The first thing that struck me on the 90-minute journey from Zurich to Andermatt was the enduring beauty of Lake Lucerne. The temperature was twice that of England and so a quick dip in the mineral-rich lake would have been appreciated, had we not been eager to reach our alpine destination. As we ascended up to 1440 metres, the rich grassland pastures of traditional Switzerland and sun-drenched lakes gave way to rocky outcrops more akin to the landscape of the Lord of the Rings. We were heading up into the snow line, and as the temperature dropped, I couldn’t have been happier. To say I am a keen skier is probably an understatement; my enthusiasm has on more than one occasion meant tackling a slope I probably wasn’t ready for. I manage to squeeze in 3-4 trips a year, and through a process of snow overload in the first five years, I managed to get the initial excitement of coming late to skiing out of my system. To explain, this means that I no longer awake at 6am with the eagerness of a hungry St Bernard and begin to prepare my kit. I am now happy to be on the third or fourth gondola up the mountain with the other ‘seasoned’ skiers. This does not mean that I am free-and-easy about resorts though. I have always had a penchant for alpine enclaves with hearty food, a relaxed atmosphere, and of course a modern and well-developed ski area.
Andermatt lies at the heart of the three major alpine passes of Switzerland: the Gotthard, the Furka and the Oberalp. Cast your mind back to the release of Goldfinger in 1964 and you should remember Connery chasing Auric Goldfinger’s Rolls Royce Phantom III up the Furka Pass in his DB5. To say the topography of the area is impressive is an understatement. At only one-and-a-half-hours from Zurich, one from Lucerne, two from Milan, and connections available via the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway, such as Zermatt and St Moritz, Andermatt is in a prime location. If you’re looking to make headway into town in something slightly more private, the airfield of Buochs has a 2,000-metre runway just 60 kilometres from Andermatt.
Historically, the picturesque Swiss town was the location of the Swiss Federal Army’s high command. When World War II broke out, Andermatt was chosen as the Army’s HQ, due to its strategic location in the mountains. In the event the German forces pushed the Swiss Army into retreat, they would make for the canton of Uri, fortify their mountain bunkers and wait it out. At one time, there were over 80,000 Swiss soldiers stationed in the once sleepy mountain town.
In 1999, however, the Swiss army decided to close its heavy artillery firing range and generally scale back operations in the region. This released substantial land deposits suitable for development in key areas along the valley floor. In 2005, with the army retaining only a few key buildings, the future of Andermatt was far from set in stone. It seemed like the relaxed alpine town might slide back into obscurity, despite its enviable location and powder sure slopes.
In 2005, when the leader of the local canton of Uri realised the opportunity, he passed word to his friend Raymond Kunz at the Swiss consulate in Egypt. It was in turn mentioned to Samih Sawiris, founder and chairman of Orascom Development. The Egyptian-born developer of integrated international towns visited in February 2005 with the intention of simply advising on potential expansion and development. Having seen the region, he decided that Orascom would take on the long-term project to double the size of the town across 1-million square metres of former military land.
The total scale of the project seems rather daunting. The goal is to make the traditional Swiss village a year-round destination, comprising 500 apartments in 42 buildings, 25 chalets, an 18-hole golf course, convention facilities, six 4 and 5 star hotels. The development is well on its way though, with the par 72 championship golf course covering 130 hectares already complete. The 5-star deluxe hotel, The Chedi Andermat™, opened in 2013, offering an exclusive spa, restaurant combining Swiss, European and Asian cuisine, wine and cigar library, and a towering 5-metre-tall cheese humidor. That’s right, your senses have not failed you, I said ‘cheese humidor’. This was enough to secure them the GaultMillau title of Hotel of the Year 2017. In 2018, the resort will see the opening of the 4-star Radisson Blu hotel, adding 180 rooms and suites.
Andermatt, it would appear, is growing rapidly, but not at the cost of the scenery or natural resources. In March 2007, following a lengthy consultation process with local residents, cultural preservation experts, environmental specialists, tourism boards and local government, 96% of the population voted in favour of the development. All apartments and hotels are being built to Minergie standards, ensuring that electricity and heat from solely renewable standards will power the properties and make the development carbon-neutral.
So, their green credentials are established, the development is growing rapidly, and the chefs at the world famous Chedi Andermatt know their stuff. But what of the slopes? Well, cast your mind back to February 1972. Bernhard Russi stands atop mount Eniwa ready to take the Olympic Gold medal. This Andermatt-born goliath of the downhill world started skiing here when he was just one-and-half years old:
“People who make the choice to buy in Andermatt are looking for the pure nature of the mountains. They are people who want peace in the mountains, who want a simple, easy time. They want to go out in the village and sit next to locals.
When I was four years old, I took the last train up the mountain. I had trouble even putting my skis on. Because I wanted to follow all the other skiers, I went straight down the mountain and, of course, had a big fall. I fell into a deep hole with a lot of powder snow and couldn’t get out myself, then I fell asleep. It was about 16:40 in the evening and, by luck, a man who was still in the restaurant and had drunk two or three glasses too much, fell at exactly the same spot and found me sleeping. My mother had been searching for me all over, in the forest, the playground, and couldn’t find me. It was dark by the time I came down from the mountain and I was so proud, I told my mother ‘that was cool, I only fell once”.
Interestingly, when you rise to the top of the Gemsstock at 2961m, you are faced with two options: the beautiful 3.5 kilometre descent on the St Anna Gletscher red run or the famed Berhard Russi Run. What does it take to get a ski run named after you Bernhard?
“It’s very simple. It takes an idea from somebody, that’s all. The director, Alex Clapasson, he’s a very famous mountain guide, for a couple of years he was the director of this area. He came to me and said, ‘Let’s go skiing, I want you to show me the course you like the most’. So, we went down this slope from the Gemsstock and afterwards in the evening he said, ‘I want to call it the Russi run’. I am proud, I have to admit. We have done it in different ways, we opened the run as a race with one gate at the opening and one the bottom, so everyone went straight down. Ultimately, we are developing a really good modern ski area. We don’t want to be the biggest, we want to be a small area with very high-quality facilities allowing space for every skier on the slope”.
These sentiments are echoed by Andermatt Swiss Alps CEO, Franz-Xaver Simmen who has been shepherding the project since 2015. Andermatt currently enjoys 17 lifts with 14 new lifts planned, opening access to 85 runs. The Andermatt-Sedrun ski area is being expanded, which will give property owners access to more than 120 kilometres of slopes for all skill levels. If you prefer your terrain uncharted, the Gemmstock mountain is an internationally-renowned mecca for off-piste.
“Well, I grew up in this area, so have been skiing in Andermatt for almost 30 years. It’s certainly, especially the Gemsstock, for expert skiers. Also, free riders, this is the place to be and absolutely one of my favourite places to go. Here in Switzerland, developing a new ski area is much more challenging because first we had to plan all the new ski lifts and get approval from the various committees. It’s a big challenge to build a new ski resort. Our season starts in November and goes to April or May. The new ski resort is being built for all ski levels and will be a wonderful place to go. The old village has a special history, a special charm, people like to go shopping, to go to dinner. The new village will have a different characteristic, different shops, different people, and will fit well together. Switzerland is quite small, there are very few places where you can develop a new holiday resort from scratch. Therefore, this is a unique opportunity for our international clients to own Swiss property”.
As we know, owning Swiss property has been almost impossible for foreign investors and owners. Luckily, the developments exemption from the Lex Koller law puts it in prime position to be a very straightforward property investment. In 1983, Switzerland enacted the law regulating the purchase of land by non-Swiss nationals along with the Second Home law, limiting the number of second homes to 20% of the number of residences in a village. One of the provisos of Orascom investing 1.8 billion CHF into the development, was that the regulations be relaxed to allow for an influx of potential foreign soil buyers. Russell Collins, the development’s Real Estate Director has been skiing in Andermatt for a decade and has become a permanent resident of the town.
“I think Andermatt has a number of different elements to it that make it unique. Principally, it’s really well located. We’re only an hour-and-a-half from Zurich, so as a weekend destination, somewhere to come skiing from London or any major European hub, it’s really good. In the summertime, we’re really close to Lake Como, or to go to Milan, so we’ve got a really great location. We have a really big range of different property to buy here, some available off-plan, some which is completed. That ranges from studio apartments that are 1, 2 and 3 bedroom and freestanding chalets and villas, through to penthouse apartments in the Gotthard residence and the Chedi Andermatt. Switzerland is well known as a safe-haven for investment and the great thing about buying real estate here is that we have a very stable macroeconomic picture.
From a design standpoint, we were very conscious to make the new apartment and hotel area integrate with the old town. We ran a competition amongst 100 architects in order to ensure each apartment building had its own unique identity. We’re working with 30 different architects for all the different buildings that we have here, each of the buildings are slightly different. Everything is built to a very very high standard, in Switzerland new property is generally built to last four generations. The quality that is produced here is really the best I have ever worked with.
We have an agreement with most of the major Swiss banks to provide at least 50% mortgage financing on real estate purchases in the Andermatt Swiss Alps project. We’re selling to a really wide variety of buyers, both Swiss and international. A large portion of our owners are interested in the investment angle and also having personal usage. From an investment standpoint, this is a really great opportunity to own property in the Swiss Alps, where you can rent it out very easily. Last year we generated 46% rental occupancy on our apartments, which is offering a very attractive return to owners”.
Suffice to say, owning exclusive Swiss property in Andermatt has become increasingly straightforward in the last decade. The old and the new villages appear to be seamlessly well-paired with the locals, giving their formal thumbs up with respect to the build. Whether you are visiting Andermatt for a long weekend or a long haul, here are my must-sees when visiting this charming alpine escape.
1. The old town itself is about as picturesque as an alpine ski resort can be. The River House hotel, next to the Unteralpreuss, offers hearty local fare paired with great wine and a warm welcoming atmosphere to boot.
2. Looking for something decidedly Swiss, try the restaurant Ochsen. The sheer amount of fondue options on offer will knock you to the floor, as the door swings open to this classic Swiss eatery. If you aren’t a fan of cheese, I advise you let the group go without you.
3. Ascend the Overlap Pass onboard one of the bright red trains and head straight for the Après car. It gets crowded early, but is a rite of passage. If you want to really experience what the Glacier Express has to offer,stay aboard and see St Moritz and Zermatt.
4. Take the gondola to the Gemsstock and see a 360-degree view at almost 3000 metres above sea level. Ideally you’ll want to do this with Bernhard Russi, like we did.
5. Absolutely explore some of Andermatt’s famed off-piste areas. For this you’ll need a guide with more experience than a mountain goat and more panache than Valentino. Call the heroic Marco Furger, and tell him we sent you (+41 79 773 5086).
6. Dine at the Chedi and visit the cheese humidor. After the traditional fare that this lovely town offers, you might be yearning for some pomp and ceremony from the team at the Chedi. Finish off dinner with a cigar and brandy in the wine and cigar library.
We’ll be following the development in Andermatt over the next two years, in an effort to keep you up to speed with all the news from the region. If you would like further details on the properties or to make travel arrangements, please contact the teams who will be happy to help:
PROPERTY ENQUIRIES Andermatt Swiss Alps AG +41 41 888 79 00 email@example.com TOURIST BOARD +41 41 888 71 00 firstname.lastname@example.org www.andermatt.ch