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Heaven really is a place on Earth; Samantha Wylie-Harris travels to St Moritz where even the air tastes of champagne.

Byline: Samantha Wylie-Harris

IT is hardly surprising that Rex Harrison remarked,in an earlier age when screen stars were famous for their gracious living: ``St Moritz in the summer is like heaven.''

With azure skies,air like champagne and breathtaking views across glacier-coveredmountains, this glamorous Swiss resort on the ``roof of Europe'' has a style of its own outside the ski season.

With so many flights into Zurich, it's easy tog et there all year-round. The train journey from Zurich takes just over 3 1/ hours -along the shores of the Zurichsee and the Walensee lakes, where sailing is a popular pastime,and then up the mountain, through tunnels and over viaducts with panoramic views of mountain peaks.

The Swiss are the do yens of hoteliers and there is no more perfect an example than that of Suvretta House. At the station, a uniformed chauffeur escorts you to a limousine and whisks you away like a princess to this turreted castle-likehotel.

Built in 1912,Suvretta House played host to famous names from the start. The Aga Khan,Eva Peron, Gloria Swanson,King Farouk,Douglas Fairbanks,Alfred Hitchcock, The Shah of Persia and Gregory Peck have all signed the visitors' book, while present day celebrities usually stay discreetly.

The vaulted interior of the hotel is large and furnished in a Victorian hunting lodge style -oil portraits adorn the walls of muted golden tones. Dinner in the `GrandeEtage' in true Swiss tradition, requires dark suit and mandatory tie for gentlemen, while ladies can queenit, put on the Jimmy Choo's and unveil that little dress saved for `something special'.

In the morning, seated outside on the sun drenched terrace overlook -ing the mountains we enjoyed a Swiss style buffet breakfast.

You could pass a whole summer holiday in the hotel's sports and leisure complex which includes a pool, spa,outdoor whirlpool, solarium, massage,gym, tennis courts,croquet and golf -the Swiss,like the Germans,excel when it comes to `the cure'.Or you might relax on a sun lounger, relishing the surroundings, and get a darker tan than you would get on the Mediterranean shore.

We resisted this temptation and signed up instead for a strenuous four hour hike to the weekly Suvretta Picnic. Guests do have a choice of how to arrive at this special occasionsomeborrowed mountain bikes for the journey and others,perhaps sensibly,caught the hotel's hospitality bus.

As we trudged along,maps at the ready,it became clear that Ernest Hemingway knew what he was talking about when he said `Switzerland is a country more up and down than sideways'.

Eventually, we reached our magical destination high up in Morteratsch,South East of Pontresina. Our fellow guests were already enjoying their picnic alongside a fierce,glistening waterfall, underneath a picturesqueglacier.

To the tunes of a hurdy gurdy and sporting red and white gingham bibs (mandatory), wepicnickedon barbecued bratwurst and chicken and the most delicious risotto chanterelle I have ever tasted, served from what looked like a witch's cauldron. Then came a nut cake, a fabulous cheese board and Grappa.

These gastronomic delights more than made up for the aching,hikeworn thighs and calves I suffered the next day.

On another day we took a less exhausting excursion up the mountain on a ski lift. As we journeyed slowly upwards, the air cooled but the sun got stronger as we reached the end of the line.

There, the treat ofTrutz Lodge a waited. A mountain top restaurant with breathtaking views, it serves local food (wonderful spaghetti bolognese) and the wine is automatically put in an ice- bucket. My boyfriend and I sat outside on wooden benches,half shielded under an umbrella and decided Rex was right, this was the closest thing to heaven. TRAVEL factsSamantha Wylie-Harris was a guest of Suvretta House in St Moritz (Tel: 004181836 3636) with room rates from pounds 97pp half-board.

A Glacier Express package at pounds 820 includes threenights'half-board at Suvretta House and three nights'half-board at the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof in Zermatt,first class rail travel between the two and transfers.

Swiss International Airlines,which operates services from Manchester to Zurich,has return fares of between pounds 55 and pounds 75 on internet reservations. For more information try www.swiss.com.

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VALLEY HIGH: The beautiful view surrounding St Moritz in Switzerland
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 30, 2003
Words:718
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