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TRAVELING in style : ALPINE AERIE

<i> Jackson is a radio talk-show host on ABC</i>

The Suvretta, 75 years old and owned by the same family for four generations, is located a couple of kilometers from St. Moritz on the Chasellas Plateau, 1,856 meters above sea level, and commands a spectacular view of mountains and lakes. It is, claims the author, ‘The most perfectly run hotel in Switzerland.’

It was New Year’s Day, and bundles of multihued, gas-filled balloons ringed the ice rink in front of the Suvretta House Hotel in Switzerland. We were each invited to attach our name to one and release it to land wherever the winds might take it. We watched ours float skyward and away, hoping that it would be retrieved by someone far distant, for the balloon which traveled the most miles gained for the sender a return invitation next year. I haven’t heard whether any of the Jackson balloons won, but we fully intend to do as most of the loyal clientele do: return to this most delightful of winter wonderlands again.

The Suvretta has just celebrated its 75th anniversary and is, very possibly, the most perfectly run hotel in Switzerland. Constructed by hotelier Anton Bon, it has remained in the Bon family for four generations. This Alpine aerie is a couple of kilometers from St. Moritz on the Chasellas Plateau in the Suvretta Valley. Standing at 1,856 meters above sea level, it commands a spectacular view of mountains and lakes.

From the moment one arrives at the St. Moritz railroad station, one is cared for. The green stretch Mercedes limousine with the chauffeur in his olive leather coat awaits you. Just minutes from the bustle of the world’s most famous ski resort is the elegance and tranquility of a near-self-contained world--the Suvretta.

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Rudolf and Dorliu Muller have managed this most charming of hotels for two decades, and they are present to greet every arriving guest. If you have visited before, they know your likes and dislikes and what it takes to make you feel at home and happy. There is attention to detail, with an omnipresent staff that’s willing and very able to serve. There are 330 beds, and a like number of employees with many of them wearing a row of stars on their uniforms. Each star represents 10 seasons at Suvretta House. (By now, many of the paying customers would qualify for several stars.)

The hotel created one of Switzerland’s first ski lifts in 1935. Since then, the Suvretta Ski Club has boomed, with a Christmas and New Year’s tally of about 150 instructors. After registering, we looked in on Alfons Holderegger at his ski shop in the basement. Holderegger has the amazing facility of being able to remember nearly every guest, and he knows the requirements and preferences of each skier. Each night the skis are waxed and the boots placed outside one’s room. In summer months Alfons becomes the concierge--a genteel soul who converses in several languages.

My wife, Alana, first stayed at the Suvretta when she was 11 years old; her childhood memories are indelible, and we’re hoping that we have created for our offspring equally significant memories for them to look back upon when their own childhood days are over.

The rooms at the Suvretta are large, comfortable, antique-filled and inviting. In winter they face a world of blue skies and white forests, and some of the loveliest peaks of the Upper Engadine. In the foreground is the ice rink, beyond which rises an 18th-Century chapel that has witnessed dozens of marriages sparked by the romance of the Suvretta.

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The beauty involves the Suvretta’s shape and form, its style and color. The hotel is a work of fine art that features true Swiss craftsmanship. For me, the Suvretta conjures up memories of church bells, children laughing, sounds drifting from the ice rink, a crackling fire at tea-time in the enormous lounge, the crunching of ski-boots in the snow. My memories are enhanced by feelings, tastes and smells: the wonderful light and warm goose-down duvets on the beds; the heady aroma of freshly-baked breads (20 varieties each day from the hotel’s bakery), and the taste of glass after glass of tomato-red Sicilian orange juice at the abundantly laden breakfast buffet.

At the Suvretta House, yesteryear and today blend well. Broad stairways and vast corridors bring one to imposing lobbies. Dinner in the main dining room requires formal and semi-formal evening attire, although informality is the order of the day in the newly opened Suvretta Club. There, along with a superb Swiss restaurant, guests enjoy a sauna, a solarium, an enormous indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley and games for the children.

I love to walk up the winding road behind the hotel, past a vast mansion once owned by the Shah of Iran, to the restaurant, Chasellas, at the foot of the Suvretta-Randolins ski-lift. It belongs to the hotel, and its homey, comfortable atmosphere and excellent cooking make it most popular. At the top of the ski-lift stands another more rustic mountain cabin--Restaurant Trutz, also part of the Suvretta family--and here, with a magnificent panoramic view of the impressive mountain peaks, is another fine spot for skiers and hikers to enjoy fine rosti , raclette or fondue.

For shoppers, the hotel provides a shuttle bus every half hour into the village of St. Moritz. From Cartier to Hermes, all the great names are present. Around apres -ski time, the crowd can be found jostling its way into Hanselmann’s Bakery, and it is worth the jostle. However, if one desires a special treat, pay a visit to a very ordinary looking establishment called J. Glattfelder, which dispenses coffee, tea and caviar. In a little back room with no more than five tables, vodka is served along with some of the most wonderful Oscietra, Beluga and Sevruga caviar.

If you don’t ski, the Suvretta nevertheless remains a delight. My wife and I hiked through the snow-covered forests, and there are sleigh rides, toboggan runs and curling on the hotel’s rinks. For the whole family, the single most memorable adventure comes on the night of the full moon, when the hotel arranges for horse-drawn sleighs, bedecked with sleigh bells and Chinese lanterns, to transport guests into the Fexstal Valley. It was a scene out of Dr. Zhivago as we wound our way among trees and into a sparsely populated farmland and a world reminiscent of the last century. At the halfway point we stopped for a hot and potent drink that warmed us during the remainder of the journey. The destination was a small inn at the far end of the valley where we dined and danced before returning to the Suvretta.

Saying goodby to Suvretta is not a happy occasion. Everyone loathes leaving this special place. I know of guests who store ski gear and formal wear for their next visit. Anytime is the right time to return to Suvretta: when the snows are gone . . . when spring flowers break the soil . . . during summer--after winter’s frozen lakes become centers for windsurfing, fishing and swimming, and the Chasellas provides a challenge for climbers.

I have promised myself that I will return to Suvretta House--and it is a promise I intend to keep.

For additional information contact your travel agent or write to Suvretta House, CH-7500, St. Moritz-Suvretta Engadine, Switzerland). Telephone (028) 2 11 21.

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