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Thursday 28 February 2013

Giardino Mountain - The Snowy Peak of Design

It's not enough these days to install some quirky furniture and call yourself a design bar, hotel, health club or boutique. While it's true that design has become democratised, the term design has been devalued; becoming a synonym for wacky differentiation. Design is more than owning a Philippe Starck chaise; it's more than playing jazzy house in the elevators, and it's refreshing to see that people still recognise this.

Design Hotels, the association for genuinely great independent hotels has given it's seal of approval to the Giardino Mountain hotel in St. Mortiz. In a world of Heidi style log cabins and dusty grand hotels we flew in to see what the avantgarde property is doing differently. Read our full report on why the Giardino Mountain is the definition of what design all hotels should aspire to.

Pulling in to St. Moritz station, we're met with crisp blue skies and a number of silver haired drivers waiting outside premium German saloon cars. Getting in to said saloons are similarly silver haired retirees, on their way to check-in to some of the grandest old hotels of Europe. The Carlton, The Palace, the Kempinski; all jostling for the top spot in the 'turrets and towers' class of five star Alpine architecture.

Our Ralph Lauren model driver, from the Giardino Mountain hotel has sunglasses and and a smart Land Rover Discovery. A sign that things at the boutique hotel are a little more 'with the times'. Opened in December 2011, the building is no Frank Gehry architectural marvel. Sitting comfortably in to the landscape, the grande chalet, rebuilt by Roland Hinzer of Hinzer Architektur, is sympathetic and in tune with it's environment.

On the inside, the hotel embraces it's alpine DNA; the relaxed lounge area with over-sized fireplace sits alongside public spaces with timber beams and cathedral ceilings. But the atypical ski and snow aesthetic stop there. Designed by a duo of Swiss and German interior decorators, the spaces at the Giargino Mountain are effortlessly elegant, contemporary and, dare we say it, fun.

Not fun in a 'lets install a wacky piece of statement furniture or ironic art print' way, but in a way that recognises that guests at the hotel are likely to be there on holiday, with friends, family and in high spirits. Francesca Alder-Schweizer [Bofor Design] and Gaby Bachhuber Geissinger [Bachhuber Geissinger] have created interiors that are effortless and in good taste. Take for example the suede sunken sitting area in the main lounge; casual, colourful but not patronising. While we were there some locals popped in for drinks with their St. Bernard, without a second thought, the waitress brings over a chic bowl of water for the hound.

What's clever about the design of the Giardino Mountain is that they have actively sacrificed the number of rooms in the property to provide some excellent facilities. Sure, it has a superb spa, Amex worthy boutique, restaurant and pine-clad apres bar... but when was the last time you stayed at a hotel with a dedicated children's room? with large communal table at a child friendly height for meals and colouring-in, ball pools and huge play area. Kids a little older? No problem, they'll want the teen zone on the mezzanine level with cool couches, multiplayer games consoles, spots tables and illuminated deer heads on lizard print wallpaper.

But don't be fooled by the playfulness, we saw hotel guests with £230,000 Concept Ferrari's, perfect for carbon fibre ski's, and the quality of dining was on par with the subtle yet expensive Italian fixtures liberally scattered throughout the unique layout of the hotel.

Designed to represent a village in itself, a central subterranean hall with gigantic feature pendant lighting functions as a local 'street', connecting a number of accommodation buildings with individual stairs and lifts. Gone are the endless corridors of identical battery-style rooms. And speaking of rooms, they're all unique too. With a similarly well designed and contemporary Alpine effortlessness that makes this Design Hotel an integral part of a vacation, and not just a place to spend the night.

Speaking about the very unique positioning of the hotel, it's manager commented on how the grand old guard of turreted hotels in the region have been welcoming. "We cater for a different kind of guest and aren't in direct competition with the others. They respect us as much as we respect them, and the locals appreciate the variety" - While that may be true, we can't help but think that it's only a matter of time before cool young things become silver haired retirees - and when they do, having gotten comfortable with brilliant design hotels like the Giardino Mountain, there will be little need for the grand old Alpine palaces.
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