- Log In
- Sign Up
Tue 03 September 2019
“Andermatt is weird,” I text my wife on arrival at the Radisson Blu Reussen hotel.
On first impressions it seems largely empty, surrounded by a building site of apartment blocks. Perhaps I am expecting too much – clearly not every Swiss village is all Alpine cuteness and locals as clean-cut and smiley as Roger Federer. I’ll put it down to my arrival at Zurich’s Kloten airport, where the spirit of William Tell is even evoked in the transit train, a symphony of horns and cow bells coming over the tannoy.
The apparent drabness of Andermatt does not tell the whole story, as soon becomes clear. Andermatt seems to be a tale of two villages, the original chocolate-box variety on the other side of the way, and Andermatt Reuss, the vision of Andermatt Swiss Alps, the company set up by Egyptian tycoon Samih Sawiris.
Rather than being sent to wallow in the comfort of the Radisson, I’m billeted to one of the newly completed apartment blocks, huddled ever so close together (this is the norm in ski resorts, I was told, as protection against avalanches and high winds). A further 41 blocks are being built to help service a ski area that’s now the biggest in Switzerland, thanks to the recent completion of a link to the ski runs in neighbouring Sedrun.
Why Greece is now one of the best places in Europe to play golf
I’m here, though, to run the rule over Andermatt as a year-round destination, and in particular the quality of its 18-hole championship golf course designed by German architect Kurt Rossknecht. It only opened in June 2016 and has already been voted the best golf course in Switzerland three years in a row at the World Golf Awards.
It’s a 6,127-metre course that certainly offers the dramatic – it’s wide open, with very few trees and with rough to remind you of a Scottish links course.
Andermatt is 1,444m above sea level and is the main settlement in the spectacular Ursern valley: your first drive takes you away from the clubhouse and towards a green framed by steep mountains on the right hand side, with snowcapped peaks in the distance. Early holes hug the hills – expect to tee off to the faint sound of cow bells in the distance or the sight of sheep and donkeys grazing.
When you arrive at the 5th tee you turn, facing the village on the valley floor, with the mighty Gemsstock mountain high on the right. Come here in May, when the golf season starts, and the pistes and powder runs are often still open. Strong winds regularly blow down the valley – always in the afternoon, according to my Australian playing partner Peter Widdup, who runs a ski-school business in the winter – so it can be a formidable challenge. In my case a respectable round is destroyed by an icy blast which sends my drives at the 17th and 18th into the tall grass.
After lunch at the Swiss House in the elegant clubhouse, it was time to head to the other side of the tracks – quite literally, as to get from the Radisson to the old village and the five-star Chedi Andermatt hotel you have to go through a graffiti-splattered subway under the Mattherhorn-Gotthard rail line. There I meet ebullient local Banz Simmen, who gives me a guided tour while recounting the fascinating history of Andermatt.
What started as a key staging post in Roman times for travellers from Italy to Germany, explains Banz, and then the favoured winter retreat for wealthy Victorians, soon fell into decline when the Gotthard rail tunnel opened in 1882. Fast forward to the 20th century and Andermatt’s fortunes changed again when the army took over the town as a base for national service, only for cutbacks in the Noughties to see the soldiers pull out.
Bleak times again, until Sawiris stepped in. The project here is mindboggling – Sawiris has put in a reported 1.8 billion Swiss francs since 2005 - and most people I meet seem to buy into the deal. The new Andermatt vision means 500 apartments flats in the Gotthard Residences, 28 chalets and six four-star and five-star hotels, all built around the central Piazza Gottardo with new restaurants such as the excellent Biselli.
It goes beyond property, although clearly driving sales is the fact that Andermatt Swiss Alps is exempt from the Lex Koller rule, which limits what and where foreigners can buy in Switzerland. Millions have also been poured into upgrading the ski infrastructure while the new Andermatt Concert Hall, which opened on June with a performance by the Berliner Philharmoniker, adds a cultural aspect - the space was designed by London-based architects Studio Seilern. Also, a new railway station, which connects from platform to gondola, is due to open in time for the next ski season.
To digest all this, I feel the need to breath in some clear mountain air on a 15km e-bike ride up the Unteralp on the way to Sedrun. Stopping at the remote Vermigelhutte mountain hut for coffee with my trusty guide Andrea, having dodged herds of cows on the path and splashed through the clearest streams cascading down from the mountains, we seem a world away from the multi-million pound development down below. In time, though, they will be part of the same vision.
British Airways and Swiss fly to Zurich from London City and London Heathrow. Andermatt is 90 minutes away by car or two and a half hours away by train from Kloten airport via Zug.