Travel: Looking down on St. Moritz

Published in German Life magazine, Dec. 2003:

Looking Down on St. Moritz
by Lori Hein

"Look," I said to my husband and kids. "We have all of St. Moritz at our feet." We were standing atop Muottas Muragl in Switzerland’s beautiful Upper Engadine. The nail polish-red Muottas Muraglbahn had deposited us at the over 8,000-foot mountain station and had already begun its descent, leaving us to gaze over a spectacular alpine panorama that included the towns of Celerina and St. Moritz, a chain of bluish-green lakes, and the powerful peaks of the Bernina Massif.

The July day was cloudy and cool. To get to Muottas Muragl, we’d driven alongside the Sils and Silvaplana lakes, where the windsurfers all sported wetsuits. The day before, in medieval Bellinzona, we’d shared an outdoor lunch table with Horst, a German mathematician living in Zurich. When we mentioned our plan to overnight at the mountaintop Berghotel Muottas Muragl, he said, with certainty, "It will snow above 2,000 meters." We’d just smiled, shading our eyes from the blistering Bellinzona sun.

Now, we were on top of a crisp mountain world, and the possibility of snow in July didn’t seem so farfetched. Muottas Muragl’s treeless summit was green, with delicate lichen and pink and yellow wildflowers flourishing between the rocks. Tempting hiking paths unfolded in several directions. But ice-covered giants towered just beyond, encircling us like a crystal bracelet, and a light fog blanket had started to climb from the valley floor.

We checked into the sherbet-colored hotel, which sits at the mountain’s edge. From our room, we looked down at St. Moritz on its lake. We could also watch the shiny red Muraglbahn make its frequent trips between the summit terminus and the Punt Muragl station below.

There’s much to explore on the mountaintop. We hiked part of the Hochweg, a trail that leads down to the resort town of Pontresina, a three-hour walk away. The Muraglbahn delivered several groups of hikers. Many were seniors, fit and sturdy like noble trees. Off they went with their packs and walking sticks.

While Muottas Muragl offers splendid hiking in summer and uncrowded skiing and sledding in winter, many people come simply for the breathtaking, unparalleled view of the Alps. The Piz Rosatsch and Piz Julier ranges frame the Upper Engadine Gap, which holds St. Moritz and the string of lakes stretching to Maloja. From the hotel’s terrace, the massive, glacier-studded Bernina peaks look close enough to touch.

The hotel’s rustic Panoramic Restaurant offers local specialties until 11 p.m., and those not overnighting at the summit can ride the Muraglbahn up for lunch, sunset cocktails, or dinner and enjoy the spectacular vista as a side dish.

At night, while my family slept, I sat at our window, trying to etch the view in my mind so I could carry it home. The sky was cobalt blue, and lights twinkled everywhere. There were stars above and the glow of St. Moritz nightlife far below.

Then, a heavy cloud rolled past the window, swallowing the hotel, and flakes began to fall. Next morning, we woke to the Horst-foretold "snow above 2,000 meters." The kids ran across the frosted mountaintop, tossing snowballs, amazed by snow in July.

Before we left the Engadine, we explored the area around Muottas Muragl. We drove an eye-popping stretch of the Berninastrasse from Pontresina to the Bernina Pass and waved at tourists riding the famed Bernina Express, among the most scenic of Switzerland’s celebrated rail routes.

I noted four parallel lines: the majestic wall of the Bernina peaks, glaciers spilling down their faces like half-melted ice cream; the mint green Inn River, from which the Engadine takes its name; the tracks; the road.

Later, we walked the steep streets of nearby Guarda. From the town’s spectacular setting high above the valley, stunning Alps tower in every direction. It was market day, and vendors in Guarda’s square offered cakes, wurst, sauerkraut and handmade crafts. The town is filled with centuries-old gabled houses decorated with designs and family coats of arms. An afternoon in Guarda is the perfect finish to a visit to the Engadine.

Contact the Berghotel Muottas Muragl, in Samedan, by phone (41 81 842 82 32), fax (41 81 842 82 90) or e-mail (