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Above the Clouds the Sun always shines or Wintering in the Alps; 
The Grand Hotel Kronenhof, Pontresina
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by Andreas Augustin, November 2006

Switzerland is famous for exporting talented hoteliers all over the globe. The logic is simple: the country is known for having some of the most legendary hotels on the planet. 

Let's start with the Engadine, a mountain region at 1,800-3,000m. It inspired Hemingway (1899–1961) to say: "Switzerland is a small, steep country much more up and down than sideways, and is all stuck over with large brown hotels built in the cuckoo clock style of architecture." ("Toronto Star Weekly", March 1922). 

St. Moritz and Pontresina represent the social heart of the region. They share the highest airport in Europe – Engadine Airport Samedan, where only visual approaches are permitted. Grand hotels await the traveller all over the place, perching on top of the hills like pristine early ocean liners or, better still, old palaces. In 1896 an hotelier named Caspar Badrutt even decided to call his hotel "Palace". This, by the way, was the first Palace hotel in the world. The Palace in question is NOT a cuckoo clock, but rather a "Big Ben" – it has a tower. 

Back in 1988 we made our way to Pontresina, where the Grand Hotel Kronenhof awaited us. Its former manager Xaver Stocker (right) had called us in to record the history of this fine old establishment.

I always fondly recall our days at the Kronenhof. It has such a family friendly atmosphere that we even brought the children. They both skied all day long on the slopes of Pontresina. The Diavolezza, Bernina and Lagalb areas are a magical winter wonderland. 

Photographer Bill Lorenz accompanied us and shot some of his most remarkable work in hotel documentary photography. 

Upon starting our research, we were led into a small room in the oldest part of the house, dating back to 1849. 'These are the archives,' Stocker proudly announced. Stacks of old photographs, guest books and historic documents like drawings (left) greeted us. 

We dove into the material and were at once driven back to the days of the 1850s, when a few men in this region realised that a new breed of travellers, called tourists, was seeking the kind of accommodation worth staying in for more than one hasty night.

Over the decades the Palace, the Kulm (both in St Moritz) and the Kronenhof,  the grand old lady of Pontresina, developed into grand alpine hotels. The Kronenhof was the first of them all. A small boarding house with only three rooms in 1849, it became the Gasthof (inn) zur Krone-Post. 

All guest records are still kept in the archives of the Kronenhof. Hence, we know that there were 14 guests in the first year, 11 Germans and ‘other’ nationalities, and three English guests. One of them was a certain F. Hugh who brought his dog Flip (to give you an idea of the sort of archives we found!). 

Pre-eminent among the myths of St. Moritz is the tale of how, through a bet with some English friends, Caspar's father Johannes Badrutt (at the Hotel Kulm) reputedly "invented" the concept of wintering in the Alps. One summer day, the legend goes, he was asked what they did up here in the rough mountain climate during winter when it was all ice and snow for months on end. 
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'In winter,' he replied, 'it's sometimes so sunny and warm that we wear short sleeves.'  'Not true', the Englishman laughed, a foggy London winter day in mind.   'I bet you. If it's not true, I will pay for your stay.' 

Winter arrived. When the skeptic Brits arrived to bright sunshine, they found that they had packed everything one needed for cold winter days: pullovers, sweaters and gloves. But one essential item was missing: sun glasses! 

Thus, the winter season was born and guests from all over Europe soon flocked to the mountain destination. 

As mankind needs games, skiing, skating and curling were invented. St Moritz knew what it owed the British and American guests and invented The Cresta, an ice run, three quarters of a mile long. The first rider to adopt the now traditional head-first position was a British subject, a Mr Cornish, in the 1887 Grand National. 

Riders brake using the rakes on their boots and if they are out of control they are certain to go out at Shuttlecock, the most famous corner of the Run. Fallers at Shuttlecock automatically become members of the Shuttlecock Club and are entitled to wear a Shuttlecock tie. It's that sort of game.

During this period, hotels designed to become homes away from home, were built. They duly contained a reading room, a cards room, the fireplace and the library. The primary aim was to please the distinguished traveller. With the greatest care, the necessities and styles of the foreigners were copied, sometimes merciless merged with the afore-mentioned cuckoo clock style of architecture. 

Traditionally the owning couple of the Gredig family ran the Kronenhof. Many years ago the large family sold the hotel. Managers took the helm of this Swiss institution; Henry Hunold followed Xaver Stocker - all hoteliers in the great Swiss tradition. 

Recently a guest remark reached us: 'The manager attended each meal and made a point of coming around to each table to make sure you were well taken care of. I have never, EVER been to a hotel before where the people were so incredibly eager to please and the service was impeccable.' 

Today, again, a managing couple is at the helm of the house. With ample experience in deluxe hotels, Heinz E. and Jenny Hunkeler are leading the hotel through its most remarkable renovation phase. A spa wonderland is going to be added. New rooms, apartments and an underground car park have been partially completed. 

Historic Timeline

1849: Andreas and his son Lorenz Gredig buy the inn "Roessli" 
1851: Lorenz Gredig changes the name to Gasthof zur Krone-Post 
1856: Hotel Kulm St Moritz opens 
1857: Gasthof zur Krone-Post changes name to Hotel Krone 
1865: over 600 guests that year 
1870: expansion - total of 50 guestrooms 
1877: Bellavista tract  1886: 154 guestrooms 
1894: the highest golf course of Europe opens in Samedan 
1897: Palace St Moritz opens 
1905: the Simplon tunnel opens 
1906: railway reaches Samedan 
1914: World War I leads to total closure of most Swiss seasonal hotels. The Kronenhof guest books show no record until 15 Dec 1920. 
1923: the first car is allowed on the streets of the Engadin
1928: Olympic games in Pontresina and St Moritz 
1939-1945: World War II, most of the hotel is closed. Only the small original building is operated to accommodate the small number of occasional guests. 
1950s: the hotel is booming again; King Faruk of Egypt makes it his home. 
1974: Rita-Angela Gredig manages the house and its 140 staff.  Sean Connery arrives to shoot Five Days One Summer (director Fred Zinnemann). 
1989: the hotel is sold to a Swiss group of financiers. 
2004: the AG Grandhotels Engadinerkulm becomes the new owner. 
2006: in the good old tradition of the house, the new management team is a couple: Heinz E. and Jenny Hunkeler. The hotel faces its most challenging renovation, spending 37 million Swiss francs on 29 rooms and a state-of-the-art Spa on 1500 square metres.



Our book Kronenhof is available in German only (the leather bound edition became a collector's item). 

To accompany the completion of the new spa and rooms we will republish it, this time due to great demand in German again and of course in English. 

© The Most Famous Hotels in the World Ltd., London
 
 

Andreas Augustin was born in Vienna in 1956, studied hotel management at the Hotel Management College at the Castle of KIesheim, Salzburg. Instead of pursuing a hotel career, he followed his life-long desire to write. He became a journalist and at 25 became the editor of his own publication, a Salzburg city magazine.

The following years as magazine reporter, newspaper columnist, radio host and international correspondent led to extensive journeys to the Orient and Far East. In 1986 he took up residence for three years at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore to study and to write about the region and the hotels of South East Asia. It was there that he developed the series of books "The Most Famous Hotels in the World", possessed by the idea to set new standards in the field of historic research and hotel publications. 

With a wonderful team of writers, historians, researchers and photographers he is building the library of hospitality. The Most Famous Hotels in the World - today with almost 400 select member hotels - has built a major value driver and creator, recognized as the leading archives of historic hotels, thus representing a major source of information to build the future of hospitality. 

As President of the associated Club of The Friends of The Most Famous Hotels in the World Andreas Augustin also takes care of its members from all over the world. Andreas Augustin can be reached at: president@famoushotels.org

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Contact:

The Most Famous Hotels in the World
Glasauergasse 36
1130 Vienna
Austria (Europe)
www.famoushotels.org

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Also See: London: The Savoy - 'Mr Ritz, Mr Escoffier; You Have Been Dismissed!' / Andreas Augustin / November 2006
The Imperial Hotel and the Bristol Hotel, Vienna - How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / October 2006
The Grand Hôtel Métropole in Hanoi was the Premier Hotel of French Indo-China; Restored to its Former Glory the Hotel Had One Problem, Nobody Knew When it Had Opened its Doors / October 2006
The Oriental in Bangkok / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / October 2006
Hotel Sacher Vienna / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / October 2006
Raffles Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Hamburg / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / September 2006
Raffles, Singapore / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / September 2006

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