging Sixties. Erstwhile playboy Gunter Sachs epitomised this hedonistic era when he married French pin-up movie star Brigitte Bardot. Gunter Sachs Lodge and The Dracula Club, overlooking the Olympic Bob Run course, are where the beautiful people still go to see and be seen.
The ‘Olympic Bob Run’ is the oldest in the world, initially created for winter guests from Great Britain who invented the sport of bobsleigh running. In 1897, the St. Moritz Bobsleigh Club was established. The track served as host to the bobsleigh events for both the 1928 and the 1948 Winter Olympics. Today it is one of the world’s best known bobsled runs, popular with both amateur and professional sports enthusiasts.
Arriving on a sunny day in late winter the place is a buzzing hive of testosterone, high-fashion and reflective sunglasses, mirroring the beautiful people at play. Men in tight-fitting jackets jam protective helmets on their heads whilst photographers jostle for the best position to get the iconic shot. There’s an air of expensive danger, jovial bonhomie and general excitement. On the sunlit terraces a sophisticated murmur of polite chat chimes with champagne glasses chinking and beer glasses clinking. Pristine snow glistens in reflected sunshine and it looks like a glossy page from Vogue magazine … So it is with red-faced embarrassment that I recall my ignominious photo-call in these hallowed environs.
I was on a Railbookers train holiday to Switzerland; the day before we had arrived at St Moritz in style on the gloriously luxurious Glacier Express and we had been taken to the prestigious Olympic Club to have a look round. In front of the run was a bobsleigh and we were invited to have our photo taken. I got into the front position, sat back for my shot – and promptly disappeared down into the very nose of the bobsleigh. And I couldn’t get out … All that was visible were my hands scrabbling to get a purchase on the slippery edge of the frame.
I got so weak laughing I was incapable of leveraging myself up. It was only when everyone had got their photos and finally stopped their hysterics that, with the help of my ‘friends’ and a couple of strapping sportsmen, I was finally hauled out, dusted off and able to pose properly for my photo.
It was fascinating watching the participants setting off on their exhilarating bobsleigh run. Every few minutes two or three people crammed themselves into a metallic cylinder and were shoved off down the world’s only natural ice run, hurtling along 1722 metres of straights and round 14 named corners at speeds of up to 135 kph, and all over in about 75 seconds.
We left this exciting Swiss playground to walk into St Moritz Town Centre and there, just round the corner, was that other famous sporting venue of the Engadin region, the Cresta Run. Started in the winter season 1884/85, it’s a men-only ‘skeleton bob’ addictive adrenalin rush spiked with danger and adventure just inches off the frozen track. (Female Journalist Lisa Grainger did manage to do the run – you can read her death-defying account of it here.)
I stayed in 5-star pampered luxury at the Kempinksi Grand Hotel des Bains, one of St Moritz’ oldest hotels and the site of the St Mauritius Spring, after which the town is named. For over 2000 years people have been drinking from this spring. In 1553 Paracelsus wrote about its medicinal benefits, recommending its health-giving waters, one of the most healing natural springs in Europe. Now situated in the Grand Hotel des Bains Spa, it is still open to the public.
I’d recommend a glass of its iron-rich water, perfect for revitalising after embarrassing photo-shoots!