Property Investor Today was recently invited to ski resort Andermatt Swiss Alps, located in the heart of Switzerland’s world-renowned mountainous region, to get the lowdown on what visitors can expect in the summer season – from golf and e-mountain biking to 5-star hotels, fine dining and luxury apartments.
The Alps and skiing go together like fish and chips or gin and tonic, but there is more to mountain ski resorts than merely the winter season. That is the message firms such as Andermatt Swiss Alps are looking to put across, with places like Andermatt – a traditional Swiss mountain village previously most associated with the military – becoming increasingly attractive year-round destinations.
We fly into Zurich (easyJet flights are on offer from a number of UK destinations), from where it’s a 90 minute drive – and a spectacularly scenic drive at that – to Andermatt. For many years it was one of Switzerland’s most popular holiday and spa destinations, drawing hordes of people thanks to its healthy mountain air and handy central location. The Grand Hotel Bellevue – targeted at wealthy tourists – was built in 1872 as pioneering entrepreneurs sought to take advantage of an increasingly mobile Europe.
In the early 1900s the hotel experienced its golden period, with glamorous guests, orchestra concerts, dance evenings and glittering parties all making it the toast of the town. But the First World War and the Great Depression of the late 1920s hit the hotel – and Andermatt – hard. Over the next few decades few people came to Andermatt, with the hotel used as a base for the military during World War II.
In recent years Andermatt Swiss Alps has been seeking to bring the tourists back – and not just in the winter season. Significant investment has been pumped in to make the village a ‘unique first-class year-round destination’, with the project – first announced in December 2005 - eventually leading to six 4- to 5-star hotels, 42 apartment houses with approximately 500 apartments and about 28 exclusive, custom-designed chalets. There will also be a public indoor pool, convention facilities and the modernisation of the train station in collaboration with the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn. An 18-hole, par 72 championship golf course (already open) and the upgrading and merging of the Andermatt and Sedrun ski areas into the SkiArena Andermatt-Sedrun also feature in the grand plans.
Work is ongoing, with some parts of the project already completed, some in construction and some still in the planning stages. In total, the project is expected to cost CHF 1.8 billion, plus an additional CHF 130 million for the SkiArena.
In the last 18 months a multi-million pound gondola system has been introduced to ferry skiers, hikers and sightseers to the top of the Nätschen mountain, while the Gotthard Residences (100 hotel serviced apartments ranging from luxurious penthouses to more practical abodes) and the 4-star Radisson Blu hotel are nearing completion. On the site of the former Grand Hotel Bellevue is The Chedi Andermatt, a stylish 5-star hotel well-renowned for its service and food.
On arrival, we are met by Stefan Kern – Andermatt Swiss Alps’ head of communication – who takes us on a gondola ride to Restaurant Matti, a recently constructed, family-friendly establishment offering spectacular views of the village below. It gives a clearer indication of where the new (Holiday Village Andermatt Reuss, home to the hotels, apartments, residences and chalets) and the old (tradition-rich village of Andermatt) blend seamlessly into one.
Over lunch, we find out about the progress that has been made since our last visit – during the height of the winter season in March 2017 – and are shown where the new railway station will reside once completed.
We are also told more about the apartments (each with its own unique character and design), the custom-made chalets, the imminent arrival of the Radisson Blu and the Gotthard Residences, and how Andermatt is being transformed into a destination that can be enjoyed by visitors throughout the year. As well as golf, there are a range of other activities that people are encouraged to embrace, including hiking, climbing, mountain biking, cycling, fishing, tennis and paragliding.
Following lunch, we are taken to the top of Nätschen and shown where another restaurant (offering high-level cuisine) is set to open next year, as well as the ongoing work to combine the Andermatt and Sedrun ski areas into one super ski resort – once complete, it will be the largest ski region in central Switzerland.
Casual fine dining
In the evening we are taken for dinner at The Restaurant at The Chedi Andermatt – one of the hotel’s flagship attractions thanks to its Asian/traditional Swiss fusion menu. The hotel itself has an interesting Alpine-Asian décor and ambience (reflecting the roots of both its location and the Asian background of The Chedi brand name).
As well as The Restaurant, the hotel is home to Japanese speciality restaurant “The Japanese”, the proud owner of one Michelin star. The hotel, which officially opened in December 2013, was the thing that really got the project started in earnest, with people drawn to its culinary offerings, spa and wellness centres and luxury rooms and suites. The mood and lighting is pure winter in the Alps – even during the summer months – and the service is attentive but never intrusive.
The food, while presented beautifully and delightful on the palate, isn’t pretentious or overwhelmingly fancy. While it’s true that the hotel appeals mostly to wealthy guests, you certainly don’t feel like you’re in a very exclusive environment - quite the opposite, in fact. Its relaxed atmosphere and casual vibe is a big part of its appeal.
The spectacular glass cheese room – where guests can head to hand-select their cheese board for dessert – is quite a sight to behold, and one of The Restaurant’s main USPs, while the open-plan kitchens again help to make everything less formal. There is also a cigar lounge and a wine library for those who wish to indulge.
The whole experience is exemplary, but the grappa (a pomace brandy of Italian origin) we are encouraged to consume as a night cap is less welcome!
After a comfortable night’s sleep in a pleasant, well-appointed apartment, we head for The Swiss House (the golf course clubhouse) for a hearty Continental breakfast. Having over-indulged on croissants, bread and Swiss cheese, we meet with golf pro Lee Edwards, who provides us with all the necessary equipment (including Audi golf buggy) for our round of nine.
We ask Edwards how much appeal the golf course has to would-be visitors. “The golf course has definitely been successful in drawing people to Andermatt – it is of very high quality, almost unmatched in the Alps," he says. "This summer in particular has been very successful – Andermatt’s location has meant that the course has stayed green and enjoyable to play on, even when courses lower down have suffered in the heat.”
Following the theme of the resort itself, the golf course is far from stuffy. Everyone is welcome, regardless of skill level or experience.
"It has been designed in almost a Scottish links style, so it is of very high quality, and a course in the mountains can be challenging even to experienced golfers – something that many want to experience," Edwards adds. "It certainly shines compared to its Alpine competitors when it is sunny and you can see all the way down the Ursern Valley. However, there are a few elements that take a bit of getting used to – the famous Swiss cows for instance!”
The course itself is stunning. Located in the high-alpine Ursern Valley, the 18-hole, par 72 championship course meets tournament standards and was named Best Golf Course in Switzerland for the second year in a row in 2017. It is, though, just as suitable for ambitious tournament players as those playing for leisure.
It’s clearly the feature that Andermatt Swiss Alps hopes will draw people in the summer season, with scenery to take your breath away. On a warm, sunny day – as was the case on our visit – you’d be hard pushed to beat this course in terms of location and backdrop. The only question mark against it: given its out of the way setting, would people go the extra mile to play here when so many other outstanding golf courses are on offer in Europe?
In the afternoon, with the weather worsening slightly, we take the chance to explore Andermatt itself, going on a mini-hike in the mountains. The village itself certainly has all you would need to enjoy a summer trip – with cafes, restaurants, shops, places for breakfast, bars and even the odd nightclub.
It’s not exactly thriving in mid-August, but there is a steady flow of tourists and locals enjoying the mountain air and fine Alpine views.
The Holiday Village Andermatt Reuss currently feels quite separate from the old town itself. And, with building work ongoing, there is no easy link from the holiday village to Andermatt which can make it difficult to navigate. What’s more, the layout of the apartments can be a bit confusing to the uninitiated. This, though, is something that should be ironed out when construction is fully complete.
The arrival of the Gotthard Residences, the Radisson Blu and the piazza (with a coffee shop and mini supermarket) should also help the village seem more like its own thriving community. At the moment, things feel a little quiet and reserved – although this has as much to do with the unfinished nature of the project as anything else. Also, if it’s peace and quiet you’re after, the apartments and residences offer unrivalled tranquillity in an incredibly relaxing location.
A bike ride with a boost
After our final night at the Italian-influenced Restaurant Bären (where the service and food are again excellent) and another very hearty breakfast at local haunt Bäckerei Baumann, we get the chance to try out e-mountain biking.
An electric mountain bike is essentially a mountain bike with a boost, allowing you to go uphill with greater ease and downhill with greater speed. There are a number of modes – including eco, tour and turbo – and the ability to monitor average speed, fastest speed and time spent on the road. The Ursern Valley provides the perfect background for a morning ride; and there is little more exhilarating in life than motoring downhill, wind in your face, hands off the brakes, as gravity does the hard work for you.
The scenery, once again, is enough to lift the heart – and there are all manner of routes, well signposted, for mountain bikers and cyclists of all abilities.
After our golf and mountain biking experiences, the appeal of the Swiss Alps in the summer is clear to see. There is enough in Andermatt to make it an attractive year-round destination, and that will be even more the case when the Radisson Blu arrives, the planned concert hall is completed, the family hotel is constructed and transport links by rail are improved.
Meta Vonesson, who works at the resort in the winter and summer seasons, says Andermatt offers the best of both worlds - a place for those who love skiing when it's cold and golf when it's warmer. "Snow sure with great off and on piste terrain and a championship golf course, so the choice was a simple one, especially travelling from here to any other destination like Lucerne and Tessin - all reachable in a hour," she says when we ask her why she chose to live and work in the town. "Living in Andermatt gives the experience of living in the mountains with easy access to city living as well."
The winter season might still be the main draw, but the summer season definitely has enough to tempt visitors, whether it’s golf, hiking, spa treatments, fine food, biking or coming to the mountains to get away from it all.
There is still work to be done – in making the resort more accessible, raising its profile and connecting the old and new in a more seamless fashion – but progress has been fast in recent years and is set to motor further in the years ahead.