Free-spending Russians flock to St Moritz despite ruble crisis
Switzerland's poshest ski resort Saint Moritz boasts stunning snow-laden peaks, iconic hotels ... and Russians.
Undeterred by the ruble crisis following Western sanctions in the wake of Moscow's annexation of Crimea, the loyal Russian clientele of one of the world's most glamorous winter spots say nothing will make them give up their favourite watering holes.
"I have been coming here for 10 years and I am not ready to change my habits," exclaimed Leonid, a 47-year-old based in London's financial district.
Although other parts of Switzerland have seen a drop in Russian arrivals of up to 30 percent, Saint Moritz is practically untouched.
That situation could still change after the Swiss franc took flight this week, making the already pricey country 15 percent more expensive for foreigners overnight.
"Thursday marked the beginning of a difficult period for Swiss tourism," said Veronique Kanel, a spokeswoman for the country's national tourism organisation, adding she expected an uptick in cancellations.
Earlier in the week though, Leonid seemed carefree.
Sitting at the posh Mathis restaurant along with his wife and two children, he ordered four truffle pizzas at 98 Swiss francs (100 euros, $115) a piece.
They are on a long free-spending holiday and, like many other well-heeled Russians, are unfazed by the financial crisis back home. Saint Moritz locals are meanwhile laughing all the way to the bank.
"A crisis? I have between five and 10 percent more Russian clients than usual. They account for two-thirds of my current turnover," said Reto Mathis, head of the high-end restaurant, which specialises in caviar and truffles.
Russia's national currency has lost some 16 percent against the dollar since the start of the year after plummeting around 41 percent in 2014 due to the sanctions and tumbling oil prices.
Many Russians have seen the value of their assets and their incomes plunge, but those with holdings in euros and dollars have not been impacted.