Could you hand over your phone, laptop and kindle for four days? The Spa Spy booked in for a digital detox break at the glamorous Grand Hotel Kronenhof in Switzerland to find out.
I don’t believe I’m a digital media slave, so when a friend suggested a digital detox I assumed it would be easy. Plus, I had read studies about the effects of our screens on sleep and was intrigued to know what would happen if I totally logged off…
What and where?
We were booked in for four days at the Grand Hotel Kronenhof in the mountainous Upper Engadine valley, where the dramatic mountain peaks have inspired the likes of Nietzsche and Thomas Mann. It's superb for skiing in winter and hiking in Summer, and nearby St Moritz is where the rich and famous go to ski and be seen. Away from the glitz, the little mountain resort of Pontresina is very peaceful: perfect to escape the modern world.
The intriguing itinerary included Ski Yoga, a Meditative Mountain Hike and a Haki ® Sacral massage. The aim: to make us more mindful and aware of our surroundings.
Day one: journey and dinner
It proved difficult to stop snapping the ridiculously stunning Alpine views on the train journey, the famous ‘Glacier Express’, a UNESCO World Heritage Railway. The five-star Kronenhof is straight out of a fairy-tale with a snow-capped green domed roof topped with a golden crown. Inside, main public rooms are massive with opulent neo-baroque décor, most with breath-taking mountainous views.
There was no time to tweet ‘Goodbye cruel world’: we worriedly handed over our electronic goods on arrival. The rooms were in the modern wing of the hotel, right next to the spa with verandas opening onto the snowy landscape. But where was the TV? They’d even taken away our bedside phones…
The first technical hiccup occurred when one of our party failed to arrive for dinner. We debated whether to go and knock for her, like school kids, when she arrived looking flustered. She hadn’t brought a watch!
Elaborately painted ceilings and jewel-encrusted guests proved enough distraction in the restaurant. We ate from the healthy Vitalis menu, slightly frustrated at not being able tweet our prettily presented food. The conversation flowed unimpeded by digitus interruptus, with only a couple of Google-blank moments (“What was the name of that place in Italy…? What is the weather going to be like tomorrow?”).
At some point, we remembered we had an early morning yoga class and made sure to book a wake-up knock at hotel reception.
Day two: ski yoga and spa
Can you really do yoga on skis?
Yes, whether you are a total beginner, have ski-ed a couple of times, or a proper winter sport enthusiast.
The class takes place on the nursery slopes in St Moritz, silent and empty in the early morning and covered in a blanket of fresh snow. We do simple traditional poses (mountain and tree poses make a different kind of sense here) and stretches on skis, but the point is to practise deep breathing and mindful awareness. It makes you a better skier, more alive to your surroundings. It was wonderful.
After a traditional Swiss lunch at the rustic Pavillion restaurant (laughing at couples on phones ignoring each other) it’s spa-time.
The pool area is designed to make you feel like you are swimming right in the mountains, with a vast curved glass wall embracing a sublime panorama of forests and peaks. Besides the 20-metre swimming pool, there’s a circular hydro pool with bubbly beds and air jets and, separated by glass, a children’s pool.
The thermal rooms are modernist caves, with steam rooms, saunas and a lovely salt-water grotto for weightless floating. The quiet relaxation room has water beds and mountain views.
We had two treatments – a strong bubble-jet detox bath producing a lovely, deep massage, followed by a haki ® sacral massage. The haki ® method was created by Austrian Harald Kitz and is designed for the desk-bound. Long rhythmic strokes around the lower back and glutes produced an instant de-stressing effect and deliriously pleasant dreamlike state. After the treatment my therapist Henriett led me to a chair overlooking the pool and gave me a warm herbal neck pillow. My shoulders were entirely unhunched and I felt dozy and happy.
Later we enjoyed a strenuous Pilates session, designed to work muscles that had pretty much atrophied from sitting at desks, then rewarded ourselves with an outstanding gourmet dinner at the hotel’s original and romantically atmospheric restaurant Kronenstübli. I didn’t notice I hadn’t watched TV for two nights: my family would have been appalled.
Day three: meditative walk and massage
After a 7am wake up, we chucked on our thermals for a morning mountain hike. Yes, it’s early, but what a way to start the day! As we trudged up along the snow trail, splashes of sunlight appeared on the peaks, even though the moon was still shining and the sky glowed pink. Without phones and cameras, we thoroughly absorbed the sublime view, enjoying every delightful detail.
Our third spa treatment was an Energy Massage. Warm stones were placed in my hands and bound to my feet, and my therapist, Shelley, massaged me with a cooling cream using long strokes and acupressure along the body’s meridian lines, ending with a scalp massage. I felt heavily relaxed and at peace.
Day four: spa at The Kulm then home
As part of the Digital Detox retreat, guests can dine and/or spa at the Kronenhof’s famous sister hotel, The Kulm, in St Moritz.
The pool here has deep grey tiles, subtle coloured lighting and modernist straight edges, but the highlight is its outdoor hydro pool, which faces a huge mountain rising above the iced-over lake. It’s stupendously majestic and the occasional icy chill makes you feel so awake.
After bathing, I had a 25-minute LPG facial. The machine stimulates blood flow and collagen production, sounds like a snare drum and feels like gentle pinching and soft sucking. It’s oddly pleasant – especially along my cheeks – and makes everything look plump and smooth: perfect for posing in St Moritz in a fur coat with matching dog.
Back at the Kronenhof, we prepare to leave. Some of us were already clutching at returned phones, and I am amazed to see my formerly animated friends disappear into their glowing screens. Two of us delayed turning our phones on until we get to the airport: we want to enjoy the Glacier Express scenery with old-school meditative awareness. No camera can do justice to the sheer scale of those astonishing views anyway.
I almost feel sad to leave this little slice of heaven and let the digital world back in. It felt so liberating not to worry where my phone was or how much charge it had. Besides, it’s not as though the real world stopped collapsing without me...