Located strategically at the crossroads of Switzerland’s north-south and east-west passes, Andermatt has always been important for tourism.
When the St. Gotthard Pass became navigable by horse-drawn carriage it became a fashionable resort with distinguished visitors including Queen Victoria. That all came to an end, with the opening of the railway tunnel, and the town was wiped off the tourist map.
The army moved in and it became one of the country’s most important bases because of its strategic position. Bunkers, storerooms, and barracks were constructed inside the mountains to serve as the ultimate refuge in case of an invasion.
Enter the billionaire Samih Sawiris, with a grand vision for the area and plenty of money to realize it. He started by opening the five-star deluxe Chedi Andermatt, an astounding building combining wood and stone with flair. With 169 opulent rooms, a 6,000-bottle cellar, and gourmet dining, including a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant, it soon became a destination in its own right. That was just the beginning and eventually, the plan is for six hotels and 42 apartment buildings.
It’s been a few years since I last visited and, as I step out of the train, I’m amazed by the transformation. Tall cranes reach to the sky and a modern resort, Andermatt Reuss, has risen where there were once derelict army barracks. I’m staying in the brand new Radisson Blu Reusser. It sits on the attractive Piazza Gottardo, an open square surrounded by stylish apartment blocks, shops and a café. Below is an 18-hole golf course, six kilometres long, stretching up the valley.
Mountain E-biking to Vermigelhütte
I’m here just before the snows, making the most of the warm autumn days and excellent visibility. Mountain E-biking is popular in the Alps and I set off up the valley to the Vermigelhütte at just over 2000m. Farmers are collecting their sheep for the winter and we’re forced to stop as they try to herd the animals into their trailers. There’s already snow on the peaks and it’s an exhilarating climb up to the mountain hut. A group of technicians, already working on the ski trails, are enjoying a late morning coffee and we tuck into warming soup and sausage.
Later that day I try out the new express gondola up to the top of the Gütsch at 2300m. As well as renovating the cable car, there are now two Michelin-starred restaurants here. One is Japanese, an outpost of The Chedi, the other, run by renowned Swiss chef Markus Neff, offers inventive cuisine with local products.
I wander along a mountain trail, through freshly laid snow to the attractive Lutersee, a mountain lake where you can bathe in the summer. From here it’s possible to climb up to the mid-station of the Schneehüenerstock Express, where you can take the gondola down to the Oberalp Pass and return to Andermatt with the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway. Unfortunately, I’ve run out of time so I return the way I came.