The Ascent Of Andermatt

Claire Wrathall, The Daily Telegraph, January 15, 2014

The past year has seen a clutch of fabulously expensive, highly designed contemporary hotel openings in modish Alpine resorts. Last week in Gstaad the entirely overhauled Grand Bellevue was unveiled. And both the W Verbier and the Oetker Collection’s L’Apogée in Courchevel welcomed their first guests in time for Christmas.

Two-and-a-half hours by train from Zurich, or two hours by car from Milan, Andermatt may not yet be name synonymous with glamour, but the opening of the Chedi, a 104-room sister to the hotels of that name in Bali and Oman, stands to up the reputation of this often-overlooked resort.

Until 2000, the little town (population 1,300, altitude 4,738ft/1,444m) was better known as the place the Swiss Army trained soldiers in mountain warfare – the hotel stands on its former firing range – though there have long been terrific winter sports here too, at least for accomplished skiers: almost 80 per cent of its 125km of piste is classified black or red. There is not much for novices, however. Nor, the Chedi notwithstanding, for lovers of luxury. But the Egyptian developer Samih Sawiris, who built it, has ambitions to reinvent the place with the development of a further five four- and five-star hotels, not to mention 490 flats in 42 “apartment houses”, 25 chalets and a golf course.

Named – perplexingly – after a Thai funerary monument, designed by Kuala Lumpur-based Denniston Architects, operated by Singapore-headquartered GHM, and featuring a spa offering “Himalayan crystal body polishes”, the Chedi sounds in ways like a little piece of Asia in the Alps. But to root it in Europe, the 59 suites each have huge murals depicting a detail from Rubens’ immense baroque painting The Apotheosis of Henri IV and The Proclamation of the Regency commissioned by Marie de’ Medici for the Luxembourg Palace. (The original hangs in the Louvre.) And what might have been an unholy confusion of influences is actually rather wonderful: all warm wood, burnished leather, dark stone and firelight, wholly unlike anything else in the region and really quite Swiss, right down to the lavishly stocked cheese cave in its cellar.

Indeed it doesn’t much matter if you don’t ski. Unlike many of its peers, the Chedi will be open year-round, attracting walkers, cyclists (if you haven’t the stamina to ascend you can hire an electrically powered E-bike) and via ferrata enthusiasts in summer. And the hotel’s own facilities extend to a 115ft (35m) glass-enclosed lap pool as well as an outdoor one and, in winter, a skating rink.

All of which stands to restore Andermatt’s reputation as a resort to which notable people flock. For historically it was just such a place, attracting writers from Goethe to Dickens to Conan Doyle, musicians from Mendelssohn to Wagner to Elvis Presley, and heads of state from Queen Victoria and Ulysses S Grant to Winston Churchill. It even had a cameo in the 1964 Bond movie Goldfinger, as the site of the petrol station where Bond pulls over his silver DB5 and abandons Tania Mallet’s Tilly Masterson, a garage forecourt that unlike the town’s hotel offering has barely changed in half a century.

Rooms start at CHF650 (about £440) including breakfast. The four-night Explore In Style package, available until April 21, includes accommodation in a Deluxe Suite, ski passes, a four-course set dinner, a bottle of Taittinger and a 60-minute Alpienne Mountain, from CHF3,450 (£2,318) per person.