By Dick Michaux, Guest Blogger
When checking into the Hotel Walther in Pontresina, I asked about renting a car to explore the area around St Moritz and to drive to hiking trails. I was admonished gently by the clerk telling me that all travel around this area was accomplished by bus and train and that I would have no need for a car. I thought how different traveling like this would be. We’d have to learn schedules and bus and train numbers and routes and be on time.
The train rides into St Moritz from either Zurich or Zermatt are among the most scenic in Europe. Our ride from Zurich passed over a beautiful World Heritage Bridge. So we weren’t too unhappy with the thought of taking the train, we just didn’t realize it would be so soon.
My wife, Ginny, and I studied the schedules and trails and determined our first trail would be to hike to the foot of the Morteratsch glacier. During breakfast we met another couple who were on their seventh trip to Hotel Walther and would escort us to the glacier. After a 1 ½ hr hike we came to a cute restaurant and ducked in for a beverage before hiking the 45 minutes to the glacier.
The Morteratsch Glacier has retreated well over a mile the last century with the pace accelerating the past few decades to now over 100’/yr. When we returned the weather was turning so, guess what, we took the train which we made with only a minute to spare.
The Hotel Walther is located 9 kilometers from St Moritz. We headed there the next day to take in the sights and shopping in St Moritz then play golf in Zuoz, 11 km away. The legendary Palace Hotel in St Moritz overlooks the lake and takes one back over a century with a gallery of the rich and famous who have vacationed there. Tony shopping abounds alongside ski shops and other vacation lodgings.
But the St Moritz Lake is the focal point of views and activity. The lake is surrounded by high mountains topped with snow and glaciers. It had snowed 2” the night before so the mountain scenery was spectacular. Golf was scenic and fun, but not world class. It took a combination of buses and trains to do it all. By the end of the day we were transportation experts and happy to not be driving.
Our next few days were absorbed with hikes and exploring the three towns that surround St Moritz, each with an unique personality. Our longest hike, eight miles, was led by the hotel’s guide. After seeing how it was done, we hiked on our own after that. Basically, one takes a cable car or lift from the valley floor up to a restaurant where the hiking starts. You can then hike for a long distance only gaining or losing several hundred feet until you download to the valley on the same type of conveyance.
You could hike higher and/or hike down to the valley floor if you seek more challenge. But, for us, it was sublime to be high on a mountain enjoying the spectacular scenery without the extra effort.
And every hour or so there is another restaurant so you don’t have to carry food. The trails are well marked and give one a sense of how much time it takes to get to the next trail or lift.
We have vacationed in Switzerland before and were expecting the same brusque reception from the locals but found a friendly reception around St Moritz. I guess taking the buses and trains puts one into the “locals” category since everyone seems to travel that way.
We didn’t dent the surface of the trails available. We will be back to enjoy more train, bus and lift rides to the most scenic, joyful hiking for the effort we have ever experienced.