It has long been a source of inspiration to poets, artists and philosophers – and Sils, in the high-altitude valley of Engadine in the Swiss Alps, still proves a haven of luxury and creativity
Waldhaus – house in the woods. To an English speaker, it sounds pretty; to a German speaker, there are centuries of myth behind the forest legend. Sitting on a bench, in the larch forest in the grounds of Waldhaus Sils, we pondered this. To one side, the hotel’s terrace restaurant – a terrace dissolved in forest – was finishing up lunch service. Immediately below us, two clay tennis courts lay empty after a family session had finished – a daughter narrowly beating a father, awash with glee; a family that looked as if they had been playing tennis in the woods for generations.
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Beyond, the mountainside dropped down and you could glimpse the valley floor through the trees: a flat glacial meadow and a blue-black lake containing a couple of islands, thick with pines. Beyond, a steep, largely treeless mountainside, grass, rocks, scree, peaks.
Waldhaus Sils is at the highest point of the Engadine, the wide, high-altitude valley that carves through the east of Switzerland like a scratch in the Alps. St Moritz is 10 minutes down the road, but the village of Sils has its own character and history. Nietzsche and Hermann Hesse lived and visited here; generations of artists came here for inspiration, and some, such as Gerhard Richter, 90 years old and widely considered the greatest living artist, still do come to stay at the Waldhaus.
The hotel is on a rock just above the village, and what seems at first to be another in the mould of excellent palace buildings in the mountains, turns out to be rather more special.
To walk through the Waldhaus is like walking through a living museum of 20th-century design – when we say living, we mean it’s like a home, rather than curated for the benefit of others. There is a window in one of the drawing rooms that looks directly out at a rock face a couple of metres behind: the rock looks like an artwork in the frame of the window. Everything, from the wood panelling to the chess tables to the signage and the way the keys are arranged behind the reception desk, speaks of indulgent artistry.
Take a room with a balcony and it is as if you are in a tree house, only the balcony also as dramatic views across and along the Engadine and Lake Sils. The rooms themselves continue the theme of being in a home: no nouveau-riche over design here. If you crave three tons of marble in your bathroom, a Toto automatic toilet and Jacuzzi, you would be better to look elsewhere- but as a coherent and relaxing take on classical luxury, it feels wonderful to be in.
Eating and Drinking
Most of the residents of the Waldhaus (and it feels like a community of residents, rather than hotel guests) dine at the hotel in the evenings. The dining rooms, high-ceilinged and table-clothed, have huge windows directly into the forest, as if you are in a nest. Each evening brought us a different variation on consommé, a broth made with the stock-variously-of forest mushrooms, local vegetables, corn-fed chicken or Swiss beef; one was made with hay stock, and was sublime.
Otherwise, expect Swiss mountain cuisine, precisely prepared, and a treasury of a wine list that virtually compels you to try the wines of the Büdner Herrschaft – the warm, sunny, bijou wine-growing region in the Rhine valley of eastern Switzerland, over the mountains. There is also the terrace restaurant, overlooking the tennis courts, serving salads and grills for lunch.
Woodland-walks, lakeside-walks around Lake Sils – inspiration to poets and philosophers – rock climbing, mountain hikes to the hidden Val Fex above the hotel…And that’s just the hiking and climbing, most of which begins on a path directly from the hotel’s back door.
You can kite-surf and paraglide nearby, or stroll down to the village of Sils and see Nietzche’s house; or stay in the hotel grounds and swim (indoors), play tennis (indoors or outside in the woods), sunbathe amid the trees – or get a cavas and paint.