It’s bittersweet, really. On the one hand, the weather is always going to be much more agreeable than here in Blighty. Their green and luscious meadows are filled with Swiss chocolate and beer, and you can slip in and out of your banker’s office in Geneva en route. On the other hand, there is no snow. Well, not none – there is some at the top, up by the pointy bit of the mountain, but you can’t really ski on it. Not just because it is wildly dangerous, but also because it is frowned upon by the authority-obliging Swiss. No matter how hard I try, I stare up at the snowline like a maligned step-child, motionless, close to tears: “Where is the snow?”.
This is likely where my eco-friendly side emerges from – not a moral obligation to save the trees or the useless pandas that won’t procreate to save their own species, but the fact that global warming will directly affect snowfall. It’s summer in the Swiss Alps and I am slowly waking up to the idea that you don’t necessarily need a beach to enjoy a summer holiday.
Andermatt has long been known as a skier’s paradise, with a range of challenging areas on and off piste – and with a town at 1,444 meters, they’re pretty snow-sure. But it’s July, and unless you are willing to hike down the mountain from the snowline, it really isn’t worth it. For many years, I recall having avid tourist board reps and travel companies alike hypothesise the idea of a summer holiday in the Swiss Alps. However, up until this point, it has taken a sizeable level of interest to get me out of the beach-centric bed.
As you may have read already, I am not unfamiliar with the temptations of the charming mountain village of Andermatt. And I’m not alone. Just after the turn of the century – god it’s satisfying to write that – the Swiss army was running out of storage space for their endless stockpiles of little red knives. The need to open canned goods and file their nails whilst facing enemy fire from the axis of evil had dramatically reduced, and so the 8,000 Swiss soldiers stationed in the region for heavy artillery training were to be moved. This presented a problem for the leader of the canton of Uri. Significant land silos were opening up and the town’s population of beer-drinking, weekend-dining and general GDP-enhancing army chaps was about to dwindle significantly. Enter Samih Sawiris, who after some cajoling from the Swiss consulate and a few guided tours, decided that he and his company, Orascom Development, might be well-placed to revitalise the town. This crucial investment in time and finance has seen the resort begin expansion, with the aim of accommodating 500 apartments, 28 chalets, a par 72 championship golf course, and six 4 and 5-star hotels. Andermatt is very much on the up.
So, with time on our hands and very few plans, my partner and I decided that it might be fun to see what the 130-hectare golf course had to offer. The 18-hole course was designed by architect Kurt Rossknecht, who you might remember from such courses as Golfclub Lenzerheide or Golf Club Landshut e.V.
“In technical terms, in addition to the high altitude the diversity of terrain types – from rock to deep moor – was a challenge.”
Kurt continued: “After a lot of hard work, we were successful in creating a high-quality and well-designed golf course. The Andermatt Swiss Alps Golf Course is, without a doubt, one of the best courses in Europe that will stand out in players’ memories, due to the unique landscape containing impressive mountains, the streams, the lakes, various rock formations, the blooming meadows, and the fortunate lack of trees. The golf course has many elements of a Scottish links course, but with the Alpine backdrop and the water bodies, it’s also completely different from a Scottish course.”
My physical experiences with world-renowned golf courses are many, of course. I recall a rather splendid Christmas party one year near Castle Combe golf course. I also recall being a little sozzled in a hotel across from Shadow Creek golf course in Las Vegas. Then, of course, there was that Scotch tasting at Saint Andrews. Okay, I guess what I am trying to say is that, for a number of years, I have imbibed in close proximity to many a golf course.
Many years ago, my dear mother set me on the path to enjoy golf, hiring a golf instructor to take me to the local driving range when I was 12. This lasted about six months, as my interest in girls was eminently approaching, coupled with the fact that a golf course in the rain is a rather decidedly miserable place to be. Luckily for us it was the Swiss Alps in July.
As we approached the golf course, crossing picturesque bridges and large swathes of wild flowers, we pulled up to the club house – an understated building, but with its credentials ready for any and all, it was awarded ‘Switzerland’s best golf course 2017’. I had decided to try and dress appropriately for a trip to the driving range without actually acquiring formal golf wear. This meant Fairfax and Favour loafers, white chinos and a black polo shirt. It transpired that my partner, wearing a t-shirt, jeans and Adidas shell toes was better kitted out than I was (according to Stuart our trainer).
I swallowed my pride, even though my partner had made zero effort, and decided that I would just have to show her up on the range. It turns out that firing golf balls down a fairway is actually very therapeutic, whether opting for mid-iron shots or driving. With the sun high in the sky and taking every care to ensure a straight and sure drive, I rather enjoyed myself. I expect, with a few months of tutoring, I could be the next Tiger Woods. After hitting a few pyramids and breaking a sweat, we decided to return to the confines of the club house to share our success with the locals and announce my intention to win the Ryder Cup next year. Sat looking out at the mountains safely under a parasol, coffee in hand, the course has an immediate sense of drama about it. I think next time I will need to attempt the full course.
As we pulled out of the golf course and drove the long way back around to our apartment, I spotted two beautiful Berna Busses stationary on the North side of the river. We all know the wretched reality of coach-based travel. But to be winding your way up through the Alps in a 1948 Swiss postal Berna bus would be très chic by anyone’s measure. As long as a Marianne Faithfull-type jumped out with a vintage Leica and snapped a couple of shots to complete the look.
No upscale ski resort would be complete without a well-turned-out selection of first-class hotels and spas, offering all manner of treatments that I wasn’t even aware I needed. Over my many years as a roving wordsmith, I have made my peace with spa culture. I used to sheepishly enter, expecting to be surrounded by the world’s most refined and alluring beauties. Fortunately, it turns out that, at most spas, it’s only the staff that have made a conscious choice to embody Greek gods and goddesses. The well-to-do are there to blow off steam and know that looking good is new money, feeling good is old.
The Chedi is Andermatt’s 5-star offering and opened its 169 rooms in 2013. Designed by master architect Jean-Michel Gathy, the hotel aims to blend traditional Swiss architecture with Asian decor. Stone floors, piles of cashmere and open fireplaces set the classic alpine atmosphere.
In my eagerness to unwind, I might have missed a step. I passed the reception desk for the spa and was guided with my partner into a waiting area complete with sweeping staircase, where she was immediately whisked away by a therapist, leaving me sat wondering where to go. I hadn’t booked in for a treatment and decided to use the hotel’s ample gym facilities, followed by a soak. Would I be left here forever? Would I voice my discontent and unbalance the classic Swiss diplomacy? I gave it five minutes and deduced that the reception ladies must have assumed I was either also booked in for a treatment. “I appear to have been lost in the fog of war”. After repeating myself a few times, I realised that I speak incredibly fast and that idioms do not translate, no matter how loudly or often you repeat them. The three sparrow-eyed spa attendants guided me to the changing room area, fitted me with a year’s supply of soft towels and robes and pointed out the key facilities.
The indoor pool is really an architectural masterpiece, and long enough for even the most earnest of swimmers. Fear not, though, it’s lined with row after row of day-beds to gaze up at the mountains whilst ideally ordering a steak and a stiff red (although I didn’t). The outdoor pools are as exceptional as the indoor, with a crisp edge to the alpine air. The hydrotherapy zone appears to be taken from a Buddhist temple, with all the trappings of an underwater monastery. I have been to the spa on a number of occasions and never ever spotted more than a handful of people. Long may this stand.
Rested and rejuvenated, we headed back to our apartment to change for another alpine evening. Of course, the major selling point of the region is the selection of luxury, investor friendly apartments that the Andermatt Swiss Alps Group are building on the town’s doorstep. Rather than building inside the towns existing area and trying to meld centuries old architecture with modern materials, the Andermatt development is a few minutes’ walk outside the traditional area offering a blend of new and old both working in harmony. Prices start from CHF 395000 and go up to the point of purchasing and having your own bespoke chalet built. Not only do they have a range of well-appointed turnkey apartments, but the rental offering is also pretty sharp. The team generated 46% occupancy across the range of apartments last year, ensuring an income from the investment. The apartments hold a unique position in the town and put some serene hiking trails right on your doorstep. There are currently 66 hiking trails in and around Andermatt, making it a walker’s paradise.
No trip to this part of the Alps would be complete with a short spin up the Furka pass. Immortalised on celluloid in Goldfinger, in 1964, the pass is a set of twisting turns at 2,429 metres and not only offers challenging driving, but some of the world’s most breathtaking views. Car, motorcycle or bicycle – it’s spectacular, no matter the form of transport.
If you really want to experience the majesty and untouched beauty of the area, I highly recommend the Furka Steam Railway. You can board at the foot of the pass in Realp and take the train through to Oberwald in just over an hour, passing through tunnels and over bridges and alpine streams. Even if, like me, you are a self-confessed petrol head, it is worth parking the car and taking the train at least once.
If you’ve driven along the incredibly straight roads to get to the village at the base of the Furka pass, it’s worth heading south to the Fortress of San Gottardo – the Gotthard Fortress was once one of Switzerland’s most closely guarded defence secrets. After being decommissioned in 2001, it was eventually opened to the public, preserved as a still moment in time. Visitors are able to view the extensive armaments rooms, ammunition stores and garrison sections in the underground fortress, maintained as they were when the military departed.
Those with a penchant for alpine pursuits are waking up to the fact that Andermatt is still a little undiscovered, despite boasting some of the best infrastructure in the region. Don’t be fooled though, it won’t be long before the St Moritz and Verbier crowds are taking the resort over by force and you can watch each and every apartment vanish overnight.PROPERTY ENQUIRIES Andermatt Swiss Alps AG +41 41 888 79 00 firstname.lastname@example.org TOURIST BOARD +41 41 888 71 00 email@example.com www.andermatt.ch