"Ursolina, daughter of Johannes and Natalina Badrutt-Pidermann. I was born on October 27, 1873 in Sils-Baselgia in the house of my cherished grandfather Johannes Badrutt-Berry...“
These lines are found on a yellowed sheet of paper, written by the granddaughter of the founder of the Kulm. Jointly with her husband Claudio Saratz, she had been the owner of Hotel Steinbock since the end of the 19th century.
Even she was held captive by the gold rush fever that the blossoming tourist industry had awakened. Instead of beginning by expanding the humble lodgings, they were gripped by the idea of building a luxuriously magnificent new hotel on the neighboring piece of property. The blueprints for it were delivered by Zurich's architect, Arnold Huber, who had at the time already made a name for himself for projects on Lake Geneva, in Zurich and Pontresina (Schweizerhof, Collina, Müller).
The plans were implemented in 1905. Sketches dating from 1904 give clear evidence that the intention originally was to expand to two times the original dimension at a later date, which clearly shows the mania of the times for achieving ever-bigger results and the strong faith in the emerging tourist industry.
Across the street, the baker Kochendörfer was inspired by the construction boom, which robbed Claudio Saratz of his sleep for quite some time and evoked a major dispute. After all, the drifting smell of bread baking in the oven was in no way compatible with the so highly praised fresh mountain air!
Saratz did not give in until his neighbor threatened to sell his property to the Catholic Church to build a house of prayer. In this way, the fumes from the roof experienced a victory over the chiming of church bells with the added benefit that the hotel owner purchased bread from his neighbor for the next five years. The hotel was completed in one single construction phase between 1905 – 1907.
It was given the name "Hotel Palace", a perfect match to the monumental end product and its patronage's preference of the time. "Equipped with the comforts of modern times!" is how the guests were drawn and which referred to the air-conditioning and heating system and the hotel's electricity. Building costs were estimated at 2.5 million Swiss francs, which in today's terms would equal a value of approximately 20 million Swiss francs.
The styles of Art Niveau and Domestic Revival were reflected especially on the facade with the use of coats of arms and mountain scenery and were emphasized by towers, stained glass and the typical lighting fixtures of the day. The 106 guest rooms with a total of 120 beds were kept simply designed, but intelligently so that three or more rooms could be combined to make an apartment.
The style was even more pompous in the areas where life at the hotel actually took place. The bar, the ladies' parlor, the promenade lounge, the vestibules but most especially the large lounges, parlor and the dining hall. In these rooms, ornamental pieces, an array of plush, marble and carvings provided a sophisticated route into relaxing pleasure. Seven meters between the floor and the magnificent ceiling of the dining hall created an atmosphere of spaciousness, offering a trend-setting experience for the times: instead of stiff old-world formalities at the table d’hôte, guests applauded the novelty of dining at their very own private table.
During the later hours of the evening, it was off to conquer the "Clubhütte", the imitation of a mountain chateau one floor below. In 1907, for the first time ever, Pilsner beer flowed through the tap in Engadin and most likely the frothy brew flowed down the throat of the leader of the Russian revolution, Lenin. It is said that he wrote in the chalet's guest book: "Le monde sera, mais il sera d’une autre façon." ("The world will continue – but it will do so in a different fashion."
The dignified hotel quickly reached top form and in the years 1910/1911, offering lodgings for up to 140 guests each day. However, not even the idyllic side valley of Engadin was spared the horrors of World War I and the short and sweet successful phase in the hotel's young history came to an end. The hotel abruptly became abandoned and ownership was assigned to the Graubündner Kantonalbank. The worries of the hotel owner, which eventually lead to a severe illness, ultimately led to his death. His widow was merely given the right to live and work in the hotel she had once called her own until 1937.
During both World Wars, the bank allowed the hotel to be used as a place for soldiers to sleep for short periods of time and in 1929, the building was polished up for the first time. During renovations, the owner approved the installation of central heating, flowing water in all guest rooms and lowering the ceiling in the dining hall so that heating in the room could be improved. Out of necessity, many elements of the Art Niveau style were lost as a result of the work done during this time.
Even though the economy between the World Wars once again generously bestowed blessings on the town of Pontresina, the summer seasons throughout World War II were feeble in comparison. Pontresina hardly hosted any more winter seasons.
In 1934, 200 kilometers in northwestern direction, Hans Walther resigned his post as the director of the Vierwaldstätter-Hof in Brunnen so that he could, jointly with his wife Mary, manage the hotel known today as Sporthotel Pontresina. On June 1, 1945, the Graubündner Kantonalbank entrusted him with the challenging reconstruction of both of the hotels Palace and Steinbock. Not until the 1950's when the economy showed signs of recovery and Pontresina introduced itself as a winter sports location in 1956 with the opening of the Diavolezza cable railway, did Hans Walther let go of his role as lessee of the hotel and become the new owner of Hotel Walther-Palace.
Once Barbara and Christian slid into their position upon passing hands to the next generation in 1963, they initiated substantial renovation work, intended to give the hotel the by then urgently required structural updates. Even the fact that the name of the hotel was changed to Hotel Walther was characteristic for the initial days of the latest generation. In doing so, they distanced themselves from what had by then become a musty plush image of "Palace" and stepped off the tracks of that Grand-Hotel steam engine threatening to knock them down.
For 40 years they offered a skilled combination of historic preservation and modernizing measures with loving care and continuity. For that reason, some of the most significant parts of the building today still revel in the Art Niveau style and, thanks to creative refinements in construction methods and in technical manner, can harmonize beautifully with our modern times. This is one of the most essential reasons, why the hotel has been a member of the world-renowned hotel association Relais & Châteaux since 1993.
1986 introduced the age of wellness with the construction of the indoor swimming pool in Hotel Walter, and was followed up by its sequel in 2002 with the introduction of the relaxation oasis "Aqua-Viva". Both projects combined guzzled down five million Swiss francs. Despite significant tax-related pitfalls, in 1997 Thomas and Anne-Rose Walther assumed Christian and Barbara Walther's life's work. It had now come upon them to maintain the hotel's excellence after the first 100 years and beyond. On January 1, 2007 their dedication and commitment was awarded with the hotel categorization of four stars superior and just recently gave a refreshing breath of new air to their 100-year legacy. A new logo shines proudly, signifying the dynamics of the hotel along with its continued values and the newly renovated parlor shines just as much.
You are welcome to enjoy our 15 Gault Millau points in the Alpine chic of the “La Stüva” à-la-carte restaurant, since 2008. At the same time, the hotel bar has been re-organised, advancing to a stylish meeting point as well as the smokers’ room.
For now the mosaic is made completely from natural material. Changing area, massage and treatment zone and swimming pool are now lined with fragrant larch and gleaming green granite from the Swiss mountains.