Several years ago (September 1993) in an issue that featured Pontresina, we reported on a friendly but somewhat worn out hotel that catered to young families. Though still counting many families among its clientèle, the former Hotel Atlas has been refurbished, recast from dowdy to hip, and renamed. It is now the Saratz and a modern new wing has been added.

The two completely different buildings are separated by the hotel's new focal point; a glistening, Art Nouveau-style common area. This open, high-ceilinged space with recessed halogen lights, floor to ceiling windows and a floor surface that is half dark green slate and half unfinished hardwood, is where the formalities of check-in are done seated at a large wooden desk while quaffing a welcoming glass of champagne or juice. The room's backdrop is a high wall of rough beige stone broken only by an open fireplace, hooded by the same stone. Placed discreetly to one side is a small, round wooden bar.

In the old wing, the good parts of the great old Victorian building were, of course, kept intact: the squeaky wood floors, the wide corridors, the high windows and ceilings. The breakfast/dining room—probably once a grand ballroom—has 20-foot ceilings and massive windows that rise to at least 15 feet. In the center of all hangs a monstrosity of a chandelier with 15 etched glass globes. It is perfect. There are tall, guilded mirrors and a stuffed eagle keeps its eye on things from a high perch on the far wall. At the other end, a small orchestra balcony overlooks the floor.

We stayed in the new wing. The most attractive element of our double room, Number 164, was the four-panel, nine-foot high French door/window unit that offered a sweeping unobstructed view across the Ova da Bernina to the peaks beyond. Fixtures and furnishing were all in character: clean, simple and modern. Bed linens and mattresses were top quality and there were tiny furrows in the tightly woven carpet. The well-lit bathroom had a heated, rough slate floor, separate tub and tiled shower. The room's two wicker chairs were firm and comfortable but not for curling up with a novel on a snowy afternoon. Inexplicably no toiletries are provided, not even hand soap.

Breakfasts from a well-stocked buffet in the huge former ballroom are a delight. The Saratz offers two choices for dining; the very informal Pitschna Scena and the more traditional Restaurant Saratz. The somewhat funky Pitschna Scena gave every sign early on of being a disaster—until the food arrived. We were shown to a rather odd side room which in summer is the entrance to a terrace. Sitting on slatted patio chairs, we shared a single clip board menu with three 60ish Spaniards who were seated with us at this table for five. Their company was welcome but the single menu was inconvenient and the room had no warmth or ambiance. Our server was pleasant enough but seemed a little harried.

Expecting to get something local, or at least Swiss when we ordered a beer vom fass, we were served an odd-tasting Foster's from Australia. After that we ordered the Swiss beer, Klosterbräu, which was more to our liking. The food, however, saved the day. Scaloppine di vitello alla piastra (27.5 Sfr./$19) was two juicy little rounds of veal buried in a delicious melange of fresh greens and lettuces, slivers of sautéed fresh yellow and red peppers, and a liberal sprinkling of flavorful, tiny, sautéed wild mushrooms. Equally good and similarly presented was tagliata di filetto d'angnello, bits of lamb filet folded into rucola greens, intensely flavored cherry tomato chunks and paper thin slices of Parmesan. We divided a splendid Wintersalat (12.5 Sfr./$8.50) which contained many of the same ingredients of the entrées' salads plus small pieces of smoky ham, croûtons and a warm, thin slice of goat cheese which had been slightly browned on each side just before serving. Five deciliters of one of the house's open wines (Grumello, an Italian red) cost 26 Sfr. ($18). For dessert we asked for a single Kugel of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce (not on the menu) to share and were charged 2.5 Sfr. ($1.70). The meal was amazingly good; light but very satisfying. Without beverages we paid 69.5 Sfr. ($47).

The following evening in Restaurant Saratz, we found the menu priced about the same and the cuisine similar in style. An appetizer of Besaola-Carpaccio auf Rucolasalat (half portion 12.50 Sfr. $8.50; full portion 17.50 Sfr./$12) was air-dried meat served with slightly wilted rucola greens, thinly sliced Parmesan, all in a superb oil and vinegar dressing. A full portion of Maccharoni mit Knoblauch, Peperoncino, tomatoen and Basilikum (16.50 Sfr./$11) was penne pasta in a spicy, creamy sauce. Morel mushrooms, fresh chives and bits of smoked ham mixed in with the veal put the pizazz in Engadiner Kalbsgeschnetzeltes mit Pilzen, Blattspinat and Kartoffelpizokel (half potion 27 Sfr./$18; full portion 33 Sfr./$22).

After the main courses, we divided selections from the proffered cheese cart (12 Sfr./$8) and a dessert, Engadiner Sauerrahm (9 Sfr./$6), a pudding with wild berries. Not to be missed from the cheese cart is Rohmilch-Käser Speciality Rolf Beeler. In this room, the Czech beer, Pilsner Urquell is available on draught. We splurged a bit on the wine with happy results. A Tuscan red, 1993 Flaccianello from Della Pieve (63 Sfr./$43), was terrific, soft and mouth-filling, with a long finish. Without beverages, our dinner for two cost 80.5 Sfr. ($54).

There are a couple of welcome departures from the norm at Restaurant Saratz; each table is set with a pitcher of water and many menu items offer a half-portion option for about 80% of the full portion price. For those who occasionally weary of stodgy formality, the Saratz is a fresh breeze. The emphasis is on youth. (Near the hotel's front entrance is parked manager Adrian Stalder's Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which he sometimes uses to fetch arriving hotel guests from the railway station.) The clientèle is young and the style low-key and relaxed, but with no compromise in quality or service.

Street Address: Via Maistra
City: Pontresina
Country: Switzerland
Phone: 011 41 81 83 94 000
Fax: 011 41 81 83 94 040
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Quality: Rating: 4 stars
Value: Rating: 3 stars
Price Level: $$$$
Type: Hotel