As the winter ski season arrives in all its powder-laden glory, and legions of tourist boards around the world brace to see where the modern jet set will land, the Tschuggen Grand Hotel in Arosa wants you to know that their season kicks off with a rare privilege. A Private Mountain, no less.
It’s been a long eight months since I was last fervently flying down an Alp, red-cheeked, poles tucked and flying headfirst toward a boujee lunch. I usually carve out a blissful final long weekend in March amongst the melting snow, beneath pristine bluebird skies. Not this year, sadly.
READ THE FEATURE IN THE ALPINE EDITION HERE
You can imagine, therefore, my immediate intrigue at the idea of a fully-fledged Private Mountain. “Private Private?” I asked, with all the deft diplomacy of an errant debutant. “Yes, I believe it’s exclusively for the guests of the Tschuggen Grand Hotel in the canton of Graubünden”, our Travel Editor replied. “How are they managing that, exactly?”. The answer prompted some intrigue: “I believe they’ve been organising it for over a decade”. At first, I couldn’t fathom how this particular event had managed to escape my alpine radar. Many resorts offer the opportunity for guests to get the ‘first track’ on the slopes, provided you can rise early enough. A Private Mountain is an altogether grander affair.
The short train ride from Zurich to Arosa is comparable on the clock to a road transfer, and it really is the best way to witness Switzerland in all her iconic grandeur. The Arosa line climbs 1000m in the space of 26 kilometres as it winds its way through tunnels on the mountain track. The little red locomotive rolls through the mountainous landscape of Schanfigg, crossing the 203 ft high Langwieser Viaduct that traverses the Plessur river. It’s not a view you’ll want to miss, not least if you have a penchant for the spectacular. Honestly, I know of no more restorative way to travel than by train. In fact, I have always been tempted to do the London – Lausanne leg, given it takes as little as seven and a half hours on the rails. When you consider the airport travel time, passive-aggressive queueing, whittling down your favourite aftershave to 100ml and the now commonplace game of ‘Rimowa luggage roulette’, it’s a challenge not to long for the golden age of rail travel. For me, the cliché stands: it’s as much about the journey as it is about the destination.
The Tschuggen Grand Hotel’s history stretches back to 1883 when Otto Herwig came to Arosa, convinced of the therapeutic effects of the village’s mountain air. A rebrand, a sizeable fire, a high-profile sale and numerous renovations have taken place over the last century and a half, heralding the addition of the 5,000sm Tschuggen Bergoase Spa, designed by star architect Mario Botta. Yet it’s the hotel’s very own mountain railway, the Tschuggen Express, that really stopped me in my tracks. Yes, ski in-ski out properties on-piste aren’t hard to come by, but a private single-track funicular railway is the stuff of legend. The mind boggles at the planning permission alone. Only the Swiss.
The Tschuggen Grand Hotel, in its current guise, is a traditional affair on the inside, with interiors designed across its 98 rooms and 32 suites by Carlo Rampazzi from design firm Selvaggio. You’ve only to sit in one of the Malachite-Art club chairs with their “CrazyGlass” finishing and lacquered legs to get a feel for the creator’s opulent and maximalist design whims. I was particularly taken by the softly textured gold handles that adorned my room’s ‘peach’ wardrobe doors. The rooms are more than amply sized with tasteful wingback chairs, large beds, desk areas and plentiful storage, all styled with a sense of contemporary alpine chic. Not to mention that view.
The hotel certainly showcases its finesse when it comes to culinary exploits. ‘The Basement’ on the ground floor offers a take on fine fast food. Nutrient-dense salads contrast with the more traditional brisket burgers and steaks available. It’s a particular grilled carrot tartare with orange and tarragon, however, that surprisingly stood out for me, which, given my propensity for the carnivorous, was somewhat unexpected. It’s all part of the hotel’s ‘Moving Mountains’ philosophy, designed to help restore vitality, connect with nature and celebrate joy. I can attest to feeling particularly joyous at the realisation that The Basement also features a traditional bowling alley at its centre. After several libations, all rules are flouted in favour of a simple ‘strike the most pins’ affair. I was doing rather well on seven until someone decided to take out the entire set of nine. Bravo.
If you’re looking for something likely to cause less of a bowling-based din, the Grand Restaurant – with its newly-redesigned interior by the aforementioned Carlo Rampazzi – offers an array of delights. I highly recommend choosing from the Moving Mountains Signature menu, especially if you’ve already frequented The Basement. Renowned nutritionist Rhaya Jordan has worked with the hotel chefs to create a balanced menu, free from processed flours and sugars, curated to offer an array of intrinsic health benefits. The delicate celery soup with sesame and pear can be combined with dishes from the traditional menu, including saddle of roe deer, ensuring all palates will be satisfied. If you’re adamant that your meal should come with silverware, Chef Marco Campanella has 17 GaultMillau points and two Michelin stars at La Brezza, ensuring fine dining flights of fancy are never beyond reach.
Suffice to say, the Tschuggen Grand Hotel’s bonafides are established on the gastronomy front. I was still intrigued to see how they would maintain this savoir-faire at altitude. So, after breakfast the following morning, we collected our kit from the onsite ski shop and headed to the base station of the Gondelbahn Hörnliexpress. It’s a short seven-minute journey to the peak of Mount Hörnli, and when we arrive there’s a small but spirited flurry of snowfall to add to that which has settled overnight. The alpine party is already in full swing, and it’s clearly a family affair. The resident DJ is working his way into an all-day set with a glorious remix of Robert Miles’ Children pumping out across the slopes. I shazam as fast as I can get my gloves off. The team from the Carlton St Moritz, part of the wider Tschuggen Collection, are eagerly inviting guests to try their hand at swinging a polo mallet from a scandi-style hobby horse. I wonder how many chukkers it will take before the guests send all the balls down the mountain. Several fire pits are glowing, with furs liberally spread around for guests to sit on whilst they partake in a made-to-order grilled cheese. I thought I knew all the myriad ways the Swiss liked to enjoy gruyère and gouda. It turns out a toasted cheese sandwich cooked on an open fire in the Alps might well be my favourite. “Can we interest you in a bite to eat?” the team from the Valsana Hotel asked with bated breath. “I think we both know that you certainly can, guys,” I replied. “What would you like on it?”. “What would you recommend?”. “Everything”. “Sold”. Of course, I now find myself eagerly online shopping for a toasting iron, in full knowledge that I won’t be able to recreate the setting in the slightest. The Valsana Hotel is another string to the Tschuggen Collection bow, of course, with a 40-room hotel and nine tastefully appointed family apartments.
I decide it’s probably time to put my Zai Stone skis through their paces and clip in. I count fewer than 10 people on the actual slopes as the cloud cover starts to break and I drop into my first run. This is truly as private as private gets without choppering into a powder field in the actual middle of nowhere. As I reach the chair lift, eager for another run, a pop-up bar is serving rum punch and hot chocolate for the return journey. Inspired.
As the mountain is open only for the event, the pistes available are – of course – limited for safety. Despite this, those that were open still allowed me to clock in at 47 mph. The Arosa Lenzerheide resort has a very decent total of 225 km of slopes between 2865m and 1229m. It’s one of the largest ski areas in the Grisons region, with reliable snow cover and modern lifts to switch from one side of the valley to the other in little time. On this particular afternoon, though, the goliath Urdenbahn cable car had been repurposed into a sky spa, 2500m above sea level. Samuel and Stephanie, both therapists from the Tschuggen Bergoase Spa, were on hand to offer guests a welcome shoulder or foot massage. Having discussed my various aches, Samuel was all too pleased to break out the mallets for a Tok Sen massage. With the gondola halted in the middle of the valley, thousands of metres above the world below, I reached peak calm.
No day on the slopes is complete without a gourmet lunch stop. Ours came courtesy of chef Caterina Vosti from the Hotel Eden Roc in Ascona. As I said, It’s a family affair. Chef Caterina had taken over at the Hörnlihütte and was busy prepping vast dishes of mushroom risotto. I’m intrigued to see what she can do at sea level on the shores of Lago Maggiore.
After lunch, I managed to briefly spend some time with former Bronze downhill medal winner and HEAD ski ambassador Daniel Mahrer. After exchanging anecdotes about the ‘72 Winter Games, Mahrer confirmed what I already knew: I was probably going too fast, or at least too fast to warrant sensible Olympic advice. With an array of Head skis available to test, I strongly advise you to find your pro early in the day and bleed them dry of all the advice you can. With so few people on the piste, style points are doubled.
As the mountain wouldn’t fully open to the public until the following day, I wondered where exactly one might secure a solid après-ski to top off the day. As expected, Swiss efficiency prevails. Having stowed our skis in the hotel’s smart boot room, we were whisked off en masse to an après ski Champagne party on the outdoor ice rink, complete with a live band, crêpes, enough Louis Roederer to sink an icebreaker and a particularly poignant solo figure skating performance that may have resulted in a single solitary tear. It’s the Champagne talking.
In addition to a restorative drop (or ten) of Champagne, the first day of the season should always be followed by a salubrious soak. The majority of us are not athletes but mere weekend warriors, and if the Moving Mountains program teaches us anything, it’s to listen to our bodies to restore vitality. The hotel’s jewel is its gargantuan 5000-square foot spa, designed once again by Swiss architect Mario Botta. Built deep into the mountain, the spa is a starkly clear visual departure from the hotel’s architecture. Striking upright metal-and-glass ‘sails’ or ‘leaves’ shoot upwards from the mountainside. During the day, these skylights flood the space below with light, but by night they come alive with coloured hues that can be seen from across the local village. The spa houses a series of swimming pools that extend out into the open air, a floor dedicated to steam rooms and saunas, two private couples’ treatment rooms and an array of holistic massages and detox body and skin rejuvenation treatments. I opted for the Signature massage, which begins with a foot soak in salt, thyme, rosemary and lavender. This is followed by a deep tissue massage which includes hot and cold stone therapy to relax tired muscles and joints. You’ll have no trouble gearing up for another day on the slopes with this wellness retreat in your corner.
Being entirely climate-neutral since 2019, the hotel received the Green Globe certification; a testament to the way the property and the group prioritise their efforts to maintain the mountain way of life. I can understand how guests would easily fall in love with the Tschuggen Grand Hotel. Many make it a firm fixture on the winter calendar, returning year after year for the Private Mountain event. It’s that feeling of informal luxury, familiar faces and world-class culinary expertise that keeps their clientele loyal. Given their Mountain Lofts are available to book from this December, you might well find me returning for another dose of Private Mountain peace very soon indeed.