Andermatt in the Swiss Alps is a perfect mix of luxury and splendid ski opportunities, writes Will Hide.
Cold comforts at the new Chedi Andermatt hotel in Switzerland
The small, red mountain train huffing precipitously up the railway line from Göschenen to Andermatt in southern Switzerland carries an eclectic assortment of passengers through the snow. Several glamorous Russian ladies in fur coats sit near a group of chattering Taiwanese tourists. Hipster Swedish snowboarders perch alongside locals bundled up in thick boots, heavy coats, woollen hats and gloves against the Alpine cold.
On arrival, most of the passengers disappear off along the main street, Gotthardstrasse, but the Russians and Taiwanese only have to cross the road from the tiny station to their destination, the timber-clad Chedi Hotel, which opened in December, a sister property to the well-established Chedi Muscat.
The 104-room hotel reputedly cost about US$300 million (Dh1.10 billion) to build – and, walking into the lobby, you can understand why straight away. It’s a grand-scale billionaire’s Alps-meets-Aspen mountain hideaway interwoven with subtle Asian touches from the Malaysian and Japanese design teams; all clad in light Swiss oak and cool grey granite hewn from the nearby Ticino.
Round the corner from reception is the lobby, filled with nooks and crannies, loungers, fake-fur pillows and several fireplaces around which to curl up with afternoon tea after a hard day’s skiing. Here you can sit and watch people doing laps in the lampshade-lined, 35-metre indoor pool, if the thought of actually doing any more exercise is just too arduous. One direction leads to the main restaurant, where food is served all day, prepared in four open kitchens, each specialising in cold cuts, desserts, Western or Asian cuisine. (The other dining option is the more intimate Japanese restaurant where guests can choose to sit at a sushi-and-sashimi bar or at another serving tempura.)
In the other direction is the 2,400-square-metre spa area with 10 treatment suites – a 90-minute “Birch and Juniper Envelopment for Purification” costs Dh1,145 – as well as multiple saunas, steam rooms, a gym and hot and cold plunge pools. Around the side, “ski butlers” sort out equipment hire, warm your boots and drive you to the farther slopes in the morning – and when the snow has melted come spring, they’ll morph into golf butlers for the brand new 18-hole course just down the road. On the other side of the building there’s a cosy wine-and-cigar library where a Partagas Lusitanias cigar goes for Dh1,400, but with a wide selection for less than Dh80.
The bedrooms have been designed with an “Alpine chic-meets-Asian sleek” ethos, although my check-in is delayed for three hours by the less-than-silky-smooth excuse that “we can’t get your iPad to work”. The Apple device controls everything from the curtains to the fireplace, heating to TV; however, thanks to those superbly-designed devices, hands, I found that I coped just fine without, even if I did have to ask the receptionist to come up and show me how to turn on all the lights.
Lead-in rooms start at 52 square metres, with solid-wooden floors, a dreamily soft pillow-mattress on the bed and bathrooms with heated stone floors, deep bath, separate shower and Acqua di Parma toiletries.
The 59 wood-and-stone-clad suites are double that space and perhaps the most jaw-dropping level of accommodation that I’ve seen in the Alps. Some have a floor-to-ceiling wine cabinet, a four-metre-long sofa that stretches along the entire length of the living area and a Rubens-inspired mural in the bedroom.
If all this makes it sound as if some guests might never leave the property, based on my observations, I think that might be right. I’m sure that I saw the same Russian woman I’d first seen on the train curled up with a book and a mug of hot chocolate for the best part of two days.
But if you want to explore and wander along Gotthardstrasse, you’ll find a typically Swiss, workaday mountain village that remains truer to its roots than many elsewhere that have given themselves over wholeheartedly to tourism.
For centuries, Andermatt was important as a stopover for stagecoaches crossing the Gotthard Pass that links the north and south over the mountains. Linguistically, you don’t have to travel far before the local Swiss German – about as intelligible to someone from Hamburg as Glaswegian English might be to a Mississippi cotton picker – gives way to the Romansch language and Italian.
Andermatt is not, yet, a village of late-night, dance-on-the-table ski bars nor chic fusion restaurants with oligarchs knocking back bottles of Petrus, although you’ll certainly find young Scandinavians relaxing after a day’s free riding at Spycher bar, and there’s a pleasantly eclectic dinner menu at Toutoune restaurant. For really local dishes, you should dine at the Drei Könige und Post, an old coaching inn, or the charmingly chocolate-boxy Hotel Sonne for specialities such as trouser-busting Älper Magronen: a potatoes-and-pasta dish, with onions, cream and cheese and served with apple sauce.
If you have come here to ski, I don’t think that you’ll be disappointed, although it does pay to hire a guide to explore the area more fully, as the skiing improves away from the village. There’s a chair lift that’s walkable from the Chedi, but I would recommend taking the small red train from the station up to the runs at Nätschen or farther to Oberalp, from where you can zigzag to the villages of Dieni and Sedrun, before taking the train home at the end of the day. This summer, work will start on six new lifts that will link this area directly with Andermatt, to be ready for 2016, although I think that taking the small train up the mountain on a crisp winter day, with snow flying up from the tracks, is all part of the charm of this resort.
From Oberalp, ski tourers can don their skins and escape across back country to Tschamut, while lovers of off-piste action can take the cable car from the other end of the village up the Gemsstock mountain, which is nearly 3,000 metres high, for challenging black runs and free riding off-piste down through countless couloirs. Or you can hop on the train 15 minutes along the valley in the opposite direction towards Realp if you’re a fan of cross-country skiing: it’s where the Swiss national team trained for the Sochi Winter Olympics.
The Chedi is a welcome addition to the Alps. It’s not your average chalet, that’s for sure. Hard-core skiers may moan that it’s a bit could-be-anywhere and missing the point of being in the Swiss mountains in the first place, but if you can have your boots dried and heated, indulge in a two-hour Balinese massage, polish off some tempura prawns and puff away on a Cohiba Robusto after cruising through waist-high powder snow all day, what’s not to love?
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