Digital technology shows no sign of slowing down in its takeover of both our private and professional lives. Sometimes it’s important to switch off. Where better than amongst snow-capped mountains in a Swiss winter wonderland?
Words Patrick Hamilton Courtney
First of all, I want to start off by saying this is not a health detox. Well, not a clean-eating nutritional one anyway. No raw vegan dinners, no alarming coffee enemas, and none of the juice fasting you find in most residential detoxes.
That’s not to say this retreat won’t leave your body feeling light, refreshed, and connected though. This is a cleanse of the mind and soul, rather than the gut. Four days of exercise, indulgent pampering, and gourmet food, all in the luxurious alpine comfort of Grand Hotel Kronenhof.
Sounds pretty blissful right? But there’s one part that some of us might find nigh on impossible to cope with. Absolutely no digital technology is allowed. That’s no phones, no laptops, no iPads and no kindles, nothing. Finding yourself bereft of all technological crutches can be disconcerting. Especially when you consider how many minutes a day are spent gazing at screens.
You’re doing it now. What happens when you ditch your phone? Hours of surplus time appear. On this trip you use that time to mentally and physically realign. By the end, none of us even noticed our phones weren’t around.
On arrival all digital devices are handed in to reception where they are locked away in the hotel safe. It’s an emotional farewell. One of us frantically typed a final tweet as she handed her phone over, almost succumbing to the urge to snatch it back and run. You are then shown to your room, which has already been “de-digitised”. No television, or even in-room telephone. Make sure you bring a watch!
The next few days are spent doing an exceptional set of activities. These are all intended to unwind and repair the damage of digital-induced stress. Ski Yoga – quite literally yoga on skis – is designed to help bring mindfulness to skiing. There is emphasis on learning and perfecting the proper breathing techniques for skiing. These can correct inaccuracies in technique and make you a better skier. The activity is suitable for everyone from beginners to seasoned experts.
An early morning meditative walk began at first light and emphasised quiet and tranquillity. It finishes on a viewing platform, where the majestic beauty of the surrounding mountains and snow covered valleys hits you hard. Taking it all in with your eyes rather than through a screen is a true privilege.
Pampering and spa time is an important part of the retreat. We enjoyed various vitalising treatments, which were spread over a couple of days. They included a detoxifying hydrotherapy salt bath, a HAKI sacral treatment, and the Kronenhof’s own signature energy massage. All designed to address the needs of the hotel’s winter sports lovers.
Other activities included a Pilates class, use of the spa facilities, and a visit to Muottas Muragl to sled and enjoy panoramic views.
Throughout the trip we were becoming increasingly connected to and aware of our surroundings. Seeing couples ignoring each other at lunch in favour of checking their Instagrams made us feel both smug and sad. We realised how much better flowing our own conversation had become without any digital distractions.
So where does this all take place? Grand Hotel Kronenhof is in Pontresina, near the ever-popular ski resort of St Moritz. Unless you have a private jet (which many guests do – this was voted the best hotel in the world in a 2014 TripAdvisor poll) getting there is by train. The journey takes around three hours, but it’s no slog.
Dining carriages serve hot food and seats offer incredible views of mountains and picturesque towns. Those views have led to the railway becoming one of only three in the world to be UNESCO protected.
The Kronenhof is a stunning mid-19th century Belle Epoque palace set against the Engadin Valley. Interiors are stunning, with gilded cornices, hand painted antique murals, and sumptuous velvet and silk furniture. Bedrooms are either in the main mansion or a modern spa extension and are traditionally decorated in elegant alpine style.
Spa facilities at the hotel are some of the best in the world. The indoor swimming pool is specifically designed to make you feel as if you are swimming amongst the mountains. It includes floor-to-ceiling glass windows offering panoramic views of the paper-white landscape.
Elsewhere in the spa there are a number of thermal experiences, hydrotherapy pools, and a relaxation room with waterbeds and big windows. Tea, water, and light snacks are available throughout the day from the spa reception.
The Kronenhof has three restaurants. Kronenstubli is the hotel’s gourmet option, serving a menu of elegant haute cuisine in a wood panelled, Swiss-styled room. Breakfast and a second dinner option is available in the Grand Restaurant, a magnificent ballroom with gilded ceilings, chandeliers, and a strict dress code.
The Grand is dressed up and glamorous; tables heave with women in enough diamonds to fill the vaults of De Beers. Le Pavilion is the most casual option. It serves traditional Swiss dishes, such as cheese fondue and potato rosti overlooking the hotel’s ice rink. Guests on the digital detox can chose between any of these restaurants, and dine on whichever menus they chose. So not a kale smoothie in sight.
By the end I felt engaged with my surroundings, invigorated, and productive. Most of all, I didn’t miss my phone. When it was returned to me I opened twitter, Instagram, and my emails with some trepidation.
It felt like pumping my newly clear head with swamp water. So I switched it off and put it in my duffel bag. I was determined to enjoy a few more peaceful hours before being sucked back into a world of commentary on Brexit, Trump, and matcha lattes.
Of course, I’m back in front of my screens now. This was a quick four day detox, not a life changing spiritual journey in Tibet. The immediate effects of digital liberation were temporary. But, as a result, I have noticed the iPhone doesn’t go everywhere with me now. I run errands without it, leave it upstairs when having friends over, and no longer feel the need to check it every five minutes while watching a film.
I did walk into a post box the other day while checking LinkedIn, but hey, they say getting over addiction is a lengthy process, right?