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Room and boars

The spirit(s) of St Moritz manifests itself at the Waldhaus am See hotel

(Keystone Archive)

Where on earth can one find wild boars roaming the hotel corridors and the largest whisky bar in the world? St Moritz, of course.

Claudio Bernasconi has only tasted about 1,000 of the 2,500 whiskies lining the shelves of his hotel's whisky bar, Devil's Place. But then again, his collection and not his drinking habits have put him in the Guinness Book of World Records.

"I travelled through India 25 years ago and because the water wasn't clean, I had to brush my teeth with whisky, and eventually developed a taste for it," explains Bernasconi, as he leads a guest through a whisky tasting.

Proof of his passion for single malt whiskies is evident as one surveys the bottles lining the shelves of the floor to ceiling glass cabinets in the bar.

He has about 70 different bottles of Scotch whisky from the Macallan distillery alone. "The oldest one is from 1878 and is worth SFr25,000 ($15,000)," he says.

Blue chips

"If you buy a whisky from a distillery like Port Ellen, which ceased production in 1983, it's a better investment than a blue chip," claims Bernasconi. "If you buy a bottle now for about SFr200, it'll be worth about SFr500 in a few years' time."

It's difficult for guests staying at Bernasconi's hotel, Waldhaus am See, to resist buying a pass for a "round the world" journey through the world of whisky. The pass entitles the holder to taste seven kinds of whisky and to hear the expert opinion of a renowned whisky connoisseur.

"The taste of a 20-30 year old whisky is much more powerful," he explains. "The flavour stays in your mouth for about three to four minutes, whereas the taste from a cheap or young whisky disappears after 10 seconds."

Guests are also attracted to the Waldhaus am See for its excellent wine cellar, which contains an impressive 50,000 bottles. The American Wine Spectator magazine honoured the hotel last year with its "Grand Award" for being a "great dining destination for wine lovers".

And a Swiss magazine, Bilanz, gave the Waldhaus am See the title of best three-star hotel in Switzerland in 1996, 1997 and again in 1999.

Hunting trophies

Another St Moritz establishment run by a passionate collector is the four-star Hotel Albana.

The walls of the wide stairwell in the six-storey hotel are lined with hunting trophies, brought back from five continents by the hotel owner, Heinrich Weinmann.

The hotel is not for the faint of heart, or for animal rights supporters.

The stares of European wild boars, African lions and gazelles, North American grizzly bears and South American pumas follow every movement of hotel guests as they make their way to their rooms. In fact, the 250 stuffed animals far outnumber the guests, even when the hotel is fully booked.

The hotel collection was given official museum status about four years ago, and any curious visitor interested in the collection is provided at the reception with a detailed brochure (in German) describing the trophies in the stairwell.

by Dale Bechtel

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