Maloja Palace, Maloja. Foto/Photo: TES.

The Maloja Palace

The era of the Grand Hotels also led to over-ambitious or never realised projects. An example is the Grand Palace in Riom (Canton of Graubünden). Other complexes were built but soon suffered financial setbacks.

A well-known example is the Maloja Palace in Graubünden. The Hôtel-Kursaal de la Maloja, the original name, stands between Bergell and Oberengadin and not far from St. Moritz.

The hotel was built by the Belgian Count Camille de Renesse (1836-1904). The Count came up with this plan after visiting St. Moritz in 1880. St. Moritz was then already a village with Grand-Hotels and bathhouses, owned mainly by the Badrutt family.

The Count wanted his Grand Hotel and bought a piece of land in Maloja at the western end of the Silsersee. He purchased this land from the Giacometti family. Giovanni Giacometti (1868-1933) painted the hotel in 1899. Today, this painting can be seen in the Schweizerhaus in Maloja.

The Count had big ambitions, a villa park, casino, golf course, restaurants, two churches, swimming pool, tennis court and facilities for winter sports.

He also planned a railway line and train station in Maloja (not realised), the (medieval) Belvedere Castle (partly completed in 1903), and he bought two steamships for the lake.

The hotel, with a façade of 200 metres, was the second-largest building in Switzerland. The Belgian architect Jules Rau (1854-1919) completed the project in just 15 months.

The opening was on 1 July 1884: 300 rooms with 450 beds, heated halls with an ingenious system of hot air, electric light, a dining room for 300 guests and a splendid interior, a smoking room, a library, a conversation room for ladies, (Bechstein) pianos, a horse-drawn omnibus for the transportation of guests (from St. Moritz to Maloja and vice versa), galleries and a platform on the roof with a magnificent view of the (mountain) landscape and on the lake jetties for pleasure boats and the steamships.

Five months after its opening, the hotel was bankrupt. A cholera epidemic, the death of Countess Malvina de Kerckove von Denterghem (1846-1884), the casino prohibition, the railway line that never came, and, above all, a sky-high debt caused the bankruptcy on 3 January 1885.

The hotel changed hands several times until 1934. It was used as a residence for the Swiss army and from 1962 to 1980 as a summer residence for (Belgian) children.

In 2009, the hotel opened its doors again after years of renovation and a new owner.  The Maloja Palace, as it is called today, still looks radiant, and the spirit of the Count is still omnipresent.

The tower is the information centre of the Pro Natura foundation today.

(Source: P. Bröckli, Bis zum Tod der Gräfin. Das Drama um den Hotelpalast des Grafen Renesse in Majola, Zürich 1998;