Earlier this year we spent some time at Hotel Castell which occupies a commanding vantage point high above the village of Zuoz, just a short drive from St. Moritz. The hotel is enjoying its centenary currently, having been built back in 1912/1913 and, whilst it might not be in the league of some of the extremely high end hotels of St. Moritz, the hotel is no stranger to the occasional celebrity guest (Liz Hurley called in for a drink once). Hotel Castell offers affordable luxury and has been transformed into an intriguing art hotel thanks to owner and art collector Ruedi Bechtler. This is evident from the moment you approach the building and are greeted by a statue of a horse in Wellington boots! We were in a family combination room which had fabulous views up and down the valley – a valley which in early March each year forms part of the Engadin Ski Marathon. Our ‘room’ had two bedrooms (one double, one twin) and two bathrooms, plus an entrance hall which was ideal for putting all our gear after a day on the slopes – a perfect space for families. There are 68 rooms at the hotel, and they have been designed by two architects – winners of a contest when the hotel went through a restoration project. Around half of the rooms carry an ‘urban style’ (as per our room above) which were designed by UNStudio in Amsterdam, whilst the remainder have a wood design (see below) inspired by St. Moritz-based Hans Jörg Ruch. Guest preferences vary with some guests even preferring one room type during the winter season, and another in the summer. As well as the seasonal guests, a nearby international boarding school – Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz – brings in some trade for the hotel, offering parents an ideal base for visiting their children. The hotel also occasionally caters for wedding parties usually for around 100-130 people. This is not usually local people because you have to take a minimum of around 40-45 rooms for it to be viable. Instead, the weddings are typically guests from Zurich, often choosing Hotel Castell due to a personal connection of some kind to the art scene. On our first day at the hotel, we decided to wander into Zuoz and get kitted out for some skiing on the slopes. Zuoz itself has a good mix of blue, red and black slopes, so caters for all abilities, but sadly the snow was starting to melt as the slopes are not as high as in Corviglia, close to St. Moritz, and the lift had just stopped running. That was not a problem, though. There was still a reasonable covering and we were able to borrow sledges from the hotel and sledge down to the village without fear of getting in the way of any skiers. Furthermore, the hotel offerings a free transfer service taking you to the slopes where there is snow first thing in the morning and collecting you at the end of the day. Here is the view as we got closer to Zuoz. We hired ski equipment from Willy Sport who have a rental shop in the centre of Zuoz. The fitting process was made effortless thanks to the help of the staff there, and we must have been in and out within about 20 minutes, and all our equipment was ready to collect the next morning. Back at the hotel, you can enjoy a drink at the hotel’s eye-catching Red Bar designed by Zurich architect Gabrielle Hächler and multimedia artist Pipilotti Rist or, if you prefer, outside on the terrace. Since this part of Switzerland enjoys an impressive number of sunny days per year (over 300, I believe), we opted for the latter. We dined at the hotel each evening and enjoyed the food. You’ll have to forgive me as my German isn’t very strong so I don’t have precise translations of the various dishes. If my memory of my translation serves me correctly, this was a red Thai curry with polenta. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to choose Thai food as it’s one of my favourite cuisines, but I didn’t expect to see it on the menu in a remote Swiss valley! Our children were also well catered for at meal times, further re-enforcing the hotel’s suitability for families, and they were even invited into the kitchen on the last evening to go and choose their dessert! Breakfast set us up well for a day on the slopes. We are not very competent when it comes to skiing so the convenience of being driven by the hotel to Willy Sport to collect our equipment, and then on to the slopes at Corviglia was very welcome indeed. We took the lift up to Piz Nair, one of the highest peaks in the region at 3,027 metres and home to the Alpine skiing events for the 1948 Winter Olympics. The view from the top was breathtaking. Back at the hotel, we went to explore a circular building which we could see from our room. This was one of the hotel’s art installations – another item in Bechtler’s collection -and happened to be a really impressive light display. We hadn’t fully appreciated what this was during the daytime, but it wasn’t until the evening when it displayed its full potential. Notice how, once you are inside and look out, the doorway deliberately mimics the shape of the mountain (Piz Utét) beyond. As the light faded, the colours inside changed frequently. I don’t recall seeing anything quite like this before and would be fascinated to understand more about the physics behind what was going on here. Additional features of the hotel included a hammam (which even our children could use), a small gym on the top floor and even a cinema where a movie is shown every Thursday evening, and daily for children. They are not mainstream films (recent showings have included Die Ewigkeit und ein Tag and Medianeras) and shown in the original language with German subtitles. If that wasn’t enough to keep you entertained, the hotel also has a curling field (open for about one month), an ice skating rink (from 26th December to beginning of March) and an outdoor sauna designed by the Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata. If you are looking for a base for a skiing holiday, Hotel Castell provides a good quality base, and affordable alternative to St. Moritz, offering convenient access to the slopes of Zuoz, Corviglia and Corvatsch. The hotel is open from mid December to early April for the ski season or as a winter retreat, and from early June to mid October for anyone interested in hiking, cycling, golf or just some much-needed relaxation.
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