boy in snow

Family time in a winter wonderland

Luxury travel author Gabriella Le Breton discovers the wonders of a winter holiday with her young daughter in St. Moritz

One of my favourite parts of being a parent is learning from my toddler how to take joy in tiny things. Thanks to Mathilde, I have rediscovered just how much fun it is to catch snowflakes on my tongue, to examine a winter flower peeking out of the snow and to marvel at the softness of a horse’s nose.

Ski holidays form some of my happiest childhood memories, and I’ve waited 40 years to share my passion for skiing with my own child, who is now a little over two years old. Fortunately, Mathilde has shown a natural affinity for snow and sliding on it ever since her first winter trip to the mountains, aged nine months. However, to say that a winter holiday with a toddler is all fun and games would be telling only half the story − travelling with tiny tots always has its tricky moments. Tantrums at breakfast, tears in the boot room and drama on the nursery slopes are all part of the rich tapestry of exploring new worlds with a very small person.

Fun in the snow

Every holiday teaches invaluable lessons about how best to manage travelling with a toddler, which essentially boils down to one thing: a happy child equals happy parents. And, like so many things involving children, throwing money at the problem seems to help. Family winter holidays are just so much better with a dose of luxury: sumptuous hotels with roaring fires, glittering chandeliers and lots of hiding places; helping hands to ease on pre-warmed ski boots each morning; indulgent spas in which to warm up tiny toes after days spent in the snow…

“Family winter holidays are just so much better with a dose of luxury: sumptuous hotels with roaring fires, glittering chandeliers and lots of hiding places …”

Explaining to Mathilde that we were going to stay in a palace for our ski holiday was fun − seeing her face light up when we arrived at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel was magical. With its snow-topped turrets, liveried chauffeurs and grand lobby, she was transported into her very own fairytale. By the time she had investigated our bedroom, complete with her own bespoke bathrobe, slippers, toiletries and bears, she was convinced she was a princess in the best kingdom ever.

Days spent in Mathilde’s kingdom passed all too quickly, packed as they were with laughter, snowy adventures and even some rare mama and papa downtime. The first couple of days were spent as a family, all getting set up with our rental equipment in the comfort of the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel ski shop before messing about for a few hours on the nursery slopes. We went sledging at Preda Bergün and warmed up afterwards with fondue; we swapped the buggy for a sledge to follow a winding trail along the necklace of icy lakes that lie below St. Moritz; and we spent a snowy afternoon at the Serlas Parc Centre micro bowling alley.

Some alone time

Happily ensconced in her new environment, Mathilde happily waved my husband and me off from the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel’s children’s club, Palazzino. Safe in the knowledge that she was being cared for by the professional staff, learning to bake chocolate Türmli, paint masterpieces and generally create chaos that we didn’t have to tidy up, we made the most of rare time together. As is invariably the case, it felt like we had St. Moritz’s legendary slopes all to ourselves. We warmed up rusty ski legs on Corviglia’s manicured carving pistes before heading over to the long descents on Corvatsch, pausing for a drink on the sunny terrace of the Hahnensee hut. Like young lovers stealing illicit moments together, we banned talk of children and rediscovered each other.

Returning to Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, slightly fearful of recrimination from our little leader for having abandoned her, it transpired she was actually disappointed we’d returned so early. Fortunately, we had a hard-to-beat offer up our sleeves: a horse-drawn sleigh ride through snow-laden forests and along frozen rivers. Tucked cosily under blankets, we swished through a winter wonderland flushed golden by the setting sun, the crisp air filled with giggles and shimmering snowflakes.

Going off-piste in St. Moritz

Emboldened by Mathilde’s enthusiasm for the kid’s club, we ventured further afield the next day, eager to tackle some of the off-piste itineraries on Diavolezza. We spent the morning revelling in the tranquillity and rugged beauty of this hidden gem of a mountain, lapping the Morteratsch route until our legs told us it was time for lunch and a soak in the mountain-top Jacuzzi Diavolezza.

As restorative as time together was, we were both eager to return to Mathilde. Although spending bluebird powder days on the bunny hill rather than off-piste steeps isn’t how I envisaged spending my winters a few years ago, watching Mathilde’s glee as she zoomed down the little slope on Chanterella more than made up for some missed fresh tracks.

More winter activities

For all the fun of nurturing a budding skier, as anybody who has visited St. Moritz in the winter will know, there is much more than ‘just’ skiing to be enjoyed here. We were positively spoiled for choice for entertainment.

“Toddling casually from our room to the pool in her robe and slippers, she took to the spa like a duck to water. She now believes it’s entirely normal to finish a ski day with a dip in the hot tub followed by a massage”

We went pony riding at Gina’s riding school in Pontresina before ordering pizza by the metre at Conrad’s Mountain Lodge, we went husky sledding before hiking up to the cowshed-chic Kuhstall in Sils for lunch. The Mili Weber House proved particularly enthralling – hunkered down in dense forest, the ancient timber chalet is the essence of a Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house from the outside while its vaulted ceilings and wonky timber walls are daubed in the artist’s colourful, mystical paintings of wondrous fairy lands.

For all the temptation of St. Moritz’s myriad activities, I think Mathilde would have been content to simply take up residence at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. Toddling casually from our room to the pool in her robe and slippers, she took to the spa like a duck to water. She now believes it’s entirely normal to finish a ski day with a dip in the hot tub followed by a massage. She also believes that the lavish afternoon teas served in Le Grand Hall were conceived entirely for her benefit, with dainty sandwiches and cakes created to her specific size requirements.

As our St. Moritz adventure draws to a close, I’m already impatient to return. This is a place where childhood dreams come true and family memories are created. I cannot wait to watch Mathilde grow up, to introduce her to the ski slopes I know so intimately, and to discover some of the adventures that still await her − snowtubing, ice skating on the Madulain ice way, skijoring, kite-skiing and E-buggy racing to name just a few. But for the moment it’s enough to simply watch her devour my truffle tagliatelle on the sun-soaked terrace of El Paradiso, listening to her persuade us that she really is old enough to join the Pyjama Party in the King’s Club.

Gabriella Le Breton is a luxury travel writer who specialises in skiing, cruising and adventure travel. Her work has been published in The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, Harper’s Bazaar and Condé Nast Traveller.

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