Editor's Pick: Nira Alpina

rray explains what has impressed him recently in the world of upmarket travel. This time, he melts for the fondue charms of Nira Alpina hotel in St Moritz

From the moment I spotted the cute little Swiss timber hut Pichalain I knew we were meant to be together. “Apr??s, little hut,” I whispered as I walked past. “Apr??s.”

And as I sat in that toasty den on a comfy stool, sipping an eclectic range of schnapps while fondue-fencing with friends over an enormous pot of molten cheese, the hut confirmed everything I had suspected it might be.

My only error had been to use the word ‘apr??s’. Our acquaintance, in fact, was made ‘before’ a treat – night skiing.

Ordinarily, I would have partaken in a little less cheese, but since the hotel is connected to the Corvatsch cable car station via a private walkway (the only hotel that is) the waddle was short and the extra weight helped me get down the mountain a few minutes later.

There’s something about night skiing that’s even more exciting than doing it by day:? the piste is lit up like a runway down the side of the mountain – and you get to be the plane.

For a few thousand euros the hotel can even organise evening hire of the mountain. Yes, mountain hire. Makes private jets seem so 1980s.

I wasn’t sure Nira Alpina was going to be my Editor’s Pick until May 1 when they sent me a photo of a pink cow covered in Smarties with ‘Happy Birthday!’ written on the side.

It’s not often a hotel makes me laugh – many are guilty of taking themselves a little seriously – so this clinched it.

It’s not the flashiest place I’ve stayed. The rooms aren’t the biggest, the bathrooms not the most opulent and the food not the most Michelin-y. It’s not even five-star (gasp). But then, people with taste don’t actually care about archaic nonsense like star ratings.

Not that the standard of the hardware isn’t excellent. The rooms are tip-top, with Swiss spruce, Italian stone and suede decor, alongside flatscreen TVs and granite bathrooms with waterfall showers (not that I’ve ever been in a shower where the water didn’t fall, mind you).

The food is yummy, eclectic and available in a variety of eateries, each with such different ambiences it’s hard to believe they’re in the same building. The dressing gown was so comfortable I considered selling my car to buy it and the sheets were clearly just as expensive.

But this hotel is far from warranting any association with the town’s rather undeserved reputation as the King’s Road with ear muffs. It describes itself as ‘neither ostentatiously glitzy, nor traditionally folksy’, and while describing something by saying what it isn’t rarely paints a picture I think this does a good job.

I should add that it’s important not to forget that St Moritz is actually the original winter destination where Brits with several months to spare travelled to enjoy some mountain air back before shops with names like Kaffee Tee Caviar opened up.

It’s also home to the Cresta Run, which is where sane people first threw themselves down icy tracks head first on a tiny sledge. Bonkers levels of fun in the snow were invented here. They race horses on frozen lakes and think that’s totally normal and fine.

So perhaps the quirky hotel that sends photos of pink cows with Smarties on is actually a surprisingly apt homage to the pioneering (and mildly loopy) spirit of the St Moritz of the late 19th century.

- Nira Alpina offers three and seven-night ‘NirAll-Inclusive Ski’ packages including complimentary ski passes and ski rental as well as free access to the Engadin Valley and all public transport within the St Moritz region. Also included is breakfast and an option of three ‘Dine Around’ dinners.
Prices: From £1,131 double occupancy for three nights and about £2,877 for seven.

What to do in summer
Switzerland’s Engadin region is almost as good in summer as winter. Here are some Nira Alpina activity suggestions for clients who like their mountains a little greener.

• Sail away in Surlej: Thanks to the famous Maloja wind, Lake Silvaplana is a favourite with kite surfers and sailors. Making the most of its lakeside location, the hotel has introduced a three-night summer sailing package (from £1,282) which includes a two hour sailing lesson, beach BBQ, 60-minute body massage at the Nira Spa and a three-course dinner at Stars restaurant overlooking the lake.

• Up in the air: If water is a little too, er, wet, the hotel is happy to send you into the sky in a chopper. Its three night Airscape package (from £1,360) includes a
trip over the mountains.

• Take a hike: A new Mountain Active package (from £1,214) includes a two day hiking tour from the Nira Alpina hotel to the Piz Paul mountain range and along to the Fex