Spa of the Month: Kulm Hotel, St Moritz


Everyone knows St Moritz. It’s the place where celebrities and royalty gather for their winter sports. The skiing is legendary and there are a few little extras thrown in – horse racing on the frozen lake, for isntance. But isn’t it a bit late in the ski season to be writing about it? Well, actually, no, because St Moritz has another season – summer, which oddly enough is where its tourism all began.

Johannes Badrutt was the founder of the grand Kulm Hotel (kulm means pinnacle and, at 1800m it certainly lives up to its name). His English guests came in the summer to gasp at the scenery and improve their health in the wholesome alpine air. He laid down a wager. 150 years ago he promised them that if they stayed in the winter they would enjoy the sunshine on his terrace in their shirtsleeves. If not, he said, he would reimburse their travel costs. The English guests arrived at Christmas and returned home at Easter, tanned, relaxed and happy.  Winter tourism in the Alps was born.

And, being Brits, we threw in a few sports to keep us entertained. So, St Moritz saw the first luge (like skeleton and bobsleigh) and the launch of the famous Cresta run within the Kulm’s grounds. Then there was curling, tennis in the snow, ice skating and polo on the frozen lake. And, while the Norwegians invented skiing, the Brits popularised it in the Alps.

So, you could say that the Kulm was the birthplace of Alpine tourism. Much enlarged from the original which still forms the heart of the hotel, the now palatial building stands on a hillside overlooking St Moritz lake and the mountains beyond. Even in August there is snow on the mountaintops but the sun is warm, the air is crystal clear and you can understand why those very first guests came for the summer and the lakes, the walks in the mountains and the pure local mineral waters. Somehow, this tradition has been forgotten but at the Kulm they’re reinventing it with a summer wellness package that owes as much to the extraordinary setting as to the extensive and elegant spa within the hotel.

The wellness package is based on the theme of “Water is Life.” Essentially, it teams its extensive spa overlooking the lake (huge indoor pool, heated outdoor pool, underwater massage, saunas, steam, hot tub, salt water grotto, infrared cabin, Kneipp footpath) with outdoor fitness centred on the mountains and lakes. One of the highlights was my mountain walk with Rudy (aged 77).  This was a cable car ride up the mountain to the slopes of Corvatsch followed by a steep hike up to the lakes. These are around 2600m and the air is much thinner than in sea-level London so a bit of a challenge. For Rudy it was pretty much a walk in the park (he and his wife like climbing and mountain biking for 50km a day – I didn’t ask how old she was). Once up at the top, though, I seemed to acclimatise and we walked (and picnicked) around a series of six lakes, with a backdrop of the mountaintops and glaciers.

If you want to be out of the city and into nature, this is hard to beat. It’s silent except for the sound of the wind, the occasional bird and the slightly flat clanging sound of cow bells. Water makes the most noise – lots of hurtling mountain streams – and Rudy insists this is the best water in the world, certainly better than anything you’ll find in a bottle. I even saw a marmot.

I got back at 3pm and had a massage booked for 5. Never in my life did I feel I’d earned one more. Janet, my therapist, explained the idea behind the Kulm signature massage. “It’s all about rebalancing, left and right, soft and strong, yin and yang. It’s like a wave,” she said. It was. There was a lot of stretching and my arms and legs felt slightly longer by the end. There was quite strong pressure when Janet used her forearms and her weight but other moments when the touch was so soft it was almost imperceptible. She lifted my limbs to gently let gravity soften the tension and there were other movements that felt like my arms had become a pendulum and my fingers were being milked (must be a Swiss thing). She used hot oil – and plenty of it – scented with rose and citrus. It was not only wonderfully relaxing, it seemed to do the trick with any muscular aches and pains that had magically vanished.

The next day I met Reto Zuan in the nearby village of Sils, from where we took the highest timetabled boat in Europe to cross Lake Sils first to Ostia and the waterfall, then around the island where Nietzsche strolled and was, unusually for him, it seems, happy. Who wouldn’t be? The water here is an emerald green and the banks are covered in wild flowers. There are outdoor concerts on the lake in the summer and skating and cross-country skiing in the winter. Lunch is on the lake with fish straight from the water. Later, it’s sailing on Lake St Moritz, calm and sunny with wonderful views of the most glamorous of alpine towns. There are plenty of other watery activities – stand-up paddling, kite surfing, windsurfing and a few brave souls even swim in the decidedly chilly waters of the lake.

My evening treat today is a spa bath. A carafe of blue-green milky liquid is poured into the water – herbal alpine essences and it’s a powerful, positively heady smell. Then I lie there and soak as the hydro massage begins targeting the areas likely to hold tension, starting at the feet and the back of the legs, then along the sides of the legs, up to the lower back and finally the upper back, shoulders and arms. All very relaxing.

As is the Kulm itself. For a palace hotel, it has a particularly laid-back atmosphere and the staff are all endlessly helpful and charming. There are five restaurants each with their own specialities. The food here is not conventional spa food – though the breakfast buffet does feature Bircher muesli – only right given it’s a Swiss invention. My first dinner in the Grand Restaurant featured artichoke soup and entrecote, all served with delicious wines including Swiss ones – yes, they do exist. But with all that activity I deserved it, right?

The summer evenings are as relaxed or busy as you like. While I was there, there was a circus, a jazz festival and show jumping – so something pretty much for everyone. And it all adds to the feeling that this is a holiday as much as a programme. But as a programme it does work.  You can’t help but feel relaxed in this fresh, pure air and your energy is naturally boosted up in the mountains or out on the lakes. So this is a programme that works in tandem with nature. It’s not gym healthy, maybe it’s an antidote to it. Think elemental healthy and try it.

For more information on the Kulm’s summer package details, visit

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