Dreaming of Davos


Article by Elisabeth Oliva

Photography by Elisabeth Oliva

Davos, Switzerland, is the place of the fabled Magic Mountain, the epic that Thomas Mann wrote in 1924. In this dizzyingly rich novel of ideas, Mann uses a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, a community devoted exclusively to sickness, as a microcosm for Europe, which in the years before 1914 was already exhibiting the first symptoms of its own terminal irrationality.

And in this town, suffused with the nostalgia for its former renown as a Kurort for tuberculosis, I grew up. Sanatoriums gave way to hotels and vital visitors rather than sick people came to enjoy the mountains of Davos.

The impressive sanatoria buildings easily converted to house the eager skiers and outdoor aficionados from the lowland regions.

And no former sanatorium, converted to hotel, enjoyed a greater renown as hostelry than the fabled Schatzalp under whose gaze I lived the first 20 years of my life. 


Initially, the Art Nouveau building was built in the years from 1898-1900 by Zurich architects Otto Pfleghard and Max Haefeli. It was first opened on Dec. 21, 1900. At that time, “The Schatzalp” was conceived as a luxury sanatorium and was the most advanced healing center in the region. Back then, it was already connected to the Swiss telephone and telegraph network and had its own post and telegraph office in the house.

Eventually, from 1953 onward, the Schatzalp sanatorium was resumed as the Berghotel Schatzalp. And, the three-story building is still run as a hotel year-round.

I returned from America as an émigrée with my children on vacation, and the Schatzalp Hotel became our home away from home.

The location of the inn was on a plateau above the town of Davos and reachable by a red funiculaire that led through forest to the sunny incline. 


We had rented not rooms, but an apartment that easily accommodated our family of five. We prepared our breakfast in the small kitchen and settled in on the great roof terrasse overlooking the alpine panorama of the Valley of the Landwasser. 

Deep below us lay the bustling Davos, the little city, surrounded by mountain peaks with names of Tinzenhorn, Piz Aeala and our own ski mountain, named Rhinerhorn. 

My children, Americans as they are, were thrilled at the sights every time we returned, but for me, it had a deeper significance. It meant coming home to my old and familiar locations, evoking the memories of my upbringing in this so very special place called by the old Rhaetians Tafaas.

If you want to read more about this historic grand hotel, please visit the Schatzalp website. You can even browse through through the hotel's history dating back to the year 1900. Plan your next European adventure and visit Davos, the highest city in Europe.

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