Once an army base and mountain playground for hard-core powder hounds, the Swiss village of Andermatt is in the process of morphing into a luxury ski resort, writes Richard Bath.
ANDERMATT IN A NUTSHELL: For almost a century this charming little Alpine village in the scenic Ursern Valley, just 20 miles from Lake Lucerne and a 90-minute drive from Zurich, was known primarily as a base for the army, somewhere thousands of young Swiss men would go each year to do their military service. However, Andermatt has undergone something of a revolution of late. Since about a million square metres of land was bought by Egyptian billionaire Samih Sawiris in 2005, about £1.5 billion has been spent on developing it into a top ski and leisure destination, including the building of legendary luxury hotel The Chedi Andermatt (of which more later). There are now 1,500 rooms in Andermatt, with a new hotel currently being built and four more planned.
The involvement of the Vail Resorts ski company, which is running the resort’s ski infrastructure, into which it is in the process of investing almost £100 million, is also a game changer. The American company operates 41 resorts, most of which are in the USA (including legendary ski areas such as Vail, Beaver Creek, Heavenly, Keystone, and Park City) but also Whistler in Canada and Perisher in Australia. Vail Resort’s annual season ticket, the Epic Pass, gives access to all of its resorts so there is now a considerable American presence in Andermatt (where Epic Pass holders get five free days of skiiing).
The result of all this development is that Andermatt, formerly a resort for families and hard-core skiers, is heading steadily upmarket, and is in the top ten places to invest in property worldwide, according to the influential Savills Report.
THE SKIING: Andermatt used to be known as a quirky resort popular with powder hounds and freeriders, but is becoming more mainstream by the day. There is still some fantastic off piste hotspots and some areas that are perfect for experienced and adventurous skiers – notably around the Gemsstock, Gurschen, and Schneehüenerstock ski areas – but there are also growing clusters of blue runs, particularly around the Gutsch, Mulinatsch, and Sedrun areas.
In all there are 180km of slopes across the Andermatt, Sedrun, and Disentis area, with 33 lifts. Getting around the place is becoming easier and easier, with the Gütsch-Express gondola whisking you up from the station to the intermediate area linking with Sedrun. A bus shuttles between the rail station and Gemsstock cable-car base, leaving every 15 minutes, although the bus could do with being bigger. The plan is for much of the village to be car free, but with many skiers coming for the day from Zurich and Lucerne, that’s still some way off. In the meantime, it’s still not the easiest place to navigate. We were lucky enough to be shown around by cheery Irish ski instructor and guide Aaron from Alpine Sports Andermatt (www.alpinesportsandermatt.com), whose advice was invaluable.
As for the money, ski passes cost CHF326 for six days (£290) or CHF89 (£80) per day (see www.andermatt-sedrun-disentis.ch/en/stories/buy-skipass)
WHERE TO STAY: If you’ve got a ton of cash, then the five-star The Chedi Andermatt (www.thechediandermatt.com) is astonishingly good and received the best possible rating from the Forbes Travel Guide 2022. Situated right next to the station and the ski lifts, its position at the centre of the village is just a small part of the story. Basically, this is the quintessential luxury boutique hotel (if somewhere with 119 suites and rooms can be called “boutique”), with a 2,400 square-metre spa, indoor and outdoor pools, five restaurants (including a pair of Michelin-starred Japanese restaurants). It is a legendarily plush hotel, and if you can afford rooms that start at £750 then this is the place to be.
We stayed at the striking four-star Radisson Blu Hotel Reussen, which is a ten-minute walk from the station, but which was genuinely contemporary, chic and comfortable. With a lively circular bar as the fulcrum of the building near reception, it also has huge rooms, a good restaurant, a spa with sauna and steam room, a 25-metre indoor swimming-pool and a remarkably modernist 400-capacity theatre/conference centre. Perhaps most importantly it also has a ski boot room next to the minibus stop from where you’ll be taken to the station and the Gütsch-Express gondola base. Starting at £250 a night (for one room with two people) it’s good value for Switzerland.
EATING, DRINKING AND MAKING MERRY: First of all, the making merry. We had a fantastic hot tub experience in the nearby village of Goschenen, where we dipped and then made snow-angels before being serenaded by traditional Swiss musicians (complete with squeeze boxes) and eating a bucket-load of fondue (www.wasserwelten.ch). At €65 per person (plus wine) this is a fantastic way to spend an evening.
The food in Andermatt is generally excellent. We ate traditional Swiss mountain fare and supped on memorable cocktails at The Chedi Andermatt, which is well worth the effort even if you can’t afford to stay there. Andermatt’s plushest hotel not only has a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant on site, but also has another Japanese restaurant on the mountain next to the top of the Gütsch lift, which also has a Michelin star. A weird state of affairs, and although it was full during our visit reports of unforgettable CHF120 bento boxes did filter out to us.
Another night we went to the Gasthaus Tell (www.gasthaustell.ch), run by local man Sandro Stadler and his South African wife, Charlene. They serve both Swiss and South African food, with a menu that stretches from South Africa’s national dish of bobotie (spicy minced meat baked with an egg-based topping) to classic Swiss mountain food.
As for drinks, Andermatt is not party central, but we were directed to an excellent and lively bar called Pinte (www.pinte-andermatt.ch) in the centre of the village, where at CHF7 for a beer it was decent value. Also worth trying was the subterranean Italian-themed bar Il Fermino (www.ilfermento.ch/it).
HOW TO GET TO ANDERMATT: The new Swiss Air (www.swiss.com) flights from Edinburgh to Zurich start at £76 (including all taxes and hold luggage up to 23kg) and have brought much of Switzerland within easy reach. Andermatt is no exception. We flew to Zurich and after two changes the mountain train deposited us right in the middle of the village. The achingly picturesque journey takes just over two hours and costs in the region of £30 each way (tickets are bookable here via www.thetrainline.com).
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