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ST MORITZ sticks out like a sore thumb. Seemingly plopped down unceremoniously amidst the quiet villages of the Engadine – although, of course, it was here long before they were, a spa as far back as the Bronze Age – St Moritz is a brassy, in-your-face reminder of the world beyond the high valley walls, the kind of place that gives money a bad name. For a century or more, it’s been the prime winter retreat of the international jetset, who over the years have created a mini-Manhattan of Vuitton and Armani in this stunningly romantic setting of forest, lake and mountains. When the tourist office trumpets St Moritz’s “champagne climate”, they don’t necessarily mean the sparkling sunshine – although there’s plenty of that as well, 322 days of it a year on average. And yet the town itself is neither cosmopolitan, attractive nor graceful; its ski-slopes engaging but – compared with Davos or the Jungfrau – generally undemanding. What St Moritz has that no other resort has is the name, and that glisters better than gold, enough for the tourist board to make it a patented registered trademark so that no one else can touch it. Presidents and princes, Hollywood starlets, nobility and nouveaux riches clamour to be associated with St Moritz, and the place gladly responds, turning on the razzle all winter long with a endless round of banquets, celebrations and spectacles centred around the frozen Lej da San Murezzan lake, including horse racing, polo and even cricket on ice. Summer is downtime, when the hoi polloi arrive to hike and relax in the sunshine. The range of sports and activities on offer both in winter and summer is vast, but despite the hype there’s not much sense of adventure – all that money tends to get in the way. The final, mortal blow is that the Swiss themselves turn their backs on St Moritz: less than a third of the town’s visitors are locals. Like Leicester Square in London or Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, it’s good to see St Moritz … but it’s a relief to get away.
St Moritz (©_Switzerland Tourism)