Secret summer sojourn in a Swiss ski resort
We make a pilgrimage to the Alps and find bliss out of season.
Suvretta nestles above St Moritz overlooking forests and lakes
Sometimes the incongruous and the unexpected provide the happiest of marriages. As with Christmas in July, so with Switzerland in high summer.
There is still, for romantics, a bit of snow, right up at the top of the mountains. But everywhere else is like something from a child's colouring book: the greenest of green trees, the bluest of blue lakes and skies.
Even the air seems to have a cleaner zing to it, but then, this is Switzerland where everything is in its proper place and is expected to behave accordingly. Streets are clean, shops - while breathcatchingly expensive - have reassuringly multi-lingual assistants, and train operators can make the beleaguered British traveller collapse into giggles when they solemnly announce an apology that "This train will be four minutes late." O, that my West Coast mainline could only aspire to this.
Switzerland just works, that's the truth of it. Nothing is too flashy or too modern; there are traditions which are sometimes bemusing but the structured society suits its inhabitants - and, funnily enough, its visitors.
St Moritz is the grandest of Swiss ski resorts which caters to the super-rich in winter.
Smack bang in the centre of town, thronged by top-of-the-line shops such as Hermes and Bottega Veneta, sits the slightly rackety Badrutt's Palace Hotel. Regular visitors to the area have a different destination in mind: Suvretta House, which this year is marking its centenary.
A St Moritz veteran put it simply: "Those who wear their fur on the outside go to the Palace. Those who wear it on the inside go to Suvretta House."
Summer rates apply from June 24 and start from 222 euros per person, per night, including service, VAT, half board, use of pool, spa and a regular return bus service to St Moritz centre.
www.suvrettahouse.ch, 00 41 81 836 36 36
Rail travel: Switzerland Travel Centre www.myswitzerland.com, 00 800 100 200 30
Flights: Swiss International Airlines www.swiss.com/uk, 0845 601 0956
In summer, it's difficult to check the truth of that claim, except to say that Suvretta House, perched high above St Moritz, is the epitome of quiet, under-stated elegance. Great names associated with the hotel over the years include Douglas Fairbanks Jr and the ballet dancer Nijinsky, who chose the hotel for his last public appearance in 1919.
Suvretta is a Romansch word which means "above the small forest," or "in the woods", and these days the hotel, run with ferocious efficiency by managing directors Vic and Helen Jacob, sits luxuriously above the tree line, nestling comfortably while affording astonishing views of the forests, mountain peaks and lakes.
Visitors in the know, despite the difference in scenery, may be unavoidably reminded of the King David in Jerusalem, which is not such a stretch as both hotels are members of the Leading Hotels of the World group: in Suvretta House's case, the high ratio of staff - nearly one for every visitor in the winter months, slightly less in the summer - means an intense level of attention. Interestingly there is a large number of Israeli visitors, too, often those with a German-speaking background or people who love walking and hiking.
The "pilgrimage" to Suvretta House - and it's not too fanciful to call it that, since two-thirds of its clientele are returning visitors, and nearly one-third are from Britain - starts in Zurich with a series of trains to St Moritz.
A gloriously gaudy green and gold vintage delivery van - known as "The Old Timer" - collects visitors from the rail station. It's driven by a Suvretta staffer in slightly Ruritanian uniform and the tone is set.
Though there are echoes of the hotel's winter incarnation - the ski-lift, right outside the hotel's doorstep, is the best example - in summer, Suvretta dons a different face. The skating rink becomes tennis courts, while also on offer is a golf driving range, a pitch and putt green, or you can play badminton, boccia (similar to bowls, but for wheelchair users), and, for deep thinkers, garden chess.
There is also an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool with a whirlpool, and, outside, a whirlpool heated to 36 degrees. Also fun is a day's cycling. The hotel has just acquired some new electric bikes to go with its range of adult and kids' cycles. The electric bikes give you that extra boost to cope with the mountainous inclines in the area.
Unlike many hotels, Suvretta House makes a point of catering for children. There is an in-house kindergarten for games, drawing and painting, supervised by experienced staff, and there is the charming Teddy Club with its own dedicated restaurant, offering child-size portions and, importantly, peace for parents.
Dining is either gloriously formal in the Grand Restaurant, where guests dress for gourmet dinner, or enjoyably informal in the Suvretta Stube, which features an outdoor wooden deck, and both buffet and waiter service. Both restaurants offer a wide variety of vegetarian or fish meals, and very often the kitchen will prepare something separately.
If you want to go up an Alp in the summer, chuck yourself in the chairlift to one of the hotel's mountain restaurants. Lunch at Restaurant Trutz is at a dizzying 2211 metres above sea-level.
The dangle above the trees is worth the incredible view even if you don't want to eat in the restaurant; I spied a large Charedi family, from bearded and be-sheiteled parents to cheerfully crowing baby, plus the pram, occupying six successive chair lifts and waving to those on the other side of the mountain.
As I said, sometimes the incongruous just works.