The overbearing influence of digital technology has become almost impossible to switch off from. Where better to destress and unplug than amongst snow-peaked mountains and alpine woods at Grand Hotel Kronenhof.
Over the past decade social media and digital reliance has grown so exponentially that today those without it are viewed with at best suspicion and at worst down right disdain. Instagram has become our bedtime reading, Facebook our morning newspaper, and, personally, if I haven’t checked my emails by 10am I break out into full body hives. It’s all become rather a bore. So when I found out about a digital detox in a snowy winter wonderland I signed myself up on the double.
I want to make clear this is not a clean-eating detox, something that I have grown to find tiresome. There are no kale smoothies here, no enemas to flush out “toxins” from our insides, and no carrot and celery stick dinners. Nor does this detox promise a spiritual awakening, a la gap year students in Tibet. Instead, this is four days break from any digital equipment. That’s no phones, no iPads, no laptops, no kindles, no nothing. Your days are crammed with revitalising and eye-opening activities, that will hopefully leave you with the ability to resist using your iPhone in the bath or Instagramming your Starbucks cup.
So where’s all this happening?
Grand Hotel Kronenhof is a remarkable place to stay. Voted best hotel in the world in a 2014 poll, the mid-19th century Belle Epoque palace is an ode to sheer opulence. Located in charming Pontresina near the glitzy town of St Moritz, it draws a glamorous clientele. Getting there is easy – just hop on your jet and whizz over to St Moritz’s private-planes-only airport. No PJ? Then it’s three and a half hours on a train from Zurich airport. The train is no Southern Rail slow-coach though. Named the Glacier Express for its stunning alpine and mountain views, it is one of only three railways in the world to be UNESCO protected and runs like Swiss clockwork.
The interiors are magnificent. There’s gilt everywhere – on cornices, walls, doors, etc. Hand painted antique frescoes cover the ceilings, and sumptuous deep velvet furniture beckons travellers to rest weary bones. The hotel frequently makes use of its dramatic location with enormous, strategically placed windows.
Bedrooms are split between the main building and the more modern spa extension. They are decorated either in classic or contemporary alpine style. Some are thickly carpeted with walls outfitted in silk, others are defined by clean lines and wood veneer. All come with luxuries such as Asprey toiletries and either balconies or snowy verandas.
Three restaurants on site offer differing degrees of formality. The Grand Restaurant is the hotel’s main a la carte dining room. It is located in a former ballroom, with enchanting ceiling frescoes that depict the four seasons. There is a jacket-and-no-jeans dress code, which is strictly adhered to. Kronenstubli, the second restaurant, offers a gourmet foodie option. It serves haute cuisine in a traditionally alpine-styled, wood panelled room. Less formal in style and with no dress code, the thrills here come purely from the top-notch food. Finally, the casual eatery Le Pavilion offers traditional Swiss lunches such as cheese fondue and potato rosti in a club house overlooking the hotel’s ice rink.
Digital detoxers can eat in any of the above restaurants, from any menu. Not a raw vegan nut loaf in sight.
Spa facilities at the Kronenhof are among the most impressive in the world. The spa building’s contemporary architecture was designed specifically to blend in with the hotel’s natural setting. The results are gorgeous. Floor to ceiling curved windows by the indoor pool create a sense of immersion in the landscape, a unique experience for swimmers. There are several thermal experiences, hydrotherapy pools, treatment suites that overlook the mountains, and a relaxation room complete with heavenly leather waterbeds.
The detox is spread over several days and begins with the dreaded handing over of digital equipment for storage in the hotel safe. Activities are varied and include the following:
The most unusual and eye-catching of the activities turns out to be quite literally yoga on skis. Taught by ski instructors who epitomise the aesthetic of alpine wellness, the session aims to link our physical actions to our mentality. As in all yoga there is a heavy focus on the breath, but here breathing is related to how we move while skiing. The practise is believed to correct inaccuracies in ski technique, and improve overall performance. Participants are left feeling energised, excited, and with a sense of being connected to their environment.
The detox includes several spa therapies, all are stress busters designed to induce a sense of calm. They include a detox hydrotherapy salt bath, in which powerful jets massage the body reducing muscle tension. A Haki Sacral treatment which targets the area between the hips and lumbar spine, ideally suited to “stressed people” who may spend all day in an office chair. Finally an “Energy Massage” tailored to cater to the regular requests of the hotel’s worn out winter sports lovers, increases energy in the muscles and further reduces tension. Detoxers are encouraged to make regular use of the hotels spa facilities as well.
Morning Meditative Hike
Beginning at first light, this hike focuses on silence and connection with nature. It finishes on a viewing platform that offers incredible views over the half illuminated mountain range. When we visited the sky was dappled with pink, yellow, and blue, a beautiful and harmonising experience.
This Pilates class was surprisingly tough, even for those of us who regularly spend time on spa and fitness breaks. The emphasis was on strengthening the spine and core muscles, and although challenging, was suitable for beginners.
On the final day detoxers visit the mountain Muottas Muragl to sled, weather depending, the 4.2km to the bottom. For less daring folk, the views from the top are outstanding.
Various slots of free time, as well as meal times, can be filled as diners please. One afternoon we visited the Kronenhof’s sister hotel in St Moritz, the Kulm. Guests of the Kronenhof are welcome to use their dining allowance and the spa facilities at the Kulm. In both Pontresina and St Moritz there are numerous ski areas and schools, shopping options, and local independent restaurants to explore.
On completion of the detox, the entire group felt happier, lighter, and in no rush to get back on our phones. Inevitably this wasn’t to last, and I am now firmly back behind my screens. There have been changes though. I run errands without my phone, leave it upstairs when entertaining friends and family, and try not to use social media before sleeping. Whatever the permanent results of a digital detox may be, the experience is enjoyable, reaffirming, and highly recommended.