Some places are just plain beautiful, other places are incredibly exotic, some places are there simply to fulfil the adventure in all of us and other places are simply magical. The Chedi in Andermatt is one of those places that is simply magical.
I decided as a New Year resolution that along with the prerequisite vacation that would have to be taken in the summer to our house in France, that the rest of the year should be divided up into small nuggets of perfect proportion – and voila, welcome the long weekend.
Which is how I find myself gazing up at a full moon, swathed in tendrils of mist rising from the warm depths of the Chedi’s outdoor extension of perhaps one of the most hedonistic pools I have ever seen? The fire bowls which surrounded the hotel are flickering off huge banks of snow and I have the most surreal feeling of being enveloped in warm silky water yet breathing the sharp, crisp mountain air which the staff tell me reads -8 degrees centigrade. A waiter passes inside like a cameo from a Jeeves play bearing a champagne bucket and 2 glasses to guests reclining on huge cushions by the cobalt lit pool. Is this Switzerland or Nirvana?
But I digress – arriving is believing. Stressed from a long January week at the office I left and arrived at Heathrow airport in time to catch the 1530 flight to Zurich. My goal was to exit the plane at speed and make the 1909 train up from Zürich to Goschenen and thence be spirited in a long black limo through a short winding pass of soaring peaks and snow clad mountains into the tiny village of Andermatt. The train journey was a perfect example of Swiss precision, a walk between trains to change and then the First Class cocoon of peace allowing me to catch up on just doing nothing but watch the world flash by. They say by day the Glacier Express is mesmerising – that is on the list Dear Reader.
Switzerland is renowned for its picturesque and beautiful hotels. However I can safely say that The Chedi is the dark and sultry sister to the blonde and demure Heidi – think soaring architecture, slate, beautiful designer fire pods, banks of cashmere, leather, yummy music and simply gorgeous bedrooms in every shape and size. I love my knotted pine and gingham and cowbells and yodelling; but furs and tea served to a tinkling piano, a ski ‘lounge’ filled with young men fitting boots and skis whilst people sipped coffee in front of a fire, stunning reception areas of architectural genius, eclectic art, cigar and a Chateau Rothschild room, fire bowls and banks of orchids with stunning lighting does it for me every time.
A beautiful plate of Swiss dried meats and cheese from their cheese room were presented on a piece of slate with fresh breads and the delicious cold wine that the Swiss guard so closely that it rarely makes it past those mountain passes to the likes of you and I. Just how a long week should end – it was but 9 pm and there I was in front of a flickering fire and already the tension slipping away.
Slipping seemed the sensible thing to do knowing I needed to arise at a reasonable hour to make the most of this ‘weekend’ so having been shown to my gorgeous suite with a fire flickering at the end of the bed, scented oil filling the air and a dreamy bed of fluffy pillows and duvet waiting I had two choices, my kindle or Morpheus. No prize who won.
Now my bug bear is technology. My other half – euphemistically known as ‘long legs’ (6’4″) sorts out all that. And he wasn’t with me. I had looked at the explanation of how to turn ‘off’ and ‘on’ everything with my iPad mini and immediately had visions of another night in an eye mask as I could not manage the lights or electric blinds. (Recent trip to a very exotic hotel in Thailand!) It was brilliantly simple, including lighting the fire and a joy that someone has finally made staying in a room both easy but brilliantly technical!
Opening my blinds the next day (easy) showed the sun sliding over the peaks and without hesitation I opened my French windows into the snow in bare feet and marvelled at the peace and beauty of the morning. Blue sky, hooray!
Breakfast was simply unbelievable – everything you could imagine and more. My skis, boots and helmet, all ordered from England were waiting by the fire with another cup of coffee in the lovely ski lounge, what kind of luxury is this?
There are two areas you can ski in and I am reliably told that with the right guide you can do between 8,000 and 10,000 meters of vertical descent in a day on Gemstock – the north facing slope of black slopes and off piste powder in the right conditions the cable car takes you up to 3,000 meters.
I set off across the road to the tiny red train which took me through snowy peaks in comfort, no fighting squish in a cable car here. Arriving at Oberalpass I left the train, decided not to have a hot chocolate in the restaurant there and there I was up in the mountains with a connection of chairlifts, T bars and sunshine. I don’t like skiing on my own but everyone I met, including the man I skied into – was totally charming. I approached the mountain restaurant with trepidation thinking Swiss Franc – argh – did I have enough with the recent shenanigans the ‘suits’ have been up to?
Frankly I was amazed. An unbelievable and very filling ‘designer’ salad, a reasonable amount of white wine and generous tip later I came out at 31 CHF – well my local pub in Chelsea charges £24 for a decent main course salad and 250ml of a lesser wine…and not that view.
I managed to navigate back, take the darling little train (well-earned rest) back over the link between the two mountain ranges and skied up to the front door almost of The Chedi. Everything was door to door including the one into their funky bar where Après Ski was in full swing around two fireplaces and the fire bowls outside. My boots and helmet were whisked away and somehow replaced with a glass of delicious wine. Well earned!
But remember Dear Reader – it is now Saturday late afternoon and I am about to revisit paragraph one. Me in the pool remember. And that was after the most amazing massage, a sauna, steam and journey through the beaded curtain into the outside pool under the stars. I did make the dinner reservation later at this point.
Now you know why I say Magic! How can the relaxation area around the pool and Hydrotherapy area be so gorgeous? People just lounging, drinking, reading papers, talking, laughing – it was simply magical. I had a peep at a sensational gym and what looked like an amazing spin class but that is not my thing so I will leave that for you to try!
Back to my yummy suite to prepare for dinner.
Small reality check here. Now I had only factored in two days – my advice would be to spin the out arriving on Thursday lunchtime (early flight) where you could be out skiing for a late lunch. Remember you will be kitted out ski wise in minutes before either walking across the road to the train or whisked in the hotel car to Gemstock – the other ski area I did not venture to.
I nearly fell asleep in my giant bath but dinner called so avoiding the humming bar and delicious looking Martinis being consumed by the lounge fire I made my into the main dining area which is an eclectic mix of Chef’s tables, glassed kitchen areas serving East and a West cuisine, a beautifully and discreetly divided dining area so families were on the ‘right’ of a huge bank of orchids and wonderful mood lighting and fires. Remember, I am writing this so no fumbling for a torch with the menu. Which was a sensational but sympathetic mix of their East meets West philosophy – not too complicated a concept and they make it work.
Franco looked after me and chose a lovely dinner – skilfully moving me away from my first ‘very spicy’ and perhaps ill-advised choice to a well-balanced summation of everything The Chedi does best – attention to detail and expectations achieved. How they know what those are must be by osmosis – I certainly didn’t tell them I am not partial to the Sauvignon Blanc grape!
Anxiously convincing myself I have exercised my way to justifying dinner I eat the lot and between the Marinated Obsiblue Prawns and Beef – unctuous – the deliciously sultry Brunette side of The Chedi was in full force as she temporarily displaced my favorite ‘Heidi’ dish – the very much blond veal Zuricher Gechneltzer and Rosti…. I thank Franco for his inspired choice. Even ‘Long Legs’ couldn’t have chosen better. Actually it is hard to articulate how something so technically small in ‘portion’ can be so encompassing in taste. Chedi magic. Don’t look at the currency exchange – think top restaurant in London but no fire bowls, starry night sky and that extra dose of fairy dust that comes with being high in the Alps. Whichever country they technically belong to geographically.
Feeling like a bit of fresh air I decided to walk through the little village and see exactly what Andermatt was all about. The streets were lined in snow which squeaked underfoot as I discovered I was in for the biggest surprise of the evening. Heidi was very much alive in this little village and a perfect foil for her sultry sister. Tiny chalets with shingled facades lined the snowy streets like a picture story from a typical Swiss fairy-tale. There were little restaurants bars and hotels all very much in the typical Swiss Chalet style offering everything that you might wish to complement The Chedi’s gastronomic offering. Ticino Italian menus rubbed cheek to cheek with their more traditional cousin’s fondue (Ochsen is amazing and the manager’s story even more so) and inspirational fare at restaurants such as conjured up by the chef at The Baren (you have to go) or traditional menus of the Grisons and Engadine. Bars were full and there were traditional gingham checked curtains peeping through shutters on gingerbread style restaurants along with more modern eateries showing a healthy amount of sheepskin, contemporary interiors and lively clientele. I wandered towards the beautiful church as the streets got narrower and wondered if I could continue and find a way across the river. A random question to a man coming in the opposite direction ascertained he was not only English, lived there but yes; carry on for 10 minutes, cross the river and home. Walking along the river on a path steeped in snow I thought what a charming place this was and in the silence of the alpine night save for the gurgling river, looked up at the moon and fell in love with Andermatt. The village simply ends at one end on the snowy road as this is the Avalanche limit – how amazing to simply end in snowy peace.
I thought I would end the story here but Sunday morning was spent walking around the village of Andermatt with someone I could have spent days with just listening to his fascinating insight into the magical history and indeed grandiose past of this tiny village. I did not know Andermatt was the source of the mighty Rhine and Rhone. I did not know the Gottard Coach became the 24 hour legend replacing a five day trip from Lucerne to Lugano as it sped over The Gottard Pass. I did not know the little chapel on the site of the original town was built in 800AD and the existing magnificent Catholic Church is the labour of 100 years work by the once Italian Schmidt family. Nor that in 1964 in the middle of the Cold War and in the heart of the Military Zone of Switzerland the locals were so leery of the Englishman called James Bond during the filming of Goldfinger that they only allowed him to film on the Furka, not Gottard Pass; that no hotel really wanted the team to stay and all footage had to be vetted by the government to check there were no military places showing in the film! I did stop at the garage where he fills up the DB5 in Goldfinger – still standing. The snow had continued to fall softly in my hour and a half walk and it felt like Narnia. Seeing the snowshoes in Benz’s historical hideaway of crystals and legends he promised me next time one of his snowshoe walks. I will return if only to relive the British legacy of days ski dancing, curling, ice skating (The Chedi has the ice rink in the middle of the hotel grounds as The Grand Hotel Bellevue did all those years ago) and bless them, ‘wintering’ for 3 months in these beautiful Alpine villages.
I don’t need to tell you about Benz and the historical walk any more than to say – you MUST do it, the Japanese lunch or Lobster and Champagne brunch – or flight back to Zurich at 21.25 from another full day – you can come and find out for yourselves. And children if you have them – they are most welcome! The story that accompanies every Chedi Bear about finding his home in The Valley of the Urs (bear) sent me to sleep last night. The endless ideas for magnificent summer walks, picnics by their 20 lakes, two hours over the border and you are at Lake Como – everything you could wish for an amazing break. Was this a weekend – impossible, more like a week of endlessly wonderful experiences.
For more information on The Chedi Andermatt, visit scottdunn.com or call one of our Ski Consultants on 020 8682 5050