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Think Switzerland, and we think of a very green country (in terms of countryside, and environmentally friendly), skiing and chocolate. It turns out that the Swiss are one of the most hospitable and friendliest nations towards LGBT travellers we at Vada have travelled through. In fact same-sex sexual activity has been legal in some parts of Switzerland since 1798.
In the well-known (winter) resort area of St. Moritz and Pontresina, we explore luxury accommodation for LGBT travellers. The region itself is becoming just as popular during the summer season, with enough sun to get a touch of tan, and an abundance of outdoor activities including hiking trails and cycling. First in this two-part series is Grand Hotel Kronenhof in Pontresina.
Grand Hotel Kronenhof
Grand Hotel Kronenhof originally opened as a guesthouse in 1851. Since then it has had progressive enhancements and augmentations, such as its first indoor swimming pool in 1964, and substantial renovations and a brand new spa area in recent years. Now Grand Hotel Kronenhof is a paradise for affluent guests, which boasts luxury rooms and suites, elegant dining venues, and a wellness area of over 2,000 square metres.
In fact, it is not just the spa that boasts space, the entire hotel has palatial, grand spaces for guests to relax in. Where other hotels would perhaps turn these into bars, or revenue-focussed venues, the Grand Hotel Kronenhof reserves communal spaces for guests to enjoy at their leisure. This includes several lobbies and drawing rooms, games rooms (including a bowling alley) and an outdoor lawn.
It is not just about the views of belle époque style hotel. Grand Hotel Kronenhof boasts views from the hotel that are of stunning natural beauty. In fact, we recommend when booking, to request a south-facing room.
Service is a big part of the product offering. From the moment we arrived, staff were courteous, professional and welcoming. There wasn’t a moment where we were made to feel stressed out, in fact staff gave, as is expected from a five-star property, their undivided attention, no matter the triviality of the query. For example, we were in need of a corkscrew in our room, and a barman arrived to uncork the wine rather than just providing us with the means to open our own bottle. Similarly the turndown service is exceptionally thorough, with water, fruit, and towels all being replenished.
Vada rating for service: 10/10
The luxury touches of the accommodation speak for themselves. We stayed in a junior suite (room 511), in the grand classic styling. Designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon, these rooms are generously proportioned (42-47 square metres) with separate seating areas, walk-in wardrobe as well as additional wardrobe space (which is needed it if staying during winter), and a small balcony. The south-facing mountain views are perhaps the biggest selling point of this room category, watching sunrise and the fog lifting over the lush, green of the Swiss mountains. The light mint-green of the soft furnishings add colour and reflecting the fresh outdoors into the room. The Nespresso machine – a standard feature in all luxury hotel rooms, was available for with coffee capsules topped up daily; however (as British travellers) we would have liked to see options for tea in the room too.
The bathroom is finished in marble, with double sink, separate bath and walk-in shower. We appreciated the use of the London brand Asprey for toiletries. Moreover, once the door is closed the bathroom is entirely soundproofed from the rest of the bedroom. Electric shutters and heavy curtains ensure a black-out environment, so guests wanting an undisturbed sleep by light or noise will not be disappointed. Almost unnoticeable yet much appreciated touches like this really do set this hotel accommodation apart.
The Grand Hotel Kronenhof, like its sister hotel, Kulm Hotel, offer a pillow menu concept. In theory this is a great idea, as different pillows are available for different types of sleeper e.g. those that want a deeper sleep, who want a cold pillow, for wrigglers. We did try this menu and do think this complimentary service is a worthwhile idea, but were rather underwhelmed by the rather unstuffed Sana Nature pillow we tried.
Vada rating for accommodation: 9/10
Spa and wellness
The spa facilities are located in the lower part of the Grand Hotel Kronenhof, which, as it is built on a hillside, means there still is plentiful natural light. This 2000 square-metre wellness facility is a recent addition that from the outside appears slightly like an alien space ship, with interior support columns resembling Swiss cheese. Architecture aside, the large indoor infinity pool has breathtaking views across the Engadine mountain range. A ‘water in motion’ pool (i.e. a huge pool with multiple jacuzzis, jet-streams and other therapeutic water treatments), steam bath, saunas, salt grotto, gym and fitness centre, and treatment rooms all form part of the Grand Hotel Kronenhof spa.
The spa facilities never felt too crowded, and the service again comparable to that of the rest of the hotel, with complimentary smoothies and juices brought out to guests, and staff on hand to arrange spa treatments, personal training or answer any other questions. We tried an energy massage with hot stones after a workout in the gym and a long walk. This genuinely did leave us feeling invigorated with improved blood circulation and vitality needed for the evening.
Vada rating for spa and well: 10/10
Grand Hotel Kronenhof offers two main restaurants, the magnificent Grand Restaurant (where elegance is a requirement of diners, as much as of the food), and the more chalet-like Kronenstubli.
The Grand Restaurant is a magnificent hall, which is like a ballroom from a Disney princess movie. This is where the dining is fine, and gentlemen wear blazers to match. Dinner starts with a buffet – there is a chef on hand to explain what each morsel is, it is not undignified to ask. We tried a three course menu following this, of an exquisite soup, followed by pan-roasted fish with truffled stock and young vegetables, finished off with Maracaibo chocolate Gianduja Mille Feuilles and blackberries for dessert. Food quality and presentation of matches the five stars of the hotel, and the near silver service means that we rarely had to ask for anything. The Grand Restaurant is also where breakfast is served, buffet style and eggs to order at the guest’s preference.
The wood-lined Kronenstubli, feels much like residing in a traditional Swiss home or a chalet. A five-course tasting menu is priced at 165 Swiss Francs, plus wine. Where the quality of food is on par with the Grand Restaurant, the cuisine has a more Mediterranean focus. Our favourite plates were the chocolate-filled duck liver, and the pan fried veal, succulent and moist, served with a mini garden of vegetables and nettle gnocchi.
Grand Hotel Kronenhof boasts two other dining venues. The Pavilion, where guests can take a light lunch bite outdoors, and during the winter the bowling alley venue serves up Swiss fondue and Raclette. The historic wine cellar, lit with a wealth of chandeliers, acts as an event space, set over three floors, and tells the story of the hotel’s glorious past.
Vada rating for dining: 10/10
As in many other five star hotels, luxury and elegance are entwined into the essence of the property. This is no exception in the belle époque Grand Hotel Kronenhof. Where Kronenhof sets itself apart is in the grand and elaborate lounges and bars for guests to relax in. The hotel also offers music and entertainment, with pianos dotted about the hotel, for musically-inclined guests (wherever on the talent spectrum) to have a tinkle.
A separate kids club and dining area mean that adults can get alone time, and as we found, other guests can enjoy the peace also. For some adult fun – no, not that kind, save it for the junior suite, the Grand Hotel Kronenhof invites guests to take their BMW i8 car for a spin.
Technology is of course available to hotel guests, with a business area and free wi-fi throughout the hotel for all guests fast enough to stream Netflix. What we did struggle with is travel adaptors, the plug sockets are very specific (slim) in size that don’t fit all travel adaptors. Without any USB or international outlets, our devices were only charged with the grace of borrowed adaptors from reception.
Vada rating for amenities: 9/10
The Engadine resorts of St. Moritz and Pontresina are known for their winter activities, with four main peaks, 350km of slopes, 200km of cross-country trails and 150km of winter hiking trails. In the summer, there are equally as many walking trails, hikes and kilometres of roads for cycling. For guests staying 2 nights or more, Grand Hotel Kronenhof offers a travel pass with access to the chair lifts and funiculars across the Engadine peaks.
Summer activities include hiking up to (or via the funicular like us) and around Muottas Muragl. For the more adventurous, take the chair lift and hiking route to touch the Morteratsch Glacier. Closer to St. Moritz, pleasant in a stroll around the St. Moritz lake, or a ride up the funicular to Corviglia, or even higher, to the viewing platform at the mount of Piz Nair, at over 3,000m high.
For anyone who loves the outdoors, or remotely enjoys getting away from city life, and roaming open fields and green woodland, the summer countryside in the Engadine is pure bliss.
Vada rating for experiences: 10/10
There are regular flights from the UK to Zurich (the nearest international airport), from Swiss Air operated originating from Birmingham, Manchester and London Heathrow, with prices starting from £124.
Hire car or trains from the the airport are the two options to the southern mountains and Pontresina, which takes 3.5 hours to drive or approximately the same time via the efficient and reliable Swiss train system, as we chose. This involves a couple of changes; however the itinerary includes platform numbers so it’s very easy to know where to head to from one train to the next. Tickets are available at sbb.ch.
Given the historic evolution of the hotel, there are varying options for different accommodation types. During a late summer stay, Grand Hotel Kronenhof offers a mid-week 3-nights-for-the-price-of-2 deal from 790 CHF (Swiss Frances) for two people in a standard class double room. For a south-facing Grand Classic Junior Suite, like our accommodation, the price is 1510 CHF (approximately £1,180) for 2 people.
For the well-healed, LGBT traveller, Grand Hotel Kronenhof’s elegance and grandeur in belle époque style will not disappoint. We found service to be of a superior offering, with staff ensuring simplicity and minimal fuss or interruption on guests’ stays.
The views and beauty of the architecture of the building are as impressive as the views from the hotel. The lush green Engadine mountain range has much to offer those with an active lifestyle. And after a busy day outdoors, the sizeable spa facilities provide succour and much needed indulgent pampering. Equally guests looking for an impressive menu or wine selection will relish in food offering at the Grand Restaurant or Kronenstubli.
Vada overall score 9.7/10
Grand Hotel Kronenhof is located at 7504 Pontresine, St. Moritz, Switzerland
For more information, visit kronenhof.com.