The Swiss are known for their hospitality as much as their timekeeping and St Moritz has done more than most to welcome year-round visitors. In 1864 hotelier Johannes Badrutt at the Kulm Hotel was so confident of the resort's winter charms he encouraged his regular British summer guests to visit then. If they did not enjoy sparkling, sunny days, he'd return their money.
St Moritz is now busiest in winter and Badrutt's name is celebrated in the star-studded Badrutt Palace Hotel built by his son, Caspar. Set between Milan and Zurich and four hours from Lake Como, St Moritz is Switzerland's most expensive and celebrity-centric resort. Verbier gets the younger skiing and partying crowd, while Gstaad is home to Euro-royalty. But for star spotting in the worlds of business, film and architecture, St Moritz wins.
A very British resort
One thing the British did was introduce their own eccentric sports — skeleton and bobsleigh on the notorious Cresta Run and polo on the vast frozen lake.
While the narrow streets are lined with much the same retail names as London's Bond Street, the charm and reputation of St Moritz and its mix of solid stone buildings and striking modern design — for example, Sir Norman Foster's egg shaped Chesa Futura apartments — keep the global elite coming back. "People have an idea of Switzerland," says Oli Stastny, estate agent Aylesford International's new go-to man there. "They think it is cheese fondue, chocolate and chalets, but it's so much more.
"St Moritz has leading design and style, world-class hotels — and chief executives tell me they do more business over Christmas and new year there than at any other time of the year."
If you want to be part of that business crowd enjoying Swiss financial stability, you need deep pockets. St Moritz homes start at £2,400 a square foot, rapidly passing £6,500, well beyond London prices. And buying property is almost impossible for anyone without Swiss residency or a suitable work permit. "Even foreigners who can buy are often restricted to property under 2,422sq ft," says Aylesford International chairman Andrew Langton.
"Our clients want space and privacy so the rental market is very active. Fully staffed, five-bedroom homes in prime positions overlooking the lake rent from £47,500 a week."
Rented luxury guaranteed
The Kulm, a bastion of class and grandeur with its new £8 million spa, faces south-west across the lake, the prime views undoubtedly a big part of its appeal. It offers modern one- to three bedroom flats of 538sq ft to 2,422sq ft for long-tem rental over five years, from £37,300 a year. With access to the hotel's fabulous facilities — room service, spa and gym — and those front-row lake views, most of the 70 apartments have been bought by Europeans eager to be part of the St Moritz lifestyle.
Modern yet cosy: The Cambrian in Adelboden, a Mr & Mrs Smith hotel
There is nothing bland about the top Swiss hotels bringing exciting modern design to the Alps. The W Verbier (wverbier.com) opened this season, adding urban chic to the centre of the resort, while The Chedi in Andermatt (thechediandermatt.com) provides muchpraised five-star Asian elegance in this wide, open valley.
The Cambrian in Adelboden, Switzerland's third largest ski area, is a member of Design Hotels and the country's first Mr & Mrs Smith hotel. Slate walls, sleek Barcelona chairs and a pale palette teamed with splashes of vivid red and cowhide-covered furniture keep it modern yet cosy, while outside the views of wooden chalets and the Alps are Switzerland at its most beautifully traditional.
Room rates at The Cambrian start from £160 for B&B in a double room. Visit thecambrian adelboden.com or call 00 41 (0) 33 673 8383.
Aylesford Alpine: aylesford.com (020 7349 9772) Kulm Hotel: kulm.com; 00 41 (0) 81 836 8000)