Tradition & History
Tradition & History
Hotel Walther – Unique since 1907
«Ursolina, daughter of Johannes and Natalina Badrutt-Pidermann. I was born on 27th October, 1873, in Sils-Baselgia in the house of my dear grandfather Johannes Badrutt-Berry...» These lines are written on a yellowed piece of paper by the granddaughter of the founder of the Kulm Hotel in St. Moritz. Together with her husband, Claudio Saratz, she owned Hotel Steinbock in Pontresina at the end of the 19th century.
Instead of expanding the modest inn, the idea of building a luxurious Grand Hotel on the adjacent property burgeoned with the boom in tourism that the region was starting to experience.
The Zurich architect Arnold Huber, who had already built hotels on Lake Geneva, in Zurich, and in Pontresina (Schweizerhof, Collina, Müller), provided the plans. In 1905, the building work began. Early sketches with the original intention of later expanding the hotel in two dimensions bear witness to the exaggerated belief in the development of tourism at the time.
The Palace of Pontresina
The new Grand Hotel was named “Hotel Palace”, befitting of its monumental appearance and the guests’ preferences at that time. The construction costs are estimated to have been 2.5 million francs, corresponding to around 20 million francs today. Art Nouveau and Heimatstil elements dominated the facade, framed by coats of arms, mountain scenes, turrets, and stained glass. The modern conveniences, including air conditioning, heating, and electric lights, attracted new guests. The 106 guest rooms with a total of 120 beds were simply furnished but cleverly designed so that three or more rooms could be connected to create an apartment.
The bar, ladies’ salon, promenade loggia, vestibule and the large social rooms, salon and dining room, the heart of vibrant hotel life, exuded even more luxury and pomp.
There, stucco ornaments, plush marble, and carvings bestowed an atmosphere of ultimate sophistication, luxury, and relaxation. The dining room’s magnificent ceiling, seven meters above the hardwood floor, creates a majestic atmosphere and generous proportions in which patrons can still feel the golden age to this day.
Instead of regulated table assignments, guests were able to choose their tables freely – a pioneering feature at that time. As the evening progressed, guests moved to the "Clubhütte" one floor below – a replica of a mountaineer’s hut. In 1917, the first Pilsener beer in the Engadine was drawn from its tap, with one later being enjoyed by the Russian revolutionary Lenin here. According to tradition, he wrote in the hut book: «Le monde sera, mais il sera d’une autre façon.»
The dignified Palace fast became “the place to stay”, accommodating an impressive 140 or so guests daily in 1910/1911. But the horrors of the First World War did not spare Pontresina and ended this brief bliss. The hotel was suddenly empty and became the property of the Graubündner Kantonalbank. Many worries and a serious illness led to the untimely death of the hotelier. Until 1937, his widow only had the right to live and work in her former hotel.
During the two wars, the bank temporarily made the former “Hotel Palace” an accommodation venue for soldiers. In 1929, the building received its first major update. Central heating was installed, and all rooms were equipped with running water. Sadly, the Art Nouveau elements fell victim to these updates. In the period between the wars, the economy once again generously blessed Pontresina, but summer business still left much to be desired until after the Second World War – at this time, there was hardly a winter season in Pontresina.
The Walther Alliance
In 1934, 200 kilometres to the north-west, Hans Walther vacated his director’s chair at the Vierwaldstätter-Hof in Brunnen to take over the management of today’s Sporthotel Pontresina with his wife, Mary. On 1 June, 1945, the Graubündner Kantonalbank entrusted him with the challenging rehabilitation of the Palace and the Steinbock.
It was not until the economic upswing commenced in the 1950s and Pontresina burgeoned into a winter sports resort with the Diavolezza cable car in 1956 that Hans Walther gave up his role as a leaseholder and became the owner of «Hotel Walther-Palace». In 1963, Barbara and Christian followed as the next generation and fixed structural issues with considerable renovations.
By shortening the name to «Hotel Walther», they were distancing themselves from the plush and lavish image of the “Palace”, which had by then become somewhat run-down and was no longer viewed as one of the Engadine’s Grand Hotel heavyweights.
For the next 40 years, Barbara and Christian Walther crafted a skilful mix of protecting the historic building and modernizing it with passion and continuity in mind. The result is that significant parts of the building still luxuriate in the Art Nouveau style and, thanks to creative structural and technical refinements, harmoniously blend into modern times – one of the main reasons it was recognised in 1993 by the prestigious, world-renowned hotel association Relais & Châteaux.
Invest until it sparkles
In 1986, Hotel Walther joined the wellness movement – first with the construction of the indoor swimming pool, then the expansion of this 2002 to create the «Relax-Oasis AQUA VIVA». The two projects together cost five million Swiss francs.
The next generation
In 1997, Thomas and Anne-Rose Walther took over Christian and Barbara’s life work. Their first task was to maintain the hotel-s quality beyond the 100-year mark. At the beginning of 2007, thanks to their commitment, they achieved the hotel classification «4**** Superior». A new logo now radiates pride, vibrancy, and lasting value – with the newly renovated salon adding to this vision.
La Stüva, Bar, Fumoir
The Gourmet-Stübli «La Stüva» shines in Alpine chic with its 15 Gault-Millau points. The hotel bar and smoking lounge were also given a fresh look using local materials. Two years later, the ski room received modern ski lockers. And the redesign of the garden terrace made winter operation possible.
After a spectacular parade, the former Diavolezza cable car became a quirky fondue gondola. According to Trip Adviser, it is the most popular restaurant in Pontresina today.
In 2012/2013, the next big steps were taken – this time underground. 130 parking spaces with a washing area and charging stations below ground and a hotel park with many private spaces above ground next to the Gondolezza.
New rooms, new suites
Since 2013, the building substance has been continuously upgraded: Four new junior suites were created, one suite was raised to a new level, all TV sets were replaced, and faster Wi-Fi was installed. Eight rooms are renovated every year, in line with the contemporary style of the ground floor. An escape route including fire and smoke protection curtains ensures even greater security.
Back to the Future
In 2017, Hotel Walther’s entrance area, reception, lobby, grand restaurant, bar, and smokers’ lounge were given a fresh and vibrant look. A 3.3-million gift to the hotel on the occasion of its 110th anniversary enabled the hotel to offer its guests even more luxury and a wonderful holiday experience.
The new premises were planned and designed by interior designer Virginia Maissen. She gave the ground floor an outstanding facelift with targeted architectural interventions and a bespoke design concept that reflects the local environment. «My goal was to make the qualities and values of the hotel such as hospitality, tradition and consistency visible and tangible for the guests,» explains the Grisons native. The motto «back to its roots» played a central role.
Built in the Belle Époque, many unique original features of the hotel had been hidden over time. In close cooperation with local craftsmen, these old treasures were made visible again, carefully restored, and combined with timeless design classics and imaginatively playful personal creations.
All of the carpets, with their elaborate patterns, the wall panels, sofas, and other pieces of furniture were created by Virginia Maissen and her team. The elegant partitions and railings featuring decorative embellishments were designed by the local blacksmith.
The works of internationally renowned artists provide exquisite accents. In the Walther Bar, the light installation «splendurir» (Romansh for shine, shine), which the artist Rolf Sachs designed especially for the Hotel Walther, shines. Selected watercolours by the Italian painter Sandro Fabbri adorn the walls, and behind an oil painting of a glacier panorama you will find a screen for fun TV evenings. Multipurpose use was a major focus for the Walther family. «Whether it’s a wedding party, a cultural event, or a public viewing – we want the premises to be exciting for external guests as well,» says Thomas Walther, who has been running the hotel since 1997 with his wife Anne-Rose as the 3rd generation of Walthers.
Several articles show that the redesign has also attracted interest from outside the hotel. For example, the Tagesanzeiger, the US Private Air Magazine, and the Swiss news portal for hotels, gastronomy and tourism htr reported on the Walther’s new look.