Who put the ritz in St. Moritz? Undoubtedly, St. Moritz's reputation was made by the people who go there and who have been going there, generation after generation, since 1864, when hotelier Johannes Badrutt dared a group of English tourists—already summer regulars—to brave the Alpine winter as his guests. They loved it, delighted in the novelty of snowy mountain beauty—until then considered unappealing—and told their friends. By the turn of the century St. Moritz, Switzerland, and snow were all the rage.
The first historical reference to the town dates from 1139, and in 1537 Paracelsus, the great Renaissance physician and alchemist, described the health-giving properties of the St. Moritz springs. St. Moritz gets busy with celebs and socialites around the winter holidays—some New Year's Eve events have guest lists closed a year in advance—but the glitter fades by spring. Very ordinary people fill the streets come summer—the same hikers you might meet in any resort—and hotel prices plummet.
Then visitors see St. Moritz for what it really is: a busy, built-up old resort city that sprawls across a hillside above an aquamarine lake, the St. Moritzersee, surrounded by forested hills and by graceful, though not the region's most dramatic, peaks. Piz Rosatsch, with its glacier, dominates the view, with Piz Languard (10,699 feet) on the east and Piz Güglia (7,492 feet) on the west.
St. Moritz-Dorf is the most like a downtown, with busy traffic, but outlawing cars in the center of town and building the Serletta car park near the train station has alleviated competitive parking. Other than that, don't expect a picturesque village.
Even a hundred years of hype have not exaggerated its attraction as a winter sports center. The place that twice hosted the Olympic games (1928 and 1948)—and trademarked the shining sun as its logo—is still well set up for sports, with excellent facilities for ice-skating, bobsledding, ski jumping, and horseback riding. But it hardly has a lock on fine skiing: St. Moritz shares a broad complex of trails and facilities with Sils, Silvaplana, Celerina, and Pontresina; only the slopes of Corviglia, Marguns, and Piz Nair are directly accessible from town.