Different fates of palaces in Graubünden

Rémy Knafou

Davos – The structure of the future palace completed (September 2012). The hotel Stilli Park managed by the Intercontinental Group, scheduled to open in late 2013 – © R. Knafou.

The Palace – luxury hotel of international fame – is inseparable from the Swiss Alps. It is intimately linked to the history of tourism. But Davos, with a past as a climatic health resort hosting tuberculosis people from European high society since the second half of the nineteenth century, has never owned a palace similar to those of its famous neighbor St. Moritz.
Its Great hotels are often converted sanatoriums, but without tradition of luxury.

The extent of its ski fields and the global success of the annual meeting (in January) of the World Economic Forum has justified the increase number of hotels since the 1960s and, ultimately, the ongoing construction of the Hotel Stilli Park a bit away from the center, near the lake. Funded by Credit Suisse (CHF 155 million), the future five-star hotel will have 187 rooms, 23 suites and will also manage 37 apartments, currently sold between 900,000 and 3 million Euros (74 to 199 sqm). The main building, egg-shaped, 42 meters high, will be covered with a glossy paint and will be noticed in the landscape.

©InterContinental Hotels Group/w&p.

If hostels are as old as travel, Great Hotels and palaces are inseparable from the history of tourism: they appeared in the 1830s, first on plain – in cities: Geneva, Paris, Zurich etc.., and in some tourist sites (Venice), then rapidly from the 1860s in the mountains (Interlaken, St. Moritz, etc.).
Cities and tourist resorts (thermal and / or mountain) have been the preferred places for building Great luxury hotels, state of the art of their time.

The first hotel to bear the name of “palace” was, in 1884, the Maloja Palace, in Upper Engadine, at 15 km from St. Moritz. At the foot of the Maloja Pass, which for centuries was the most convenient access to this high valley from the Po Valley (ancient Roman road), the palace in neo-Renaissance style (300 rooms, 450 beds) dominates slightly the Lake Sils where, at the other end, twenty-four years later, another palace be built, the Waldhaus. And if the Maloja Palace suffered the decline and even the threat of destruction (after being a warehouse of the army and a summer camp), before finally being renovated from 2009, Waldhaus, remained in the same family, maintains, not without problems however, its status of palace.

The Maloja Palace, in september 2012 – © R. Knafou.
At the other end of Lake Sils, The Hotel Waldhaus, dominated by the peak Corvatsch (3 451m) – © R. Knafou.

Nowadays, the Maloja Palace is no longer a palace, but a 4 star aparthotel: remain of its Golden Age its exterior facades carefully refurbished and its monumental stair; most of its interior is disappeared to make way for luxury rooms but without any style. In contrast, the Waldhaus, with its traditions maintained, its loyal customers and a strategy of slow and careful renovation has managed to surpass the brutal upgrades to keep much of its original decor until it has regained interest. This led to his being awarded as the “Historic Hotel of the Year” by the ICOMOS Switzerland, and to offer its guests a choice of three types of rooms: the “modern” (those which were rebuilt in 1980 and 1990), the “classic” (renovation of 1960/70) and “nostalgic”, those that the hotel could not restore at the time and now obviously can’t. The Waldhaus, as a Palace, has never had a great decor, but mountaineer sobriety. This was not the case Kronenhof in Pontresina, less than 20km from Sils-Maria.

Built as an inn for tourists in 1851, the Kronenhof grows to 50 rooms in 1870 and then to 154 rooms in 1886, when he received his great decor in the rooms and the dining room frescoes. This decoration was reclaimed in 2006, along with the creation of 29 additional rooms, a swimming pool area/spa of 1500 sqm at the forefront of progress in this area and an underground parking on two levels, for an investment of 37 million Swiss francs, made by its new owner since 2004, “AG Grandhotels Engadinerkulm” (which, as its name suggests, has another historical palace, the famous Kulm in St. Moritz, run by Johannes Badrutt in 1864 when he made his famous bet with British guests and encourage them to come back in winter against a promise to pay if they do not find the sun, thereby launching the winter season in the Alps).

The Kronenhof is now fitted with a large indoor pool in the center of a spa of 1500sqm – ©R. Knafou, september 2012.
The main salon of the Kronenhof; paintings of the dining room – © R. Knafou, september 2012.

St. Moritz has managed to retain its palaces, after going through a difficult period when many of them almost closed. The intervention of the Greek shipowner Niarchos (Onassis’s brother-in-law) was decisive in the 1970s, buying the Kulm after having first invested in ski lifts in the 1950s (Corvatsch and Nair). Niarchos family is actually the first private landowner in the famous resort.


Electronic reference:
Rémy Knafou, Different fates of the palaces in Graubünden, Via@Pictures, posted on december 13th, 2012.
URL : http://www.viatourismreview.net/Photographie3_EN.php


Rémy Knafou
University of Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne – rknafou@club-internet.fr