Friday, February 23, 2024
HometravelA breath of fresh mountain air

A breath of fresh mountain air

It is not often that one finds oneself in the Swiss Alps, but in case you do, I have you covered. A comfortable train ride from Zurich Airport, a quick change at Chur and I find myself aboard a train on a Unesco World heritage ride through the Swiss Alps enroute to St Mortiz. Though Cresta Palace is one stop before the last, St Moritz, at Celerina, it is a mere five-minute drive to the swank alpine resort town.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Celerina, often referred to as the “ballroom of the alps” is a small town and its train station is the epitome of quaint and quiet, though I was there in October, which is usually low season before the ski and snow rush begins. It is one of the best times to visit the alps if you’re not there for the “powder”. Your bags can be picked up by car, but I highly recommend doing the five minute stroll to the historic hotel. It is best time to get a feel of the town and breathe in the fresh mountain air.

Celerina was established in 1820, though you’d never think it. The stroll will also get you acquainted with the history of the town and hotel, which was built in 1906. The building is slightly majestic-looking from the outside, with its quaint Juliet balconies attached to some of the rooms. Enter the grounds, and you’re in a lovely garden, which is home to a lounge chairs, a good place to soak up the sun, if the outdoor balcony doesn’t do it for you.

A cute little fixture right outside the front door is the Microlino, Switzerland’s own e-bubble car, with enough space for two people a three beer crates. This e-car can be taken for a spin around the block, should you wish to try it out. The front grounds is also home to a sleek Tesla, which can be used for picnics in the alps.

STAYING IN

As soon as you enter, the grandeur of the place is obvious. With the hotel’s beautiful staircase and carpet, the 2022 refurbishment stands out. The art nouveau building has 90 guest rooms, a wellness world of 1200m2, a library and a “staziun da basa” or “competence centre” for outdoor sporting activities. The hotel has three restaurants, one of which was opened during the pandemic and remains very popular with the locals.

Breakfast is at the all-day dining restaurant, aptly named Grand Restaurant. The grandeur of the restaurant is akin to a ballroom with big windows offering sunny views of the mountains (on clear days), the train chugging along in the distance and on a bright day, the cable car leading up to the ski lifts. It’s an ample buffet spread for breakfast and you are rather spoilt for choice here. Though, I would insist on trying the various jams and spreads, especially those that are local. The cheese, ooh the cheese, is also a must as are the yoghurts and bread. There is an a la carte breakfast menu to order off from, in case the buffet doesn’t grab your fancy.

Outside Grand restaurant is a large sitting room of sorts, with a grand piano. It is here that a pianist will serenade you in the late afternoon well into the evening, while you enjoy the complimentary cake buffet from 3-5pm. If dining at the Grand in the evenings, do order the chestnut soup, since they are in season during the autumn and you’ll find them all over the country. The other wing is home to the Italian restaurant, Giacomo’s Ristorante, which reminded me of a log cabin up in the mountains. Fitting for where I was. The restaurant serves refined Italian cuisine and I highly recommend ordering the Braised veal cheeks with saffron risotto and baby vegetables.

I will always save the best for the last and the absolute surprise at Cresta Palace is its Asian restaurant, named Asia 75, housed in the greenhouse or glasshouse… would there be any other place. But it is at Asia 75, whose has two Thai chefs in its kitchen, where you can include in the comforts of home and by that I mean for us who live in Asia. The epitome of a good Thai restaurant is not even having to order phrik nam pla, which is a classic condiment that accompanies every Thai dish, it is already on the table, along with chilli vinegar, sugar and chilli flakes. Could you ask for more? Yes!

I was pleasantly surprised to find a spanking Phad krapao gai on the menu, as well as tom ka goong, a Thai beef salad and a beef green curry. Chefs Neng Boppart and Pricha Chanthon not only showcase their culinary prowess but have also put their passions into the dishes. In traditional style, rice is served along with the meal and all your Asian, rice and chilli cravings will be fulfilled here. Who would’ve thought that Thai would be the soul satisfying meal in the Swiss Alps?!

Vita Pura Spa takes up an entire half floor and for good reason. Not only is it home to an indoor swimming pool, that is kept at a constant temperature of 29C, it also offers a steam and sauna, gym and massages galore. Since the pool opens at 7am, it is a great way to get says few laps in before the day begins. Do ask for Peruvian therapist Silvana Schmidt simply because she managed to give me the most blissful back massage in 30 minutes, and I live in the land of massages!

GOING OUT

There are plenty of activities in and around the hotel, Switzerland is all about the outdoors. The hotel has mountain bikes for hire should you want to go on a two-wheeled journey. Or you can always borrow the Tesla or the e-car.

Since the bus stop is right outside the hotel, hop on it and in 10 minutes you’ll be in St Moritz, for a spot of shopping or a hot chocolate at Cafe Hanselmann. You could also visit the Segantini Museum for a bit of art and culture. The plus is that the museum has an astonishing views of the lake, mountains and the most spectacular upper floor. That is all I’ll say.

Though the one best thing to do in Celerina is the Muottas Muragl Bahn or ride the funicular up the mountain. The first funicular in the Engadine Valley, which dates back to 1907, takes its passengers more than 700m to Punt Muragl (2,454m) and has the most breathtaking views of Engadine, St Moritz, Piz Palü and Piz Bernina. There’s a hotel and restaurant, should you want to spend the night and do the walking trails. There is no skiing in the winter, but there is tobogganing.

In the winter, the ski lifts are just five minutes from the hotel and Celerina is such a pretty little town, it is worth walking around with no agenda in mind.

FINAL VERDICT

A stunning location in a beautiful village offering mountain views from every room, Cresta Palace Hotel has modern comforts with old-school charm and friendly staff. Is there any better way to holiday in the Swiss alps?

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