My stay at the £26,000-a-night Swiss hotel loved by the A list
The hedonistic Badrutt’s Palace has hosted Hitchcock and Hepburn — and its most extravagant penthouse suite is now available to book. Our writer finds out who checks in
When did it dawn on me that Badrutt’s Palace, the 127-year-old hotel in the Swiss Alps, was the most extravagant place I’d ever visited? Perhaps it was when the “free hotel transfer” that picked me up from the train station turned out to be a Rolls-Royce. Or maybe it was when a guest and her toddler walked into the hotel’s ski shop wearing matching Gucci salopettes. On reflection, I think the moment that clinched it for me was when I realised that the dancefloor in the hotel’s underground nightclub, King’s Social House, was wet not because beer or sugary cocktails had been spilt on it, but because someone had knocked over a glass of £450-a-bottle Dom Perignon champagne.
Badrutt’s Palace is no stranger to extravagance. The hotel’s reputation is founded on stories of the playboys and princesses who have visited since it was opened in 1896 by Caspar Badrutt. In the Sixties the German millionaire Gunter Sachs lived with his wife Brigitte Bardot in the hotel’s Tower Penthouse apartment (you can stay here too, for an annual salary-nudging £26,000 a night. More on that later). It has been a hideout for Audrey Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock, who is said to have got the idea for his film The Birds while staying at the hotel.
Badrutt’s Palace towers over St Moritz, a small resort town 1,800m above sea level and three hours by train from Zurich. It’s not my typical holiday destination and this is not your typical ski resort hotel. Rooms at Badrutt’s start at £1,200 a night, it has 12 restaurants, including a pop-up from the acclaimed chef Eric Kragh Vildgaard, a helipad, and a vast collection of paintings by some of the world’s most famous artists, including an oil painting thought to be by the Italian master Raphael. I’m told it’s a twin of the Sistine Madonna. When I visit, the room where the piece hangs is being used as a jewellery shop, run by the luxury brand Sabbadini, which means guests can browse million-dollar diamonds while admiring a painting worth even more.
I am here to have a look around the Tower Penthouse apartment, the most exclusive apartment in Europe. Not because of the €30,000-a-night room rate, but because it’s available to book for the first time in 30 years. Why? The previous tenant, who lived here all that time, has only just moved out. Who that was is kept top secret.
Accessed via its own lift on the eighth floor of the hotel, the penthouse itself is a miniature palace. There are four bedrooms, each with a lavish en suite bathroom (one has a hot tub), two terraces, an enormous living area, and a wooden spiral staircase. When Sachs lived here paintings by his friend Andy Warhol hung on the walls, though these have been replaced by pictures of bowls of fruit.
Since it became available, a member of staff tells me, “We’ve had pyjama parties here, proposals, weddings.”
I’m not just here for the apartment though. If you want to understand this hotel, you first need to understand St Moritz. Think of it like Monaco but with snow. The town, which appears to be made up of a few restaurants, a caviar shop and dozens of designer stores, gets roughly 322 days of sunshine a year. During the winter months the lake freezes over and is turned into an arena for car shows and a track for the annual horse racing festival. Hugh Grant, Claudia Schiffer and Kate Moss have all visited. It’s solid-gold glamour.
Which is the context you need if you head into the hotel’s underbelly for a night at the King’s Social House. It is one of two nightclubs in St Moritz and the oldest in Switzerland, which means that you can, technically, dance on the same floor once graced by Chaplin and Hepburn — although it was refurbished in 2018 when the chef Jason Atherton took over the culinary direction, added a restaurant and changed the name.
When I visit at midnight on a Saturday night, the guests have already migrated from the dinner tables to the dancefloor. The song Welcome to St Tropez is being played unironically by the DJ while the crowd, a mix of silver-haired men, twentysomethings in suits and women covered in diamonds, dance under a huge, sparkling disco ball.
“It’s great down here isn’t it,” a tiny Swiss man with black-rimmed glasses and teeth so bright they glow in the dark shouts gleefully.
Then all of a sudden a man bursts out from a door in the corner. He is wearing a motorbike helmet with neon green stripes and is holding a magnum of Dom Perignon champagne with a luminous green label.
Parading behind him are half a dozen members of staff, waving sparklers in the air. Alarmingly the helmet man begins charging round the dancefloor, brandishing the champagne and doing what I can only describe as the hokey cokey. Can he see? What about the sparklers? Just as he’s about to hit the man with the glow-in-the-dark-teeth, a waiter comes and guides him away.
This same sequence continues three more times over the course of the night. It’s not clear who ordered the bottles, but the whoops from guests get louder each time. There is nothing ambiguous about King’s Social House: it’s where very rich people come for a very good time.
The next morning at breakfast, I scour the room for people who look slightly ruffled. As I wait for my eggs royale to arrive, a harpist begins to play from a stage at the front of the room and I watch as a woman wearing huge pearl earrings drinks three glasses of champagne with her avocado on toast.
I spend the rest of the day recovering in the outdoor pool, browsing the spa menu. You can have a classic Thai massage (£220) or a slimming massage (£200) which, a fellow guest reports, involves your limbs being squeezed really, really tightly. I retreat to La Diala, a Goop-esque health spa restaurant serving juices, salads and truffle pasta — balance.
It is March and Badrutt’s is busy, despite it being the end of the season, but wherever you are — inside or out in the pool — it is silent. There’s no shouting, no cars, no city buzz. Just perfect silence. I’ve never felt further away from home.
That evening I have dinner at Chesa Veglia, a luxe farmhouse restaurant run by the hotel, three minutes’ walk up the road. It serves mountain food such as fondue, pizza and steak. Everything comes with an optional shower of truffle shavings.
Despite the extravagance, Badrutt’s has retained its old-school elegance. The hotel is still owned by the family — Anikò Badrutt, 93, whose late husband was Caspar’s grandson, still has an apartment in the building and you have to ask her permission before landing a helicopter there — which has stopped it veering into chain-resort territory. There’s a strict dress code — dinner jackets are compulsory — and no amount of truffle or champagne can distract you from the views of the enormous snowy mountains through the enormous windows.
My last evening ends in the Renaissance Bar, where you can order Cuban cigars and cocktails — including a £400 one, made with real gold powder and 2008 vintage Dom Perignon. The barman asks if I would like to see the wine list. The hotel’s wine cellar, he tells me, has 120,000 bottles including a £10,000 bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild Pauillac from 1900. I settle for a vodka martini.
As I’mwaiting for a transfer back to the station the next morning, a doorman wheels out a trolley piled high with another guest’s personalised Louis Vuitton luggage and Hermès shopping bags.
I’ll probably never come back here. Not because I don’t want to, if I could afford it. But because Badrutt’s feels like one of those mysterious places that you visit and then spend forever wondering how such a bonkers place exists.
Hannah Evans was a guest of Badrutt’s Palace which has B&B doubles from £1,200 (badruttspalace.com). Fly to Zurich
Eight classic Swiss hotels
By Sean Newsom
1. Drei Berge Hotel, Mürren
Is there a more spectacular mountain village than Mürren? Gaze out from its car-free streets and you’ll get an eyeful of the Alps at their most dramatic, courtesy of the north faces of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Into this timeless setting the Drei Berge inserts an eye-popping early 20th-century aesthetic full of vintage posters and bold, graphic flourishes. Bring chunky woollen polonecks and your best set of ski legs so you can do justice not just to the decor but also to Mürren’s plunging pistes.
Details B&B doubles from £325 (dreibergehotel.ch). Fly to Zurich
2. Coeur des Alpes, Zermatt
Half the fun of staying in Zermatt comes from looking up. So when the Coeur des Alpes opened in the early 2000s its giant windows immediately won it fans — especially those who could lie in bed in its south-facing rooms and gaze at the Matterhorn. But it’s not just the mountain that’s eye-catching. Every detail here is considered, while the liberal use of glass — not just for the windows, but for tables, bathroom walls and even the floor of the lounge — sharpens the sense of visual drama. Add a relaxed, grown-up atmosphere and quick access to the Matterhorn Express lift, and it’s no wonder this upmarket hotel has a legion of fans.
Details B&B doubles from £227 (coeurdesalpe.ch). Fly or take the train to Zermatt
3. Riders Hotel, Laax
Since it opened in 2001 the Riders Palace (now the Riders Hotel) has been looking forward, not back. Set below one of skiing’s greatest acrobatic arenas, the NoName snowpark, it’s a paragon of modernist virtue, offering skiers and snowboarders a pared-back aesthetic of big windows and clean lines. There are dorms, doubles and apartments, and a must-visit cocktail bar. Bring earplugs — at the weekend half of Zurich crowds into its basement nightclub. That lot will benefit from the extended breakfast on Sundays until 1pm.
Details B&B doubles from £190 a night (ridershotel.com). Fly to Zurich
4. Hôtel Bella-Tola, St-Luc
The Val d’Anniviers is one of those “secret” Alpine valleys that has never quite hit the big time, and although it’s well stocked with second homes, it has none of the big-resort buzz of its near-ish neighbours, Verbier and Zermatt. Come here for the low-key atmosphere, the uncrowded pistes and above all for the old-world charm of the Bella-Tola. Built in 1859, it’s a happy sunlit union of pale blue shutters, creaky wooden floors and high standards of modern hotel-keeping, maintained by a young staff. Book the south-facing Historical rooms for the full old-meets-new effect.
Details B&B doubles from £217 (bellatola.ch). Fly or take the train to Geneva
5. Hotel La Gorge, Saas-Fee
Here’s further proof that Swiss hotel-keeping is about more than twinkly lights and wood-panelled dining rooms. This refashioned three-star is owned by a carpenter, Dominik Bumann, who has eschewed the usual alpine clutter in favour of polished concrete floors, knobbly rugs and wooden sinks. Driftwood and Bergen rucksacks decorate the restaurant walls. Best of all is the location. Teetering on the edge of a precipitous gorge, the hotel is a short walk from Saas-Fee’s sky-scraping lift system. Ride it up to the Fee glacier and you’ll reach the dizzying height of 11,480ft.
Details B&B doubles from £194 a night (lagorge.ch). Fly to Geneva
6. Hotel Privata, Sils
Not all the Engadin valley’s hotels are glittering five-star palaces. At the village of Sils Maria, seven miles from Badrutt’s Palace, the Privata has been run by the same family for more than a century, and it is a place of simple pleasures and delicious food. Expect pine panelling, soft, well-chosen colours and crispy Italian pancakes with ricotta and roasted nuts. The Engadin’s vast tangle of cross-country pistes coils around the village, while its lifts whisk you up to the valley’s most dramatic ski slopes, beneath the towering spike of the Piz Corvatsch.
Details Half-board doubles from £309 a night (hotelprivata.ch)
7. Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus, Arolla
Don’t come expecting modern skiing infrastructure, nor cutting-edge design or luxuries. This is the Val d’Hérens, which fell off the edge of the tourist map sometime in the middle of the 20th century. Instead, you get low prices, a thrilling sense of seclusion, and this grande dame hotel, recently bought by an Anglo-French couple intent on preserving its simplicity and charm. Think high ceilings, fireside glasses of wine and fondue for supper — plus breathtakingly empty pistes and backcountry skiing the next day.
Details B&B doubles from £99 (grandhotelkurhaus.com). Fly or take the train to Geneva
8. Le Chalet d’Adrien, Verbier
Private chalets rule the roost in Verbier. But, despite the name, Chalet d’Adrien is not one of them. Instead, this five-star hotel, at the foot of the Savoleyres lift, offers the cosy-luxe atmosphere of a chalet but with proper hotel services and a Michelin-starred restaurant. The views — from the terrace, the indoor pool and the Panorama rooms — are cinematic, while the service is unerringly gracious.
Details Room-only doubles from £303 a night (chalet-adrien.com). Fly to Geneva