By Patrick Hunt –
In the Engadine Valley of Switzerland’s Graubunden Canton below the Alps, the town of St. Moritz and villages like Sils alongside Lake Silvaplana and Lake Sils are justifiably renowned since Celtic and Roman times for Roman stone roads sloping down the mountains to mineral springs, and later famous for luxurious hospitality, sports resorts and the famous artists and writers who thrived here. The latter include painter Giovanni Segantini and philosopher Friedrich Nietszche along with writers Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse, among others. The Segantini Museum in St. Moritz and Neitzsche’s house in Sils are must visits on my nearly annual pilgrimages here in the Engadine.
Hiking here is inspiring when you can walk along the same spectacular mountain paths as these historic persons ambled for years. Legendary hotels like Badrutt’s Palace Hotel (1896) and Hotel Kulm (ca. 1864), both created by hoteliers Johannes and Caspar Badrutt beginning in the 1860’s to bring winter tourism to St. Moritz, along with Hotel Waldhaus (1908) in Sils-Maria, as well as Grand Hotel Kronenhof (1848) and Hotel Walther (1907) both in Pontresina across the valley, have been magnets for aristocrats and artists alike since the Grand Tour in the mid-19th century, although Pieter Brueghel must have visited the Engadine earlier in his way to Rome around 1565 judging by his itinerary of fantastic montane landscapes.
Equally serendipitous in St. Moritz is the best cafe-chocolatier and patisserie in Graubunden Canton and perhaps all of Switzerland. This is Hanselmanns Konditorei, whose ambience and decor also cannot be surpassed with its sgraffito carved wall decorated and Art Nouveau touches.
The Engadine region is famous for its inscribed plaster sgraffito wall decorations and Hanselmann’s has some of the best in the region on its reddish relief outside walls in the beautiful structure purpose-built by Fritz Hanselmann in 1894 when St. Moritz was enjoying renown from sophisticated European travelers including British alpinists. Likely also one of the first coffee houses in Switzerland, Hanselmann’s is located in the heart of St. Moritz on the pedestrian square off Via Maestra.
One has many choices at Hanselmanns, whether buying chocolates and pralines, pastries and confections at the front counter, ordering coffee or hot chocolate and consuming these with food upstairs in the restaurant with a beautiful view over the lake, or also finding them by request in orders nearby at Badrutt’s Palace at breakfast in one’s room or in the great Badrutt’s dining room or outside on the ballroom porch over the lake.
I’ve also enjoyed a private tour of the working chocolaterie downstairs by the current owner Andrea Mutschler, great granddaughter of Fritz Hanselmann, with a tasting given by the chocolatier Marianne Zieseniss, who oversees a wide range of making chocolates of all sizes, including the chocolate steinbock-ibex as seen on the Graubunden cantonal shield. Regardless of how one visits or purchases at Hanselmanns, a stay of any length in St. Moritz would be incomplete without at least having chocolate from this legendary place. When hiking along these spectacular Alps, I cannot imagine seeing these high landscapes Segantini painted without ultimately ending up après la randonnée for a hot chocolate at Hanselmanns.