When the going gets tough, those with the wherewithal find comfort in star-spangled accommodations. Swiss Style found a little gem in that Swiss hub of high-end catering, St. Moritz.
It will be cold, I was warned, very cold. And this was no hollow admonition. Arriving in the Engadine Valley township of St. Moritz for the annual “White Turf,” a unique top-class event with exciting horse-racing, I was welcomed by freezing temperatures and bright sunshine.
The event is not just an opportunity for champagne on ice for the rich and beautiful but an annual meeting for race-horse owners, trainers and jockeys from all over the world. And, of course, it is a must-do fixture on the calendar for the locals. St. Moritz is the alpine resort where winter sport and tourism were founded and it was here that, almost 100 years ago, a couple of enterprising sports enthusiasts invented a brand new equestrian pastime on the frozen lake of St. Moritz: skijoring. Nowhere else in the world do thoroughbred horses regularly compete without riders on their backs but instead with skiers in tow.
The Siberian temperatures could not be ignored, even with generous doses of the de rigueur bubbly. So no sooner had the Earl of Winds won the main race in front of 10,000 spectators, I decided to beat a hasty retreat to my digs: the Giardino Mountain hotel in Champfèr, a few kilometres outside St. Moritz. The hotel, part of the Tessin-based Giardino Hotel Group, is an example of what one might call “Alpine chic”, a style that is both contemporary and fresh. Giardino Mountain, formerly the resort hotel Chesa Guardalej, was completely refurbished to the tune of CHF 20 million and then some, and re-opened its doors in December last year. 78 spacious rooms and suites await the patron, plus top-notch restaurants and a full-service wellness and beauty treatment centre.
The transformation was undertaken by a team of architects from bofor design in Thun, Bachhuber-Geissinger in Munich and Hinzer Architektur in Champfèr under the attentive scrutiny of Philippe and Daniela Frutiger, CEOs of the Giardino Hotel Group.The designers embraced the link to the original Engadine architecture of the original resort by preserving the grandeur of the facade on the main building, first documented in 1718 and obviously under monument protection. Some hotel designers go to great lengths to create congenial, cosy environments. The Frutigers and their design team decided it was time to come up with a fresh interpretation of the Alpine soul and a quaint, cosy at-home feeling.
Philippe Frutiger avoided the trap of design for design’s sake. Instead, he decided to focus on the individuals who come to the Giardino. This translates as creating the feeling of wholehearted care for his guests. “Ideally,” Frutiger says, “I would like our guests to head for home not only with images of an inviting environment, an exceptional meal and a great spa, but more importantly with the sense that they were taken care of by our employees.” Pertinent comment from a seasoned hotelier that echoes what a seasoned traveller recently muttered after leaving a 5-star establishment in Hong Kong: “I can do without an army of people sucking up and asking ‘How are you?’ But the person who welcomes you should know your name, and if you have ordered a taxi at 8 am, it should be there.”
Business behind the business
One of the strategies Giardino has adopted in order to assure personnel quality control is assuring year-long contractual relationships. “We go the extra mile to keep our employees along with us for the long-run,” Philippe Frutiger explains. “It is a pertinent way to hold on to well-trained collaborators from within our group by offering them positions when our Tessin hotels are closed for the season and vice versa.” You can’t put just anybody behind the desk, says Frutiger. Language skills and technical skills are important. You have to be able to deliver what the expensive furniture promises. Giardino Mountain also caters to those travellers who enjoy originality, even in hotel rooms, lobbies, restaurants and spas. The boutique, design and lifestyle niche has traditionally been a stronghold of the Group. More importantly, Philippe Frutiger believes that we are at the dawn of a new age in travel and hospitality, not necessarily adaptable to the heavyweights of the industry. “We are a privately held company and are growing organically as hotel owners as well as hospitality management providers and at this stage, we can still provide a more thoughtful and deliberate comfort zone… the personal touch, so sought after by our guests.”
The hotel features not one, but three restaurants. Head chef Markus Rose pampers his guests in the evenings in the main restaurant, the Ristorante Guardalej, with creations from modern Mediterranean cuisine. The Stüva, a traditional Engadine restaurant, serves more traditional fare for lunch and dinner. The third, exclusive dining area, the Ecco on Snow, is the hotel’s culinary Shangri-la, as it were. Chef Rolf Fliegauf cooked his way to two Michelin stars at the Giardino Ascona’s Ristorante Ecco and during the winter season he and his entire team put in an extraordinary guest appearance in Champfèr. During my visit to the Ecco, Chef Rolf produced a seven course menu de dégustation, featuring an exquisite Bresse pigeon with salsify and cocoa and Grison black angus beef accompanied with Jerusalem artichoke and Perigord truffle… an inspiration for well-travelled gourmets. And because the eye also needs nourishment, the walls at the Ecco are decorated with sgrafittos created by the celebrated local artist Steivan Könz. The touch of humour is one of the leitmotivs in this special spot where the old meets the new in a display of congeniality.
Nuts and bolts
The interior of the hotel complex, spread out over six buildings, and beautiful antique wood ceilings have been painstakingly restored and partially rebuilt. The reception, lobby bar lounge, restaurants, spa, coiffeur, wellness and fitness area as well as the popular sports shop were all given a new, contemporary look. The rooms and suites were redesigned with a loving eye for detail. In addition, family comfort was given much thought to and more space was created for the children’s area and a new area for teenagers was designed.
For more information on the Giardino Hotel Group, visit www.giardinogroup. ch
Article by John François Béguin