“Honestly, the Engadine Valley is without a doubt the most beautiful valley in the world. Between the lakes and the mountains and the topography and the greenery, it is truly magnificent." This isn’t Puri’s first rodeo, so to speak, in St. Moritz. In 1999 he was a vice-president of another luxury hotel here, so he knows the destination well. “We talk a lot about the culinary art being sacred at Nira,” he says, “and one of the great things about the valley is that almost everything you’d want—from fish to meat to dairy to produce—is farmed, raised, bred, or caught within a few miles of the resort. It’s truly fabulous to give the guests a very authentic food and beverage experience.”
The refined culture of first-class hotels is what drew Puri into the business as a young boy growing up in northern India, near Delhi. Like his grandfather, his father was in the construction business, owning and operating one of the biggest firms in the country. After attending Punjab University, he spent three years in Germany at a hotel management trainee program before going on to study at Cornell and landing hotel management positions in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency and Fairmont Chicago. In 1988, his career path took him for two years to the Halekulani in Honolulu, and then the Ritz-Carlton on the Big Island. The next stop for Puri was Southeast Asia, where he supervised Raffles Hotels' Asia-Pacific portfolio before serving as COO of the Fullerton in Singapore and Group General Manager, Head Office Operations at the renowned Peninsula in Hong Kong. In 2004, he opened the GHM Setai in Miami’s South Beach area and ran it for four years before forming a partnership and going out on his own with Nira Hotels & Resorts, a London-based boutique luxury hotel management company (Nira is Sanskrit word for purity).
In addition to Nira Alpina, he and his partners have seven other properties in existence or development, from Scotland to Sri Lanka.
“It allows me to express my ethos and my philosophy of what I think guest service is,” he says of his brand. “What is the philosophy of Nira? It’s the manifestation of my four decades in hospitality. We talk a lot about guests arriving as residents, leaving as friends, and returning as family. Nira Hotels and Resorts are devoted to pleasure. Now I have a chance to serve guests my way.”
For example, a unique key to serving up pleasure at Nira Alpina is a jet bridge on the other side of the 70-room hotel that connects guests to a gondola that whisks them up to the top of Corvatsch Mountain—the highest station in the Eastern Alps at 3,300 meters—in just 15 minutes. It offers not only the fastest access to the runs in the area, but also the mountain’s only ski-in, ski-out accommodations.
Though he owns homes in Hong Kong and St. Moritz, Puri is rarely in them. He can usually be found in a hotel somewhere in the world, and he couldn’t be happier because he loves his work so much.
“People come to us to celebrate, people come to us to party, people come to us to have a holiday, people come to us because we arouse their primordial instincts spiritually, emotionally, physically,” he says. “To be able to give guests pleasure, to be able to give guests happiness, to be able to give them great environments to help celebrate a birthday or wedding, I feel very lucky.”